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Columns | All Things Historical

Honky Tonk Man
JOHNNY HORTON

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
In the mid-1950s, one of my summer jobs while a student at Lamar University in Beaumont was working on a National Linen Service truck that provided towels and other linen services to barber and beauty shops, hotels, and bars in Galveston.

The first three businesses were usually quiet when we stopped to change clean for used linen, but I swear the jukebox in every bar blared, "I'm a honky-tonk man" twenty-four hours a day, and that was my introduction to Johnny Horton.

Horton was born in Los Angeles, California, in April 1929, but was moved to Smith County while still a child because his father needed work, and found it, sharecropping in East Texas. Horton attended area schools before being graduated from Gallatin High School.

Athletic ability earned Horton scholarships at Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, Baylor University in Waco, and eventually Seattle University. After graduation, Horton worked in the fishing industry in Alaska until he began singing Country & Western music professionally, first at clubs in Pasadena, California, then on radio at KXLA and on television on KLAC-TV.

Horton joined the cast of the "Louisiana Hayride," a Country & Western live-performance, radio-broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday evenings; the "Louisiana Hayride" was similar to the Grand Ole Opry. He also hosted his own radio show on KLIV in Tyler and recorded for Abbott, Dot, Mercury, and finally Columbia records.

Horton's career received a boast when he married Billie Jean Williams, widow of Hank Williams, in 1953. His first hit record, "Honky Tonk Man," was featured on radio stations all over the country, including those in Galveston where I heard it so often that summer.

Horton's first recording that topped record sales and radio playing charts, "When Its Springtime In Alaska," appeared in 1959, but so-called saga songs such as "The Battle Of New Orleans" and "Sink the Bismarck" became his real "niche." He also sang "North To Alaska," the title song of a film starring John Wayne.

On November 5, 1960, Horton was traveling in central Texas on Highway 79 to reach Shreveport, and lost his life in an auto accident in Milano, Texas. I don't know if there is a honky tonk in Milano, but there are a few in Galveston where they remember Johnnie Horton.



Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
March 27, 2006 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas)

Related Article:
The Eerie Demise of Johnny Horton by Clay Coppedge

Forum:

Subject: Johnny Horton's childhood home

Gallatin, Texas is the childhood home of singer/songwriter Johnny Horton. - LR (Larry) Trotter Ponta, Texas, June 22, 2006

More Texas Music & Musicians

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