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Johnny Horton

Although he is better-remembered for his historical songs, Johnny Horton was one of the best and most popular honky tonk singers of the late '50s. Horton managed to infuse honky tonk with an urgent rockabilly underpinning. His career may have been cut short by a fatal car crash in 1960, but his music reverberated throughout the next three decades.

Horton was born in Los Angeles in 1925, the son of sharecropping parents. During his childhood, his family continually moved between California and Texas, in an attempt to find work. His mother taught him how to play guitar at the age of 11. Horton graduated from high school in 1944 and attended a Methodist seminary with the intent of joining a ministry. After a short while, he left the seminary and began traveling across the country, eventually moving to Alaska in 1949 to become a fisherman. While he was in Alaska, he began writing songs in earnest.

The following year, Horton moved back to east Texas, where he entered a talent contest hosted by Jim Reeves, who was then an unknown vocalist. He won the contest, which encouraged him to pursue a career as a performer. Horton started out by playing talent contests throughout Texas, which is where he gained the attention of Fabor Robison, a music manager that was notorious for his incompetence and his scams. In early 1951, Robison became Horton's manager and managed to secure him a recording contract with Corman Records. However, shortly after his signing, the label folded. Robison then founded his own label, Abbott Records, with the specific intent of recording Horton. None of these records had any chart success. During 1951, Horton began performing on various Los Angeles TV shows and hosted a radio show in Pasadena, where he performed under the name "the Singing Fisherman." By early 1952, Robison had moved Horton to Mercury Records.

At the end of 1951, Horton relocated from California to Shreveport, LA, where he became a regular on the Louisiana Hayride. However, Lousiana was filled with pitfalls -- his first wife left him shortly after the move, and Robison severed all ties with Horton when he became Reeves' manager. During 1952, Hank Williams rejoined the cast of the Hayride and became a kind of mentor for Horton. After Williams died on New Year's Eve of 1952, Horton became close with his widow, Billie Jean; the couple married in September of 1953.

Although he had a regular job on the Hayride, Horton's recording career was going nowhere -- none of his Mercury records were selling, and rock & roll was beginning to overtake country's share of the market place. Horton's fortunes changed in the latter half of 1955, when he hired Webb Pierce's manager Tillman Franks as his own manager and quit Mercury Records. Franks had Pierce help him secure a contract for Horton with Columbia Records by the end of 1955. The change in record labels breathed life into Horton's career. At his first Columbia session, he cut "Honky Tonk Man," his first single for the label and one that would eventually become a honky tonk classic. By the spring of 1956, the song had reached the country Top Ten and Horton was well on his way to becoming a star.

"Honky Tonk Man" was edgy enough to have Horton grouped in on the more country-oriented side of rockabilly. Wearing a large cowboy hat to hide his receding hairline, he became a popular concert attraction and racked up three more hit singles -- "I'm a One-Woman Man" (number seven), "I'm Coming Home" (number 11), "The Woman I Need" (number nine) -- in the next year. However, the hits dried up just as quickly as they arrived; for the latter half of 1957 and 1958, he didn't hit the charts at all. Horton responded by cutting some rockabilly, which was beginning to fall out of favor by the time his singles were released.

In the fall of 1958, he bounced back with the Top Ten "All Grown Up," but it wasn't until the ballad "When It's Springtime in Alaska (It's Forty Below)" hit the charts in early 1959 that he achieved a comeback. The song fit neatly into the folk-based story songs that were becoming popular in the late '50s, and it climbed all the way to number one. Its success inspired his next single, "The Battle of New Orleans." Taken from a 1958 Jimmie Driftwood album, the song was a historical saga song like "When It's Springtime in Alaska," but it was far more humorous. It was also far more successful, topping the country charts for ten weeks and crossing over into the pop charts, where it was number one for six weeks. After the back-to-back number one successes of "When It's Spring Time in Alaska" and "The Battle of New Orleans," Horton concentrated solely on folky saga songs. "Johnny Reb" became a Top Ten hit in the fall of 1959, and "Sink the Bismarck" was a Top Ten hit in the spring of 1960, followed by the number one hit "North to Alaska" in the fall of 1960.

Around the time of "North to Alaska"'s November release, Horton claimed that he was getting premonitions of an early death. Sadly, his premonitions came true. On November 4, 1960, he suffered a car crash driving home to Shreveport after a concert in Austin, TX. Horton was still alive after the wreck, but he died on the way to the hospital; the other passengers in his car had severe injuries, but they survived. Although he died early in his career, Horton left behind a recorded legacy that proved to be quite influential. Artists like George Jones and Dwight Yoakam have covered his songs, and echoes of Horton's music can still be heard in honky tonk and country-rock music well into the '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Johnny Horton 1956-1960 Vol. 1

