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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
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Country Legend

1. Smokey Joe's Barbeque

3. Coal Smoke, Valve Oil And Steam

4. Plaid And Calico

5. Done Rovin'

6. Candy Jones

7. Mean, Mean Son Of A Gun

8. Shadows On The Old Bayou

9. Talk Gobbler Talk (Old Gobbler, The Hound Dog)

11. Birds And Butterflies

12. Happy Millionaire

13. It's A Long Rocky Road

14. Words

15. Rhythm In My Baby's Walk

16. Betty Lorraine (Betty Lou)


Track List: Live Recordings From The Louisiana Hayride

1. Honky Tonk Man (Live)

2. Rock Island Line

3. One Woman Man

4. John Henry

5. Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor

6. My Bucket's Got A Hole In It

7. Jambalaya (Live)

8. All For The Love Of A Girl

9. Johnny Reb

10. Same Old Tale The Crow Told Me

11. Battle Of New Orleans (Live)

12. When It's Springtime In Alaska

13. Sal's Got A Sugar Lip

14. Sink The Bismark (Live)

15. Whispering Pines

16. Johnny Horton For Wray Ford


Track List: Honky Tonk Man: The Essential Johnny Horton 1956-1960

Disc 1

1. Honky Tonk Man

2. I'm A One Woman Man

3. Take Me Like I Am

4. I Don't Like I Did (Before)

5. Hooray For That Little Difference

6. I'm Coming Home

7. She Knows Why

8. The Woman I Need (Honky Tonk Mind)

9. Goodbye Lonesome (Hello, Baby Doll)

10. I'll Do It Every Time

11. Let's Take The Long Way Home

12. Lover's Rock

13. Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor

14. The Wild One

15. Hot In The Sugarcane Field

16. Wise To The Ways Of A Woman

17. Out In New Mexico

18. I Love You Baby

Disc 2

1. All Grown Up

2. Got The Bull By The Horns

3. When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below)

4. The Battle Of New Orleans

5. Lost Highway

6. Cherokee Boogie

7. The Golden Rocket

8. Words

9. Johnny Reb

10. Sal's Got A Sugar Lip

11. The Electrified Donkey

12. Sink The Bismark

13. Ole Slew Foot

14. Sleepy-Eyed John

15. The Mansion You Stole

16. North To Alaska

17. Evil Hearted Me

18. You Don't Move Me Baby Anymore


Track List: Johnny Horton 1956-1960 Vol. 1

Disc 1

1. I'm A One Woman Man

2. Honky Tonk Man

3. I'm Ready If You're Willing

4. I Got A Hole In My Pirogue

5. Take Me Like I Am

6. Sugar-Coated Baby

7. I Don't Like I Did

8. Hooray For That Little Difference

9. I'm Coming Home

10. Over-Loving You

11. She Knows Why

12. Honky Tonk Mind (The Woman I Need)

13. Tell My Baby I Love Her

14. Goodbye Lonesome, Hello Baby Doll

15. I'll Do It Everytime

16. You're My Baby

17. Let's Take The Long Way Home

18. Lover's Rock

19. Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor

20. The Wild One

21. Everytime Im Kissng You

22. Hot In The Sugarcane Field

23. Lonesome And Heartbroken

24. Seven Come Eleven

25. I Can't Forget You

26. Wise To The Ways Of A Woman

27. Out In New Mexico

28. Tetched In The Head

29. Just Walk A Little Closer

30. Don't Use My Heart For A Stepping Stone

31. I Love You Baby

32. Wise To The Ways Of A Woman

Disc 2

1. Counterfeit Love

2. Mister Moonlight

3. All Grown Up

4. Got The Bull By The Horns

5. When It's Springtime In Alaska

6. Whispering Pines

7. The Battle Of New Orleans

8. All For The Love Of A Girl

9. Lost Highway

10. Sam Magee

11. Cherokee Boogie

12. The Golden Rocket

13. The Battle Of New Orleans (British Version)

14. Joe's Been A-Gittin' There

15. The First Train Heading South

16. Got The Bull By The Horns

17. Sal's Got A Sugerlip

18. Words

19. Johnny Reb

20. Sal's Got A Sugerlip

21. Ole Slew Foot

22. I'm Ready If Your Willing

23. Take Me Like I Am

24. They Shined Up Rudolph's Nose

25. The Electrified Donkey

26. The Same Old Tale The Crow Told Me

27. Sink The Bismarck

28. Sink The Bismarck

29. The Same Old Tale The Crow Told Me

30. All Grown Up

31. Got The Bull By The Horns

Disc 3

1. Ole Slew Foot

2. Miss Marcy

3. Sleepy Eyed John

4. The Mansion You Stole

5. They'll Never Take Her Love From Me

6. The Sinking Of The Reuben James

7. Jim Bridger

8. The Battle Of Bull Run

9. Snow-Shoe Thompson

10. John Paul Jones

11. Comanche (The Brave Horse)

12. Young Abe Lincoln

13. O'Leary's Cow

14. Johnny Freedom

15. Go North

16. North To Alaska

17. North To Alaska

18. I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Livin'

19. Rock Island Line

20. Hank And Joe And Me

21. The Golden Rocket

22. A-Sleeping At The Foot Of The Bed

23. I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Livin'

24. Old Blind Barnabas

25. Evil Hearted Me

26. Hot In The Sugarcane Field

27. You Don't Move Me Baby Anymore

28. The Gosh-Darn Wheel

29. Broken Hearted Gypsy

30. The Church By The Side Of The Road

Disc 4

1. The Vanishing Race

2. Broken Hearted Gypsy

3. That Boy Got The Habit

4. Hot In The Sugarcane Field

5. You Don't Move Me Baby Anymore

6. The Church By The Side Of The Road

7. I Just Don't Like This Kind Of Livin

8. Take It Like A Man

9. Hank And Joe And Me

10. The Golden Rocket

11. Old Blind Barnabas

12. Empty Bed Blues

13. Rock Island Line

14. Shake, Rattle And Roll

15. A-Sleeping At The Foot Of The Bed

16. Old Dan Tucker

17. The Gosh Darn Wheel

18. From Memphis To Mobile

19. Back Up Train

20. Schottische In Texas

21. Take It Like A Man

22. That Boy Got The Habit

23. My Heart Stopped, Trembled And Died

24. Alley Girl Ways

25. How You Gonna Make It

26. Witch Walking Baby

27. Down That River Road

28. Big Wheels Rollin'

29. I Got A Slow Leak In My Heart

30. You Don't Move Me Baby Anymore

31. What Will I Do Without You

32. Janey

33. Streets Of Dodge

