Horton's wild-at-heart looks and voice, he was a man haunted for years by
ominous premonitions of his own death. He often promised those close to him he
would contact them from beyond the grave.|
Like the psychic he claimed
to be, Horton came eerily close to predicting the manner of his death. He believed
he would be killed by a drunk. He died on Nov. 5, 1960, in an automobile accident
at the Little River bridge on Highway 79.
James Evan Davis was driving
a pick-up truck that smashed head-on into Horton's car. Horton was alive when
ambulances arrived on the scene but died en route to hospital.
the driver of the truck, was charged with intoxication manslaughter; he was drunk
at the time of the accident.
Horton's ghosts must have liked the quiet rural ambience of Milano.
New Year's Day 1952, when Horton was trying to get his career started, he learned
from a radio account that Hank Williams had died of a heart attack in the backseat
of his Cadillac after playing a New Year's Eve gig at the Skyline Club in Austin.
Later that same year, in 1953, Horton married Williams's widow, Billie Jean. |
Horton went on to become one of the era's most successful recording artists
with hits on both the country and pop charts. He made his name as a honky tonk
singer with strong rockabilly tendencies but made his biggest impact on the charts
with his 1959 recording of Arkansas history teacher Jimmy Driftwood's 'Battle
of New Orleans.' The song went number one on both the pop and country charts and
reached number 16 on the British charts despite the BBC banning the song because
of the lyrics 'the bloody British.'
Horton followed that success with
a string of 'saga' songs like 'North To Alaska,' 'Sink The Bismark' 'Comanche'
(about General Custer's horse) and 'Johnny Reb.'
To the outside world,
Horton seemed have it all: good looks, charm, a great singing voice and incredible
athletic talent. Twenty-six colleges had offered him basketball scholarships after
his graduation from high school. He played briefly for Lon Morris Junior College
and Baylor University. During lean times in the music business, Horton could make
as much as $200 a day playing pinball. His appeared to be a charmed life.
But Horton's premonitions of death grew stronger the more popular he became
with country and pop audiences. He cancelled an appearance at the premiere of
the movie 'North To Alaska' and tried to get out of his gig at the Skyline Club,
but to no avail. He stayed in his dressing room at the Skyline, convinced a drunk
would kill him if he stayed at the bar.
After the gig he kissed Billie
Jean good-bye in the same place and on the same cheek where Hank had kissed her
after his last gig at the Skyline.
With bass player Tillman Franks in
the front seat and manager Tommy Tomlinson in the back, they set off for Shreveport,
La. Tillman noted Horton was driving too fast, but that was not unusual. Horton
always drove fast, as if propelling along his own prophecy. Franks was snoozing
in the front seat and Tomlinson was in the backseat when Davis' pick-up bounced
off either side of the bridge then plowed into Horton's car.
head injuries and Tomlinson suffered multiple leg fractures that eventually led
to the amputation of his leg. Davis, the driver of the truck, was not injured.
for Horton's promise of coming back from the grave, Franks believed Horton made
good on his promise. It happened when Franks was driving to Nashville with singer
David Houston. The radio was out and the CB radio was out. It was a quiet drive.
Then, according to Franks, the CB kicked in with the opening riffs from Horton's
'One Woman Man.' 'It sounded like a juke box, real full, much louder than a CB
would be,' Franks told music writer Colin Escott. 'The whole song played, and
then the CB cut out again.
'I just froze. David did too . . . I told
Merle Kilgore, and he said, 'Johnny's telling you that the song's gonna be a hit
all over again.' I said, 'Well, it didn't do too well the first time out.''
Maybe Franks should have paid more attention to the omen. The song reached
the Top Ten on the country charts when George Jones released it as a single in
© Clay Coppedge
from Central Texas"
May 26, 2005 column
on Johnny Horton:
Tonk Man" by
Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical" column)
As a freelance writer who has collected a large amount of information about Johnny
Horton over the past five years, I wanted to point out a few things within the
column that are not accurate.
The bridge at Milano
is not the "Little River Bridge", it's over the railroad tracks there.
Horton didn't claim to be a psychic but a Spiritualist in tune with the spirit
world. According to Horton, it was the spirits that warned of his coming death
- and the warning was correct. He feared he would die on the trip to Austin at
the hands of a drunk - and did. He also had several other near misses (near fatal)
experiences which convinced him that his time was short.
Horton was a
devoted family man - extended family as well as wife and children. Thanks. - Lee
Ann Sontheimer Murphy, July 22, 2005
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