Johnny Horton Biography
30 April 1925, Los Angeles, California, USA, d. 5 November 1960, Milano, Texas, USA. Horton was raised in Tyler, Texas, where his sharecropping family settled in search of work. He learned the guitar from his mother and, owing to his athletic prowess, won scholarships at Baylor University and later the University of Seattle. For a time he worked in the fishing industry but began his singing career on KXLA Pasadena in 1950, quickly acquiring the nickname of The Singing Fisherman. He recorded for Cormac in 1951 and then became the first artist on Fabor Robinsons Abbott label. In 1952 he moved to Mercury Records but was soon in conflict with the company about the choice of songs. He married Hank Williams widow, Billie Jean, in September 1953, who encouraged him to better himself. With Tillman Franks as his manager, Horton moved to Columbia Records, and their co-written Honky Tonk Man marked his debut in the US country charts. Horton recorded Honky Tonk Man the day after Elvis Presley recorded Heartbreak Hotel and Presleys bass player, Bill Black, was on the session. The song was successfully revived by Dwight Yoakam in 1986, while George Jones revived another song recorded that day, Im A One Woman Man, in 1989. Other fine examples of Hortons rockabilly talents are All Grown Up and the hard-hitting Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor.
In 1959, Horton switched direction and concentrated on story songs, often with an historical basis, and had his first US country number 1 with a Tillman Franks song, When Its Springtime In Alaska. This was followed by his version of Jimmie Driftwoods The Battle Of New Orleans, which became a number 1 pop and country hit in the USA. Lonnie Donegans Battle Of New Orleans made number 2 in the UK, but Hortons number 16 was respectable, especially in view of the fact that his version was banned by the BBC for referring to the bloody British. Hortons next record was another historical song, Johnny Reb, backed with the up-tempo novelty, Sals Got A Sugar Lip. Told simply to cover Hortons latest record, Donegan mistakenly covered Sals Got A Sugar Lip - and still managed to have a hit! Hortons Sink The Bismarck, inspired by the film, made number 3 in the US charts, while he sang the title song of the John Wayne film North To Alaska and took it to number 4 in the USA and number 23 in the UK. It also topped the US country charts for five weeks.
On 5 November 1960, Horton died on the way to hospital after a head-on collision with a pick-up truck near Milano, Texas. Tillman Franks received head and chest injuries that required hospital treatment and guitarist Tommy Tomlinson suffered a very serious leg injury which, because of his diabetes, failed to heal and a few months later the leg was amputated. He later played guitar for a time with Claude King but never really recovered from the crash (the driver of the other vehicle, James Evans Davis, aged 19, was discovered to be intoxicated and received a two year suspended sentence). Billie Jean (who later stated that before he left for the last time, Horton kissed her on exactly the same place on the same cheek that Hank Williams had kissed her when he set off for his final trip) became a country stars widow for the second time in 10 years. Horton, who has been described as the last major star of The Louisiana Hayride, is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery, Bossier City, Louisiana. Much of his up-tempo material did not appeal to the traditionalists but somebody once wrote that he was ten years older than most of the rockabillies but with his cowboy hat hiding a receding hairline, he more or less looked the part. However, his saga songs have certainly guaranteed that he is not forgotten.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.