The Ballad of Johnny Horton

Johnny HortonOver the weekend, I was at the graduation party for my niece. Actually, she is the daughter of the sister of my sister’s husband. And I have to say, they put on a good party. The father is a constant builder and one thing he has built on their vast property is a bar. Admittedly, the beer on tap was marginal and most of the beer in bottles sucked. But since the demand for good beer was low, I managed to spend the day drinking little else but Lagunitas.

At one point, I got into a conversation with the mother about Johnny Horton who was born on this day in 1925. It turned out that she is a big fan of his music and I had to maneuver to avoid borrowing a CD of his music. It wasn’t that I don’t like his music, it is just that it would have been a hassle to get it back to her. I was raised on the music because my own mother was a fan.

Horton was best known for “saga songs,” which I always associate with folk music, but apparently he was considered rockabilly. His best known song is Jimmy Driftwood’s The Battle of New Orleans. I like the song, but I’ve always thought the production was silly with the drums and the “Hup, two, three, four!” part. In fact, Driftwood’s version is far superior.

But I do love Horton’s voice. He has just enough of that bluegrass hollering thing going on to make what is essentially a pop voice interesting. He also has great variety in the timbre of his voice. And for all the silliness of the production of his songs, they have a gusty appeal. Here is “North to Alaska”:

While on tour in Texas, Horton’s was killed at the age of 35 in a car accident when a drunk college student hit the band’s car while crossing a bridge. The other two survived, although guitarist Tommy Tomlinson lost one of his legs. The drunk kid, of course, suffered only minor injuries.

Happy birthday John Horton!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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