Johnnie and Joe were a duo particularly active in the 1950s. They consisted of the late Johnnie Louise Richardson and Joe Rivers. They began performing together in 1957. Their hit single recorded under J&S, “Over The Mountain, Across The Sea,” was “loaned” to Chess Records for a wider national release. It was one of J&S’s first successful hits. Other singles that did well are “I’ll Be Spinning” and “My Baby’s Gone.” In the 70s and 80s they reunited to perform in concerts, and recorded the 1982 album Kingdom Of Love. Richardson died in 1988.
Who was Johnnie and Joe?
Johnnie and Joe were an R&B vocal duo formed in The Bronx, New York in 1957. The members consisted of Johnny Louise (or Johnnie Louise) Richardson and Joe Rivers.
Richardson was born in Montgomery, Alabama on June 29, 1935. She was the daughter of singer-songwriter and record producer Zelma “Zell” Sanders who had been a touring member of an all-girl R&B vocal group The Hearts. At that time Sanders owned and ran her own label, J&S Records, whose one of its artists The Jaynetts sang the mystifying classic “Sally Go Round the Roses.” Joe Rivers, on the other hand, was born in Charleston, North Carolina on March 20, 1937.
The formation of Johnnie and Joe
Rivers just migrated to New York when he was spotted by singer-songwriter and pianist Rex Garvin who also was the house arranger of J&S. Garvin told Sanders that he felt Rivers had potential. Agreeing to this, Zell had Garvin team up Rivers with her own daughter Johnny Louise Richardson.
Rivers and Richardson began to strike up a good working and musical partnership. They sang and harmonized together well enough to warrant them a recording right away. Their first record was a song titled “I’ll Be Spinning,” written by Garvin who also played the piano on the track. Released as a single by J&S, it was picked for national distribution by Chess Records in 1957. It became the duo’s first charting single, peaking at #10 on the R&B chart that year.
The duo’s biggest hit with “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea”
The duo’s second single “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” was also written by Gavin. It was first a single by J&S, the eventually was picked up for national distribution again by Chess Records in 1957. “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea” became Johnnie and Joe’s biggest hit record, peaking at #3 on the R&B singles chart and also crossed over to the pop chart at #8
“Over the Mountain, Across the Sea”‘s flip side, “My Baby’s Gone, On, On” was also penned by Garvin. It also received a decent amount of airplay and even made it to the charts at #15 R&B.
After that, Johnnie and Joe never managed to score another hit, despite their efforts. Only “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea” had maintained its staying power for the second and last time when it appeared on the Hot 100 chart in 1960 (at #89).
By the time of Zell Sander’s death in 1976, Johnnie and Joe had been performing again since reuniting in the late 1960s, mostly to nostalgic audiences. In 1982 the duo released an album titled Kingdom of Love (on Ambient Sound label), which earned positive review from critics.
Richardson passed away in New York City, New York on October 25, 1988 due to complications from a stroke. Rivers, meanwhile, has carried on the Johnnie and Joe on occasions, hiring new female partners to play the “Johnnie” part.