Johnny Horton – Country & Western Superstar (1973)

FrontCover1.JPGJohn LaGale “Johnny” Horton (April 30, 1925 – November 5, 1960) was an American country music, honky tonk and rockabilly singer and musician, during the 1950s and early 1960s, best known for his international hits beginning with the 1959 single “The Battle of New Orleans”, which was awarded the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. The song was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award and in 2001 ranked No. 333 of the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century”. His first number 1 country song was in 1959, “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)”.

Horton’s music usually encompassed folk ballads based on American historic themes and legend. He had two successes in 1960 with both “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska” utilized over the opening credits for the John Wayne film of the same name. Horton died in November 1960 at the peak of his fame in a traffic collision, less than two years after his breakthrough. Horton is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Horton was born in Los Angeles, to John Loly Horton (1889–1959) and the former Ella Claudia Robinson (1892–1966), the youngest of five siblings, and reared in Rusk in Cherokee County in east Texas. His family often traveled to California to work as migrant fruit pickers. After graduation from high school in Gallatin, Texas, in 1944, Horton attended Lon Morris Junior College in Jacksonville, Texas, with a basketball scholarship. He later attended Seattle University and briefly Baylor University in Waco, although he did not graduate from any of these institutions.

Johnny Horton01

Horton soon returned to California, where he got a job in the mail room at Selznick International Pictures. His future wife, Donna Cook, was working at the studio as a secretary at the time. After a short stint studying geology in Seattle in 1948, Horton went to Alaska to look for gold. It was during this period that he began writing songs. Returning south, he entered and won a talent contest in Henderson, Texas. Encouraged by this result, he returned to California to pursue a music career.

His guest appearances on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree on KXLA-AM and KLAC-TV in Pasadena and his own half-hour show The Singing Fisherman led to the opportunity to record some songs on the Cormac record label. By the time the company folded in 1952, Horton recorded ten singles for that label. Fabor Robison, owner of Abbott Records, acquired the masters. Around this time Horton married Donna Cook.

Johnny Horton02.jpg

By this time Horton was appearing regularly on Louisiana Hayride, so he and Donna moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the show was recorded. He also signed a contract with Mercury Records and began recording. His first song for that label, “First Train Headin’ South” b/w “(I Wished for an Angel) The Devil Sent Me You” (Mercury 6412), received good reviews. He and his new backup band, the Rowley Trio, began touring under the name The Singing Fisherman and the Rowley Trio in 1952, eventually changing the name to Johnny Horton and the Roadrunners. The group included Horton as lead singer, Jerry Rowley on fiddle, his wife Evelyn on piano, and his sister Vera (Dido) on guitars. The constant touring was hard on Horton’s marriage, and Donna moved back to Los Angeles. They were soon divorced.


On September 26, 1953, Horton married Billie Jean Jones, widow of Hank Williams, who had died January 1, 1953. Horton parted ways with the Rowley trio, but continued to appear occasionally on Louisiana Hayride. His contract with Mercury expired in late 1954, with his recording of “All for the Love of a Girl” (Mercury 70227) being his best seller, at 35,000 to 45,000 copies. Horton, himself always an avid fisherman, got a job in a tackle shop and put his music career on hiatus. But by the following year, his new manager and bassist Tillman Franks had obtained Horton a one-year contract with Columbia Records. They traveled to Nashville in a borrowed car for their first recording session. Influenced by the work of Elvis Presley, Horton began adopting a more rockabilly style.

Johnny Horton03A.jpg

“Honky-Tonk Man” was recorded on 11 January 1956 at the Bradley Film & Recording Studios in Nashville, one of four songs Horton recorded that day. Session musicians on the recording were Grady Martin and Harold Bradley, as well as Bill Black (at the time Presley’s bassist). Soon afterwards “Honky-Tonk Man” was released as a single (Columbia label: 4-21504) paired with another song from the same session, “I’m Ready if You’re Willing”. They went out on tour, with the band featuring Franks on bass and Tommy Tomlinson on guitar. He then moved to East Peoria, Illinois where he had had four children with Darcy Melba Dwyer.

“Honky-Tonk Man” was reviewed by the March 10 issue of Billboard, which said of “Honky Tonk Man”, “The wine women and song attractions exert a powerful hold on the singer, he admits. The funky sound and pounding beat in the backing suggest the kind of atmosphere he describes. A very good jukebox record.”[1] Their review of “I’m Ready if You’re Willing” was also positive: “Horton sings out this cheerful material with amiable personality. This ever more popular stylist ought to expand his circle of fans with this one.” The song peaked at No. 9 on the C&W Jockey chart (now Hot Country Songs) and at No. 14 on the Best Seller chart.

Johnny Horton04A.jpg

Horton returned to the studio on May 23, but the “A” side of his next single, “I’m a One Woman Man” (Columbia 21538), was one of the songs recorded back in January. The “B” side was “I Don’t Like I Did”. Billboard described “One Woman Man” as a “smart and polished job,” and Horton as “singing with a light, airy touch. Guitar work is just as convincing, adding up to listenable, commercial stuff”. He and his band toured through the United States and Canada to promote the record, which reached No. 7 on the Jockey chart and No. 9 on the Best Seller and Jukebox charts.

“I’m Coming Home” / “I Got A Hole In My Pirogue” (Columbia 40813) was released around this time as well. On February 9, Billboard noted that “not only Southern markets are doing good business with this, but Northern cities report that both country and pop customers are going for this in a big way”.[1] It was again a success on the country charts (No. 11 Jockey, No. 15 Best Seller) but it failed to score the popular music charts.