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4

Comments

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Not my generation of country music when i was a little boy my grandpa listen to Johnny Horton still listen to him . Awsome country singer of his time . Legend singer
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fun songs
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I phone 5x then say your favorite color then post this on 2 other songs then look under your pillow
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I have moments when I 'll start singing Horton's songs while traveling ! Love Golden Rocket' and Jim Bridger ' though can't remember the lyrics as good as the other one's. A great what if with Johnny? a great one.
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Wow .married Hank Snr's wife and he died ? Always loved Horton's voice and works, and all the coincidences with Reeves ? and what a legend and great rocker also.!
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I agree with the individual from Minnesota ( beautiful state), Johnny Horton was a true American & addressed such a wide audience! Sometimes it's easy to seem irritated with people who stereotype Southerners - never wish to offend anyone. Afterall, what matters, is the fact that we appreciate good music and Johnny Horton was an authentic artist. Still love to hear Johnny Reb - wish I would hear it more!
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Johnny is one of the best
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wyattiearv42
I'm from Minnesota don't have anything against the South this guy's a true American, one of my favorites
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I completely agree with the person I'd venture to guess hails from Alabama? History has distorted the truth about the War Between the States. The atrocities committed by the almighty Yankees and let's talk about their prisoner of war camps are something nobody has the guts to discuss. The " Union " covered up so many facts. Sherman was a sadistic nutcase. I am not an ignorant bigot, but why should one not be proud of being Southern & PROUD of the CONFEDERACY! !
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He is a true American
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alabastervil l i s 0
my roots are in the south, im proud of my white irish roots. doesnt make me a dumb, racist. the north in the civil war were some of the most ruthless devils in the world, the only reason the north won the war was because the didnt care about the lives of the men who fought for them, many irish didnt have a choice but to fight. know your history
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If you love historical music Johnny Horton is the best
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Amen to "Johnny Reb!" They fought with honor and dignity. They deserve to be honored, these men saw and experienced horrors which NO history book discussed. Albeit there are two authors who are absolutely true to history. Professor James I. Robertson (Virginia Tech) & Shelby Foote - must reads...
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kj4lopez
When I listen to these songs I always cry because it reminds me about my grandpa that die cuz he would always listen to them
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Just a side note, speaking positively about the the Confederacy, doesn't make a person a bigot or ignorant! If you do your homework, the Yankees were not the almighty saviors the way history loves to portray them. The war was about "State's Rights", ask yourself how much the" North " benefitted from the South... BTW, Delaware was a slaveholding state -gee isn't that in the North?? Lots of hypocrisy!!
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They can play Johnny Reb much more -love that song! Nobody but Pandora seems to have the guts to play it. It was such tragic war, but it's time we pay our respects to the brave Southern & many Northerners who fought with equal courage for the Confederacy! !
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Linda Dreier: Johnny died in a car crash, well actually, he was alive for a little while after the crash, but died on the way to the hospital.
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Love Johnny Horton since Grandma B. Gave me an album with Whispering Pines and The Battle of New Orleans in it, not to mention a few Alaskan gold rush type songs in it. I hope to add that album here if I find it Oh & all other biographies I've read recently said he died in a plane crash. I cried a lot of tears when he died back I the early sixties. Maybe it was a car crash. Wish I knew which version is true. I wore that old album out with hundreds of plays, while he was alive and even more af
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As a Southerner, Johnny Horton should have used the appropriate name for the battle. It was called Manassas. The Confederacy used different names for their battles.
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As much as I love Johnny Horton, I dislike the ridiculous British version of this song! It is not meant to offend anyone, however, we are talking about history and I am quite certain that the English are intelligent enough to realize that this is part of history!!
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"Johnny Reb" is my all time favorite Johnny Horton songs! The words speak volumes!! At least Pandora plays it. I know that I am not the only one who likes it.....
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miles44406
Why in the world is he NOT in the Country Music Hall of Fame?????
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Sing it Johnny Horton
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great singer love the song battle of new orleans
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Never get tired of Johnny Horton!
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Johnny Horton has that catch in his voice, perfect. He really was a good singer. Sings cool songs too.
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YEE HAWW FROM TN
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im not sure I would be alive without Pandora yeah .. really
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aboss1248
I heard this song when I was younger and I have tried to find it ever since and I finally found it last summer
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Really love Johnny and his style. Among my favorites.
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Best songwriter ever
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Man country singers never come this good anymore now it's Flordia Georgia line and others but I like Johnny cash and Horton better
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Http://www.c o m / s e a r c h ? c l i e n t = s a f a r i & r l s = e n 8 q = D o n ' t + r e a d + t h i s + i t + a c t u a l l y + w o r k s . Y o u + w i l l + b e + k i s s e d + b y + t h e + l o v e + o f + y o u r + l i f e + T o m o r r o w +
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Not the gators head
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My favorite singer ❤
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My grandpa lusten to ris when I was 8 yrs old got to like'n him proably alot older most of you still listen to him
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One of my favorites. Grew up listening to this
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Funny, born in British Columbia and this song was not played on local stations. Thank goodness radio waves didn't recognize the internationa l border!
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He knew history and great songs
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love this song
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he is my 3 rd cousin he died in a car reck

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Pure honest singer
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Amen
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gibbslarryd
Why is Pandora playing the British version? Ruins the mood of the song.
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This what Country is all abuot
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codyryan1492
Im 21 way before my time but I grew up listening to Horton he was way before my dads time but he's where I got it from I just don't see why I never here Horton at the country bars
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I'm 43 my gtandpa listen to Johnny Horton when i was real little i still love to listen to Johnny
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My wife lived in Englang for two years - drove around with all the car windows down playing The Battle Of New Orleans!!
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It is a shame that Johnny Horton has not been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame...HUGE oversight in my opinion!
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my brother loved this!
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