Told Him It Would Not Work
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
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
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.
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 to Alaska.