Later major successes include the song “The Battle of New Orleans” (written by Jimmy Driftwood), which was awarded the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. The song was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award and in 2001 ranked No. 333 of the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century”. Horton had two other successes in 1960 with “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska” for John Wayne’s movie, North to Alaska.

Johnny Horton05.jpg

On the night of November 4–5, 1960, Horton and two other band members, Tommy Tomlinson and Tillman Franks, were travelling from Austin, Texas to Shreveport when they collided with an oncoming truck on a bridge near Milano in Milam County, Texas. Horton died en route to the hospital, and Tomlinson (1930-1982) was seriously injured; his leg later had to be amputated. Franks (1920-2006) suffered head injuries, and James Davis, the driver of the truck, had a broken ankle and other minor injuries.

The funeral was held in Shreveport on November 8, 1960, officiated by Tillman Franks’ younger brother, William Derrel “Billy” Franks, a Church of God minister. Johnny Cash did one of the readings, choosing Chapter 20 from the Book of John.[1] Horton is interred, with a cemetery bench in his honor, at the Hillcrest Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Haughton, east of Bossier City in northwestern Louisiana.

Johnny Horton06.jpg

When Johnny Cash, a good friend of Horton’s, learned about the accident he said, ” locked myself in one of the hotel’s barrooms and cried.” Cash dedicated his rendition of “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)” to Horton on his album Personal File: “Johnny Horton was a good old friend of mine.” Over time, Horton’s material has been re-released a number of times, through boxsets and compilations.

Horton was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame and posthumously inducted into the Delta Music Museum Hall of Fame in Ferriday, Louisiana.

Some racist songs by “Johnny Rebel” have sometimes been incorrectly associated with Horton. Rebel did not begin recording until after Horton’s death. The mistake is apparently because Horton recorded the historical song “Johnny Reb”.

Johnny Horton07.jpg

Horton was married twice. His first marriage, to Donna Cook, ended with a divorce granted in Rusk, Texas. In September 1953, he married Billie Jean Jones, the widow of country music singer Hank Williams. (She was Williams’ second wife.) With Billie Jean, Horton had two daughters, Yanina (Nina) and Melody. Billie Jean’s daughter, Jeri Lynn, was legally adopted by Johnny. (by wikipedia)

And here´s a compilation album, produced for the German record market in 1973.

Enjoy this trip in the early days of Country & Western music !


Johnny Horton (vocals, guitar)
a lot of other musicians


01. The Battle Of New Orleans (Driftwood) 2.31
02. When It’s Springtime In Alaska (It’s Forty Below) (Franks) 2.37
03. Johnny Reb Kilgore) 2.20
04. Sink The Bismarck (Horton/Franks) 3.14
05. North To Alaska (Phillips) 2.49
06. The Golden Rocket (Snow) 2.05
07. Got The Bull By The Horns (Boyd/Jones) 2.10
08. Johnny Freedom (“Freedomland”) (Weiss/Styne) 2.47
09. John Paul Jones (Driftwood) 2.20
10. Young Abe Lincoln (Make A Tall, Tall Man) (Huffstettler/Horton) 1.57
11. Rock Island Line (live) (Traditional) 2.41
12. All For The Love Of A Girl (live) (Horton) 2.54
13. Whispering Pines (Halsey) 2.56
14. The First Train Heading South (Horton) 2.20
15. Lost Highway (Payne) 2.36
16. The Battle Of Bull Run (Payne) 2.37
17. The Sinking Of Reuben James (Almanac Singers) 0.40
18. I’m Ready, If You’re Willing (Claud/Organ) 2.19
19. Honky-Tonk Man (Horton/Franks/Hauser) 2.13
20. I’m Coming Home (Horton/Franks) 2:05



In may of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun
The germans had the biggest ships
That had the biggest guns
The Bismark was the fastest ship
That ever sailed the seas
On her deck were guns as big as steers
And shells as big as trees
Out of the cold and foggy night
Came the british ship the Hood
And ev’ry british seaman he knew and understood
They had to sink the Bismark the terror of the sea
Stop those guns as big as steers
And those shells as big as trees

We’ll find that german battleship
That’s makin’ such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismark
‘Cause the world depends on us
Hit the decks a-runnin’ boys
And spin those guns around
When we find the Bismark we gotta cut her down

The Hood found the Bismark and on that fatal day
The Bismark started firin’ fifteen miles away
We gotta sink the Bismark was the battle sound
But when the smoke had cleared away
The mighty Hood went down
For six long days and weary nights
They tried to find her trail
Churchill told the people put ev’ry ship a-sail
‘Cause somewhere on that ocean
I know she’s gotta be
We gotta sink the Bismark to the bottom of the sea

We’ll find that german battleship
That’s makin’ such a fuss
We gotta sink the Bismark
‘Cause the world depends on us
Hit the decks a-runnin’ boys
And spin those guns around
When we find the Bismark we gotta cut her down

The fog was gone the seventh day
And they saw the mornin’ sun
Ten hours away from homeland
The Bismark made its run
The admiral of the british fleet said
Turn those bows around
We found that german battleship
And we’re gonna cut her down

The british guns were aimed
And the shells were comin’ fast
The first shell hit the Bismark
They knew she couldn’t last
That mighty german battleship is just a memory
Sink the Bismark was the battle cry
That shook the seven seas

We found that german battleship
Was makin’ such a fuss
We had to sink the Bismark
‘Cause the world depends on us
We hit the deck a-runnin’ and
We spun those guns around
We found the mighty Bismark
And then we cut her down