Johnny Thunder

In 1963, Johnny Thunder, born Gil Hamilton, scored the only hit of his career. "Loop de Loop" was essentially a nursery rhyme set to music. The public loved it, and it assailed to the lofty perch of number four on the pop charts. Only "Hey Paula" at number one, "Walk Right In," and Bobby Vee's "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" at number three, prevented it from being the top record during the week of February 9, 1963. Born August 15, 1941, in Leesburg, FL, Johnny Thunder started singing in church, high school, and on street corners. Nothing was happening in Florida in the late '50s, so Thunder moved to New York City under the advice of a friend who worked as the road manager for the Drifters. Thunder even sung with the famous Atlantic Record group for a few months prior to Ben E. King leaving to go solo. After the stint, he started recording under his birth name for Capitol and Fury Records, but had no success. To keep the rent paid and food in his belly, he made his self useful as a studio background vocalist working with then-unknowns Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross, Cissy Houston, and others. Thunder's high mellow resonant tenor always lifted him above the others. One of his Capitol releases was "Tell Him," the same song which became a hit for the Exciters months after his version had died. (The Exciters' members included the boisterous voice of Brenda Reid, who's the mother of Antonio "L.A." Reid, who became a songwriting and record producing force with Babyface in the '80s and '90s.) Producer/songwriter Teddy Vann came up with "Loop de Loop," a song that Thunder thought was a joke. Vann even suggested the name change from Gil Hamilton to Johnny Thunder. None of his following releases came close to equaling the success of "Loop": "The Rosey Dance" failed to enter the Top 100, stopping at number 122; Bert Bern's "Everybody Do the Sloopy" did much better, but its showing at number 67 was still unimpressive. Like most singers, Thunder didn't like the stuff he recorded, but did it hoping lightening would strike twice. He continued recording throughout the '60s, waxing sides for Calla, Vee Jay, and United Artists Records; the Vee Jay 45 dropped under his birth name. In the '70s, he recorded sides for Arista, but again, no hits. He recorded one album, Loop de Loop, on Diamond. ~ Andrew Hamilton

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