Jon Kirby is a former editor at Wax Poetics magazine and a Grammy-nominated producer with the Chicago-based reissue label the Numero Group. In May, he returned to his native Winston-Salem to intensify his search for marginalized artists and unknown recordings from the Carolinas. He is currently compiling a complete discography of North Carolina rap singles.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
I first heard Wesley Johnson’s name in 2008 while speaking with Carlotta Fleming (née Samuels) about her vocal group, Odyssey 5. After recording their lone LP, First Time Around, for Brunswick Records in 1974, she’d spent a few years in Italy singing in a group called Wess Machine, the namesake disco ensemble of a man named Wesley Johnson—a Winston-Salem native who’d been moving and shaking to some degree in Italy. I didn’t get tied up in the few details Fleming had to offer, so I was floored a decade later to encounter a box of Wesley Johnson LPs—all Italian pressings—in a Jamaican record shop. These beautiful, gatefold affairs revealed that Johnson was not some draft dodger or bail hopper, but a prolific expat whose overseas success story remained mostly unknown back home. In Winston-Salem, his sister Linda told me the best person to speak to about Wesley would be his best friend, Carl Ray Johnson, whom I knew as the drummer and primary songwriter for the Eliminators, another important local soul combo from the seventies. Luckily, I was already in touch with Carl.
G-Side is a group that has been on the brink of underground eminence for the bulk of their career, and they’ve been discovered several times. Effortless to enjoy, difficult to compartmentalize, the most logical ways to describe them seem contradictions in terms.