Johnny Horton – Smokey Joe’s Barbecue

17th January 2022 · 1950s, 1952, Country, Music, Rockabilly

Johnny Horton walked the line between country music and rockabilly but had his biggest success with a pair of folk-flavoured “saga songs” before dying an early death in a car crash in 1960.

This country boogie tune, from 1952, is one of his lesser-known numbers and came early in a career that did not begin until he was 25.

Prior to music Horton had a colourful life, growing up in Texas with sharecropper parents who travelled to and from California as seasonal migrant workers, and studying for the ministry at a Methodist seminary before seeing the light.

He worked in the movies for a while in Los Angeles and studied geology in Seattle before heading to Alaska to indulge his passion for fishing – and prospect for gold – before winning a talent contest, hosted by the then unknown singer Jim Reeves, back in Texas.

Horton returned to California to record some singles in LA and performed on a Pasadena radio show as The Singing Fisherman, before moving back down south to join a popular radio and TV show called Louisiana Hayride.

It was there, after sharing a stage with Hank Williams, that he met and married Hank’s widow Billie Jean, switching up styles to a countrified honky-tonk/rockabilly hybrid after Elvis revolutionised music in the mid-1950s.

That produced his first big hit, the great Honky Tonk Man, with Grady Martin on guitar and Elvis’s side man Bill Black on bass.

Horton went on to have his biggest success with two slower story songs, The Battle Of New Orleans and the autobiographical When It’s Springtime In Alaska (It’s Forty Below), which both topped the charts.

But for me he never got better than this country boogie tune from 1951.