34. Give Me Back My Picture And You Can Keep The Frame


Track List: The Legend

1. The Battle Of New Orleans

2. Mr. Moonlight

3. All For The Love Of A Girl

4. I'm A One Woman Man

5. North To Alaska

6. Rock Island Line

7. I Got A Hole In My Pirogue

8. I'm Ready If Your Willing

9. Honky Tonk Man

10. When It's Springtime In Alaska


Track List: Johnny Horton Makes History

1. Johnny Freedom (Freedomland)

2. Jim Bridger

3. Comanche (The Brave Horse)

4. Snow Shoe Thompson

5. O'Leary's Cow

6. The Battle Of New Orleans

7. John Paul Jones

8. Young Abe Lincoln (Make A Tall, Tall Man)

9. The Battle Of Bull Run

10. The Sinking Of The Reuben James

11. Johnny Reb

12. Sink The Bismarck


Track List: The Spectacular Johnny Horton

1. The Battle Of New Orleans

2. Whispering Pines

3. The First Train Headin' South

4. Lost Highway

5. Joe's Been A-Gittin' There

6. Sam Magee

7. When It's Springtime In Alaska

8. Cherokee Boogie

9. All For The Love Of A Girl

10. The Golden Rocket

11. Mr. Moonlight

12. Got The Bull By The Horns

13. Counterfit Love

14. All Grown Up

15. The Battle Of New Orleans (English Version)


Track List: Johnny Reb

3. I'm Ready If You're Willing


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colliegal105 8
One of the great ole story teller singer/songw r i t e r . You never hear these anymore.So entertaining ! ! ! !
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One of the first singers I ever heard - loved from the first time. Johnny was truly great and gone before I heard him.
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Takes me back to great using years love it
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I like this.
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Johnny Horton is awesome. A great career cut short.
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By the he way he went to college at Baylor which is A Baptist University.
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The year that this song came out I was 10 yrs old and my American family was visiting friends in Ontario. My brother and I had a great time playing with their kids who were close in age to us. Their parents though took a real dim view of us running around singing about (quote) the bloody British (unquote).
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Where the river is windin', McNuggets they're findin' ������
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Always wish I could sing like Johnny - have loved his songs for so long. Been listening to him for over 50 years. I love this song
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Live on ... Dan
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You have some good music and country songs. My favorite is the sinking the Bismarck.
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Taught my kids US history using his songs!! Jonny Reb is one i use constantly. As well Sink The Bismark. In fact i sang it in class because i wouldnt sing Red River Valley.
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I used to memorize all his songs when I was a kid! Sink the Bismarck was one of my favorites!
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His best-Sink the Bismarck!
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Such good music
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Johnny Horton is amazing!
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Der bizmarck ist eien swine
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Sink the Bismarck
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The sinking of the Reuben james
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Sink the Bismarck!
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I like the way this guy sings a story!
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Sink the Bismarck!!!
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^ ^
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The song all for the love of a girl recorded by Johnny Horton has long been one of my favorite songs I listen to it every chance I get very much a country ballad Mary
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diltsmike_20 0 0
His song All for the Love of a Girl is very heart felt ballad. Great voice.
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Johnny Horton is buried in Alexandra Louisiana and he was good friends with Elvis and Johnny Cash. One of them, I believe Johnny Cash, attended his funeral.
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I like
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<3 Johnny Horton
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hee haw
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Love this song! And the guy!!!
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@dcBav8erky. . . v e r y well stated!
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Finally ,they're playing " Johnny Reb " ! How true - you did fight all the way. Some of us are still proud. They want to blame the Confederate flag for a horrible tragedy... Banning a flag that was the symbol for an army is ridiculous! How long is the South or the Confederacy going to be blamed??How many flags will be banned?
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troykeller88 7 8
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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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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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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