Remembering Johnny Braff – interview + videos

Remembering Johnny Braff

MARCH 10, 2014 | BY KNEWS | By Michael Jordan

” I played songs that people could listen to; when you hear songs like that, they go straight to your heart and you have to stop what you are doing and sing..”


If you don’t know those lines, if you don’t know that heartbreaking song, then sadly, you missed out on the late sixties and early seventies, when a Guyanese singer named Johnny Braff was belting out love songs that made him both a household name and sex symbol in his homeland and abroad.

Johhy Braff1Guyanese icon, Johnny Braff today

Decked out in white suit and black hat, the now 78-year-old Guyanese icon stopped in at Kaieteur News last week, to charm the female reporters with snippets of his songs and signing autographs before sitting down to an interview.
His real name is Johnny Critchlow, and he was born on July 3, 1937; the second to last of 14 children, living in Station Street, Kitty. But the large family was never in danger of starving.
His father, Harry Braithwaite, was a stevedore, “and stevedores in those days used to get good money, and things weren’t that expensive,” he said.
From an early age, young Johnny Critchlow showed an interest in music- entertaining and annoying his family by blowing on a comb wrapped in paper.
“Since I was a small boy, I used to play the ‘comb and paper’ and make music around the house, and everybody would start to dance.”
One can say that his mother, Irene Critchlow, was one of his first critics. “My mother used to tell my father, ‘why this boy keeping so much of noise with this comb paper, like he gun be some kind of musician or something?’”
One of his first jobs was at the famous Tang’s Bakery, but he learned plumbing as a trade at Barry Massay in Queenstown. He eventually became an A-class plumber, working at Mackenzie for a number of years. He got in the habit of singing at his workplace, and recalled that some of his colleagues would remark: “You think you is a sing-man, you better do the people work.”
And hadn’t it been for a challenge from a colleague, the world might never have heard about ‘Johnny Braff.’
“There was a chap named Barker who used to stammer, he coudda sing good, so he meet me one day and say ‘you think you could sing more than me?’ I say ‘you could sing? Is just that I doan know nuff songs like you.’ So he say ‘they got a concert tonight at the Recreation Hall, so I decide to pay twenty-fice cents to enter.
“He (Barker) was to sing at the concert, he was dressed up, while my clothes were full of dust, since I had come straight from work.”
With his dusty clothes, the then Johnny Critchlow sat at the back of the audience, where his colleague, Barker, found him and again challenged him to sing.
“I say I ain’t come for no competition, I had never sung with a microphone before, but he (Barker) go and bring the piano player to me.”
After much urging from the piano player, Johnny Critchlow ventured onstage and began to sing ‘Many a Tear has to Fall’, which was the only song that he could think of at the time.
“Before I started, the people were keeping a lotta noise because I had on my dutty clothes, but when I start to sing the place get quiet, quiet…and when I was done they shouted for more.., I said I don’t know any other song and they say ‘sing the same song again’ and from then I was on.”
At around 19 years of age, he went on to form a singing group called ‘The Heartbreakers’ with local musicians Michael Bacchus, Dennis Coxwell, Cecil Whitehead, and Compton Edwards.

Johnny Braff2

Still has the charm: Johnny Braff signs an autograph for Kaieteur News reporter Kiana Wilberg

“We rehearsed in Lall’s Store in Garnett Street, Kitty opposite to Rialto Cinema. We became so popular that anyone that came from overseas (to sing) they would put us to sing with them, like Ben E. King and all of those singers. We sang with Sparrow, with the Blues Busters at Astor Cinema, Queen’s College.”
It was while performing at the Carib Hotel that the Guyanese group out-danced the legendary American singer Chubby Checker, who had popularized the dance known as ‘the twist.‘ That event made the headlines in the dailies. By then, the group was earning about $30.00 for each performance.
His big break came during a performance to a packed audience at the Astor Cinema. It was then that he first performed his compositions ‘It Burns Inside,’ and ‘A shower of Tears,’ two of his first major hits. In that audience was local businessman and producer Vivian Lee.
Lee was so impressed that he met with him afterwards and suggested that Critchlow record his two songs. He would subsequently record ‘It Burns Inside’ at Radio Demerara, before re-recording it in the US, along with. Some of his other hits, such as ‘A Shower of Tears’, ‘Same Time Same Place, ‘Anything You can Do’ were recorded in the US and in Curacao.
At the peak of his career, the songs of the now-rechristened Johnny Braff were played almost daily on the radio.
Johnny Braff signed a contract with Vivian Lee, which allowed him to perform in America. He also sang with Percy Sledge in Barbados. Sadly, a scheduled tour with legendary soul singer Otis Redding never came off after the American and his band died in a plane crash.
Johnny Braff then signed a six-year contract to sing on a Yugoslavian cruise ship, earning US$5,000 a month.  Of course, there were his female fans. Many, many female fans.
At the peak of his fame, Johnny Braff claims to have fathered at least 27 children in at least ten countries.
“I have children in America, I have children in Curacao…in Haiti…Venezuela, in Dutch Guyana…in Martinique…in Trinidad…Barbados .Antigua…St Lucia; they all know me…I got nuff children, boy, this year I going and see some of them…”

Johnny Braff has received several awards for his contribution to music, including the Guyana Folk Festival 2002 Wordsworth McAndrew Award.
But while he says he receives royalties from overseas, this Guyanese icon says he receives none from his homeland. “I used to get royalties from Guyana and Trinidad, every three months, but when the government changed, they say that they can’t pay anymore. I get money from England, from the Performer’s Rights Society.”

And how does he compare his achievements with performers today?
“I don’t want to bad-talk anyone. In my time, it was a different kind of music; I played songs that people could listen to; when you hear songs like that, they go straight to your heart and you have to stop what you are doing and sing along.”
Johnny Braff says that he still has many unrecorded songs. He promised that fans can look out for a new album later in the year.

Johnny Braff Live Show in Brooklyn NY in 1983


Johnny Braff & The Telstars-Read it Over b/w I Don’t Care

Go to YouTube at this link:

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/14/2014 at 11:33 am

    As a teenager, I remember Johnny Braff on the radio and his hit songs; then I left for Canada. I am glad to hear that he is still alive and kicking – as they say friends, ‘If music be the food of Love – play on!’ For all the good times, Wishing Johnny Braff all the best!!

  • de castro  On 03/14/2014 at 1:30 pm

    Still prefer Eddie Grant or Bob Marley…who followed both kings….
    Just my preference.!

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 03/14/2014 at 4:40 pm

    Thank you Johnny Braff for those memorable teenage days listening and dancing to your hit songs.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 03/14/2014 at 6:30 pm

    De gustibus non est disputandum !!

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