Buddy Ace's death of a massive heart attack while singing "Time To Move On" at a Waco nightclub early Christmas morning was an eerily coincidental demise for the veteran balladeer, whose career, stage name and image were patterned after another performer who also died at a Christmas performance.
But Buddy Ace -- who came into this world as Jimmie Land -- wasn't related to the legendary Johnny Ace, although the myth that the two were connected by blood was perpetuated even after Buddy Ace's death in a Houston Chronicle story on his passing.
Memphis native Johnny Ace, whose real name was John Marshall Alexander Jr., was only 25 when, shortly after performing "Forever My Darling," he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound backstage at Houston's City Auditorium on Christmas night, 1954. At the time, Alexander was the most popular performer on the roster of Houston's Duke/Peacock record label. Alexander had performed on the streets of Memphis with B.B. King, Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland in the Beale Streeters. Houston's Don Robey acquired Memphis' Duke Records -- and the contracts of many of the Beale Streeters -- and merged it with his own Peacock label in the early 1950s. Alexander's boyish good looks, easygoing demeanor and achingly beautiful voice resulted in a meteoric career as one of the first black artists to cross over to white pop-music fans and achieve "teen idol" status. Behind the star's facade, however, lurked a troubled young man whose self-destructive driving habits are as well-documented as his fondness for playing with the cheap revolver he kept loaded with only one bullet.
The death of his best-known artist led the ever-pragmatic (ahem) Robey to remember a teenage singer from Baytown named Jimmie Land, whose talent show appearances had reminded Robey of Alexander. Land was soon signed to Duke and replaced Johnny Ace in the Blues Consolidated Revue, a touring package operated by Robey. Land's stage name of "Buddy Ace" was chosen by Robey to capitalize on the popularity of Johnny Ace and led to the stories that the two Aces were either cousins or father and son. The Chronicle obituary on Buddy Ace reported the latter legend as fact -- even though Johnny Ace was only eight years old at the time of Buddy Ace's birth.
Despite his rich, gospel-trained voice, Buddy Ace never achieved the popularity of Johnny Ace, although his career was considerably more enduring. His 15 years with Duke resulted in only one hit, "Nothing But This World Can Hurt Me,'' but he worked steadily as a live performer in Texas and California, where he resided with his family for many years, and frequently toured with a soul-blues revue featuring Latimore, Denise LaSalle and Tyrone Davis. He had just finished an album of blues ballads -- Give Me My Flowers While I'm Living, due to be released next spring -- when he died on-stage at 57, 40 years to the day after the death of his namesake.
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-- Jim Sherman