Mary Johnson recalled: "I said 'Of course I would!'. Royce then talked to James Joyner and Kelso
Herston, who had recently started a small record company in Florence, Alabama. They came to hear me at my home and decided to sign me. Mother and daddy went over the contract for me - I was
only about 14 - and signed it. We tried to record but James and Kelso never could get their equipment working right, so they decided to take me to Nashville. They had a connection with Buddy Killen
at Tree Music, who worked out a deal with Chet Atkins at RCA Victor. I think Buddy was really blown away when he heard me and saw how young I was. He went ahead and got us an appointment with Chet and
I think Chet, too, was pretty impressed. It wasn't long after that I had my first session for RCA".
By this time, Mary's name had evolved into Jeanie Johnson, which is how it appeared on her first three releases for RCA - all produced
by Chet Atkins. The first single was cut on January 12, 1958, just before Jeanie/Mary's 15th birthday. Another session was held on April 29, 1958. Her third single, cut on May 21, 1960 was
released with a picture sleeve, underscoring how highly RCA regarded the young singer. After this contract expired, Mary resigned with RCA in 1965. Her next two singles were produced by Felton
Jarvis and credited to Jeanie Fortune - another name change. "Occasional Tears" (RCA 47-8704) was released in 1965 and her final disc for the label, "Angry Eyes" (47-8914), appeared in 1966.
Another single, "Sure As Sin", appeared on Atco 6619 in 1968. It remains one of Mary's favourites.
During her tenure at RCA, Jeanie met and married singer-songwriter Marlin Greene. While she continued to record as a solo artist, Johnson
was also singing with Mary Holladay and Susan Coleman in a group they named Southern Comfort. Donna Thatcher was added later to bring further depth to the group. The group wanted a fuller four-part sound
like The Sweet Inspirations. When Donna left the group, there skated using Ginger Holladay, Mary's sister.
Their tight and spontaneous harmonies were valued for studio work in the burgeoning southern recording industry and soon Johnson/Fortune/Greene
was in demand as a regular backup singer at Chips Moman's American Sound Studio in Memphis, as well as Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound in Florence, Alabama. Mary Johnson also worked regularly
as a backup singer at Stax and Hi Records in Memphis, and several studios in Nashville. Mary recalls: "One of the first backup vocal jobs I had was behind Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun in Memphis".
The session, held in August 1963, was the singer's
last for the Sun label. In addition to session work as backup vocalists, Southern Comfort recorded material under their own name for Cotilion Records. When in the early 1970s, Ian Matthews'
hit "Southern Comfort" came out, The Southern Comfort changed the name because the hit record decided who got to use the name.
Mary Johnson's work appears anonymously on a host of Elvis Presley records recorded during the
1960s. "The first session we ever did with Elvis was "In The Ghetto", recalls Mary Johnson. "That was at American Sound. We also did "Suspicious Minds". We never did appear with him on his stage shows.
They used The Sweet Inspirations instead because they were quite a draw in person. I originally got the job singing backup for Elvis because of my recording for RCA. Felton Jarvis, who was Elvis's producer,
handled my last session at RCA''.
time later we had done some work at American Sound and I found out that Elvis was coming in. I remember we spent the night at the Holiday Inn on the river after our session and the next morning as we
were checking out I called Felton. That's the boldest thing I think I ever did in my life. I said to him, 'We just found out from Chips that you're bringing Elvis in for a session and we really want to be on
it'. He said, 'Well, I'll talk to Elvis about it' and sure enough we got to do it. We almost fainted".
Mary's group, The Southern Comfort, also recorded widely (and performed live with) Neil Diamond. They were seen with Diamond when he
appeared on the Johnny Cash TV show. As her original Sun recordings suggested, Johnson was not restricted by musical categories. Her vocal group also appeared on recordings with country artist Bobby Bare, and soul
singer Percy Sledge (When A Man Loves A Woman), Joe Tex and Joe Simon.
In 1972 Mary Johnson appeared with Marlin Greene on George Harrison's landmark Concert For Bangladesh album. Mary's group also appeared on 1960s albums by Boz Scaggs
and Cher; 1970s albums by Don Nix, Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Gerry Goffin, Dan Penn, Willie Nelson, Leo Sayer and Peter Yarrow.
In 1971 Mary again recorded solo, producing an LP on Elektra called "Mary Called Jeanie Greene"
(EKS 74103). A live recording of an tour called "The Alabama State Troupers" was issued on Elektra 75002 in 1972, featuring Jeanie, Don Nix, and blues singer Furry Lewis.
In 1984, Mary recorded as backup singer for Carl Perkins, but she never did get paid for
it. After that, things began to wind down. In 1993 her husband Max died, Today Mary-Elizabeth-Jeanie Johnson-Greene-Lee lives in Corinth, Mississippi, not far from where she grew up. She lives a quiet life enjoying none of the material
benefits or notoriety one might expect from such as a productive career in the music business. She is not looking for international fame and fortune, but neither was she expecting to be forgotten. Her voice, has graced numerous gold
and platina records. She has been heard by millions who never knew who she was.
Jeanie Green has been
tranferred to Shepherd's Cove (Hospice of Marshall County) in Albertville, Alabama. Among her assorted afflictions, congestive heart failure has taken the biggest toll on her body. The doctors have not been optimistic that her condition will omprove - as heart
will continue to become progressively weaker. Jeanie Greene passed away on August 19, 2018.