Jimmy Jones spent a number of years writing songs, recording songs, forming groups, and making the rounds of the record companies in New York City before finally reaching the top ten twice with two big hits in 1960.
He was born James Jones in Birmingham, Alabama in 1937 and moved to New York City while in his teens. He enjoyed music and dancing, especially tap dancing, and performed with a group known as The Charles A. Taylor Brown Monarchs in various theaters around New York City while still in school. Jimmy performed with his sisters at church singing gospel music, and enjoyed the influence of popular singers at the time such as Louis Jordan, Clyde McPhatter, and Jackie Wilson. In 1955 he joined an R& B group there called the Sparks Of Rhythm (formerly the Berliners), who recorded for Apollo Records.
By the end of 1955 the Sparks of Rhythm had turned their attention to music such as that recorded by the Ink Spots and their lead singer Bill Kenny, but Jimmy Jones left because he had other ideas -- he wanted to sing rock-and-roll. Jimmy formed his own group along with Melvin Walton, Bobby Moore, Kerry Saxton and William Walker and called it The Savoys. They worked for Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records and recorded at Bell Sound, primarily songs that were written by Jimmy. They felt that they were not making the progress that they wanted, so they changed their name to the Pretenders and in 1956 went to George Goldner at Rama Records; Goldner was working with acts such as the Teenagers and the Cleftones. Jones was in and out of various groups, and associated with various labels, before finally striking out on his own.
Jimmy Jones had composed his song Handy Man and it had been recorded by the Sparks Of Rhythm after he had left the group. By 1959 he had struck out on his own as a solo artist. He worked with songwriter Otis Blackwell and together the two of them re-worked Handy Man. Both are listed as co-writers of the song, and some list Charles Merenstein as a co-writer. A recording session was arranged in late 1959 with MGM subsidiary Cub Records. Originally intended to have a flute, when a session musician didn't show up Blackwell simply whistled the part, and along with Jimmy's lead vocal, Handy Man by Jimmy Jones went on to become a giant #2 hit in the USA (and #3 in the UK) early in 1960. The following spring, he had his second and last million-seller with Good Timin', #1 in the UK and #3 in the US. Both hits were produced by Blackwell. They were to be Jimmy Jones' only two top forty singles. Curiously, Good Timin' was not a self-composition; writing credits went to Clint Ballard, Jr. and Fred Tobias. Known for his falsetto voice and lively performances on stage, Jones would have several more hits on the British charts, and none on the US charts, although he remained active as a singer, songwriter, and performer and worked with a number of labels, including Vee-Jay, Roulette, and Parkway for many more years.
Handy Man would later be a hit for Del Shannon, and for James Taylor. Boy George was accused of lifting the lyric "come-a, come-a" for his 1983/84 hit with Culture Club, Karma Chameleon, from Jones' Handy Man. Good Timin' was covered by Kyu Sakamoto (in Japanese) and by British group Showaddywaddy. Jimmy Jones married Mattie Jones and they had three children. They later moved to Aberdeen, North Carolina, where Jimmy died in 2012; he is believed to have died from colon cancer.
Jimmy Jones will always be remembered for his two top three songs from 1960, Handy Man and Good Timin'.
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