Vocalist Wolf 'Thunder' Johnson dead at 59
HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 9/21/2012, 2:20 p.m.
If you are among those who tune out commercials on radio and television, you probably missed the resonant tones of Wolf Johnson as he promoted such items General Electric, Church's Fried Chicken and Chili's baby back ribs. However, if you followed soul groups in the '80s and '90s, you might have heard him singing with the Tempts, Platters or the Drifters. Johnson's bass baritone voice was silenced on Sept. 8 when he died of a heart attack. He was 59.
Johnson was perhaps most remembered for his thunderous voice pushing baby back ribs, which was repeated enough to earn a place in the film "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." It was even prominently featured during the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star game.
Three weeks ago he was on the road with G.C. Cameron of the Spinners, and in New York, he often appeared at the Cotton Club with the resident orchestra and at the Pierre Hotel with the Manhattan Swing Orchestra.
Along with his wife, Annette McCoy, he also recorded the soundtrack for the feature-length documentary directed by Vivian Ducat "All of Me: The Life of Winfred Rembert," which focused on the noted Georgia artist.
Born Willie McCoy in Grenada, Miss., Johnson grew up in Dallas, where he played high school football at Pinkston High School and was on his way to attend Pepperdine College when an opportunity to tour with A.T. Bragg led him into show business. His mellifluous voice and charming good looks made him a natural for the oldie tours when they began their runs in the '80s and '90s.
It was during a tour with the Drifters that he met and married Annette Bland in 1998. She was singing with the Marvelettes. They resided at the Rivera on Riverside Drive.
A memorial service was held on Monday, Sept. 17 at Canaan Baptist Church and on Saturday in Dallas. He was interrred at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Dallas.
He is survived by his wife, Annette Bland McCoy of New York; his mother, Dorothy Ashford; eight sisters and brothers, Shirley Jean Johnson, Dina Ashford, Tina Ashford, Peter Johnson, Edgar Johnson and Donnell Ashford, all of Dallas, and Dorothy Brinkley of Los Angeles and Mary Conley of Sacramento, Calif.; and two sons, Willie B. Smith and Daytron Smith, and one grandson, Daytron Smith Jr., all of Fort Worth.