the mid-1950s, one of my summer jobs while a student at Lamar University
was working on a National Linen Service truck that provided towels
and other linen services to barber and beauty shops, hotels, and bars
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
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
Athletic ability earned Horton scholarships at Lon Morris College
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
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