almost every county in Texas has an “opry,” a country music variety
show that showcases local talent, but that has not always been the
norm. In 1975, when Johnnie High, a handsome, super-personable entertainer
who had been picking and singing since his early teens, dreamed of
establishing a wholesome, quality, country music show using local
“unproven” talent, his friends told him there was no way it would
High in front of his Country Music Revue
Photo courtesy Dorothy Hamm
years later, Johnnie High’s Country Music Revue is a North
Central Texas "institution" that has earned international recognition,
growing into one of our most enduring country music traditions.
High is a singer, musician, songwriter and businessman. His credits
run the gamut from school auditoriums to presidential inaugurations,
with radio and TV (including PBS) credits along the way. But he seems
happiest when he is promoting the talents of the thousands of entertainers
who perform on the CMR.
In a business where no one will talk to you until you get a record
contract...and you can't get a record contract until someone talks
to you...High has been willing to talk. More importantly, he has been
willing to listen. He opened a door to newcomers, holding open auditions
on a regular basis. He estimates about 20,000 aspiring performers
have auditioned through the years. Of those, he says, about twenty
percent get called to perform on the Horizon shows on Friday nights.
About twenty percent of those will make it to the Saturday night shows.
High says he has probably listened to more acts than anyone in the
business. When he is convinced an act has talent (they don’t get on
his show if he isn’t convinced) and they demonstrate a willingness
to work hard, he can be a valuable coach with experience in every
aspect of live entertainment.
Some CMR performers have gone on to international stardom. LeAnn
Rimes, who was a regular for more than six years, is probably
the most famous. She is followed closely by Lee Ann Womack,
Linda Davis and Steve Holy.
Joey Floyd "grew up" on the CMR stage. He had already been
performing professionally for several years when, at age seven, he
won the role of Willie Nelson's son in the movie Honeysuckle Rose.
He currently plays guitar in Toby Keith’s band.
Oklahoma native Danny Cooksey was only about four years old
when he was bringing the house down performing rousing renditions
of Merle Haggard songs. Cooksey landed the role of Sam on the TV show
Different Strokes and moved to California. He continues to
live in Hollywood and has a long list of acting and voiceover credits.
High says it is a special thrill to see so many performers he has
worked with move on to national prominence. He predicts the number
will continue to grow. He feels there are quite a few performers on
his show right now who are ready for national stardom.
“It isn't just a matter of being talented,” he explains. “The ones
I’ve known through the years who have been the most successful have
all have shared one particular trait -- the ability to stay focused
on their dream.”
was born during the lean years of the Depression in McGregor,
Texas. Music was a major interest from a very early age. He managed
to acquire a $6 guitar and when he was 13, hitchhiked to nearby Waco
to audition for a radio show. The station manager told him to get
a better guitar, practice two hours every day, and come back in a
year. High did as advised and when he was 14 he was given his own
radio show, which was broadcast live, 6 to 6:15 a.m. five days a week.
For the next several years, the teenager was at the radio station,
singing and accompanying himself on guitar. He collected words to
songs from Country Song Roundup a magazine that published lyrics.
He couldn’t read music nor did he need to. As with many other country
musicians he played guitar by ear. He says he never missed a show
nor was he ever late.
Entertainment has changed considerably since High was a youngster
on radio. It has also changed since he began producing the CMR in
the 70s, becoming progressively more and more risqué. But High has
consistently held tight to a G-rating for his shows. It is a policy
he has no plans to ever change.
“I want people to be able to bring their entire family, from grandmother
to grandchildren, to my shows knowing they will not be offended by
the language or the costumes,” High says.
is very important to High. He met and married his life partner Wanda
when they were still teenagers. They observed their golden wedding
anniversary several years ago. His mind zips along in a creative gallop
while she is his rock, a calm anchor in his fast moving, hyperactive
world. It is obvious to even the most casual observers that they adore
each other. Wanda, along with their only daughter LuAnn, works behind
the scenes at the CMR. Both are gracious and charming but too shy
to be comfortable in the spotlight. Granddaughter Ashley is as comfortable
onstage as her grandfather. An accomplished singer, dancer and actress,
she took on MC duties during High’s most recent surgery and is now
a permanent co-host.
High has counted more than 70 birthdays and logged 30 years, as producer
and host of two musical productions a week. He has survived four seriously
major surgeries…three heart bypass operations and surgery to repair
a stomach aneurysm. He has also survived four location changes, Grapevine,
Fort Worth, Haltom
City and Arlington.
Through it all he remains endlessly cheerful, striding through life
at a pace many men half his age wouldn’t be able to match. While writing
this column I called his office to ask a question and was told he
could not be reached at the moment. He was on a cruise ship headed
"Words and Music"
- September 9, 2005 column