*A little more than a week ago, while at the fifth annual Legends & Icons Picnic–a gathering of veteran black music industry executives, artists and media people—I ran into singer/ songwriter/producer August “Augie” Johnson, leader of the ‘70s vocal group, Side Effect.
“I see you on ‘Unsung’ all the time,” Augie said in the middle of our hug, referring to the TV One series chronicling the history of modern R&B legends. “Man, that show has never done anything on Side Effect….”
“C’mon. Really? Side Effect has never been on ‘Unsung?’”
“Nope. Never. Now, I’ve been on there talking about other artists. But there’s never been an ‘Unsung’ about Side Effect. And,” Augie added with a chuckle, “if anyone is ‘unsung,’ it’s Side Effect.”
He was right about that. The doo-wop group, which Augie started back in 1972 with original members Lomita Johnson, Jim Gilstrap, Gregory Matta and Louis Patton, has seen its share of twists and situations. Side Effect’s biggest success came during its affiliation with At Home Productions, helmed by former [Jazz} Crusaders Wayne Henderson.
Henderson and Augie produced several Side Effect records for the Fantasy and Elektra labels, including the group’s most notable single, 1976’s “Always There,” a vocal version of the dynamic instrumental saxophonist Ronnie Laws hit with a year earlier.
Side Effect—whose most recent line-up included Bobbie Anderson, Milton Ellis and Barry Jackson–introduced its share of talents to the world, including Gilstrap, who found renown as a studio session and concert background vocalist (Gilstrap’s, not Stevie Wonder’s, is the first voice you hear on Wonder’s classic, “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”); singer/songwriter Sylvia St. James; gospel singer Helen Baylor; and singer Miki Howard (with whom Augie had a son).
I told Augie I’d mention his words to Mark Rowland, an executive producer of “Unsung.” Seven days later I learned that Augie, 65, had passed. As of this writing, details are still vague. He reportedly went in his sleep.
It wasn’t until his death that I learned that Augie had been a member of–of all things–a second version of the Doodle Town Pipers, a ‘60s/’70s popular music vocal assemblage that used to appear on variety shows like Ed Sullivan and performed with the likes of such Easy Listening giants as Perry Como and Bing Crosby.
Augie nurtured Side Effect, in one configuration or another, for forty years. While the group wasn’t exactly a household name, it certainly had its fans. Consider the irony that the last time I saw him, Augie was seeking memorialization for Side Effect—attention now given the group because of his untimely passing.
For years I’d run into Augie around Hollywood at industry events and parties. In a business and town where acknowledgment is everything, Augie always had a smile, a firm handshake and a hug. The picnic was no different, with Augie making the rounds and greeting friends and admirers.
I’m glad I got the opportunity to see Augie that day. Sometimes, the last time you see somebody is the last time you’ll see them.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]