Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Northbound...Alaska Gold!

~ Johnny Horton

Who remembers the Klondike, or Alaskan Gold Rush of 1896-1899?  Good show of hands!  I knew you all would remember that sooooo, co-o-o-old  time when some local miners discovered gold in them thar mountains, inciting a major stampede!  An estimated 100,000 prospectors migrated to the Klondike region of the Yukon, with only about 30,000 arriving.  Together, with mountainous terrain and cold climate, this meant that those who persisted did not arrive until the summer of 1898.   Once there, they found few opportunities and many left poor and disappointed.

Avalanches were common in the mountains and, on April 3, 1898, one claimed the lives of more than 60 people travelling over Chilkoot Pass.

Needless to say, due to destruction of the wooden structures from fires, high prices and unsanitary conditions, many prospectors left the Klondike for new oilfields that were popping up.  News had it that gold was discovered during that summer of 1899, elsewhere in Canada and Alaska.   Some of the Boomtowns either declined, or became more sedate and conservative with expensive updates not affordable to the wildlife prospectors.  Alas, the Klondike gold rush came to an end!

So, how does Johnny Horton fit into this history of the gold rush?  Are you askin' me?

Well, young Johnny Horton graduated from high school in 1944.  After obtaining some higher education, and even attending a Methodist seminary, Horton headed to Alaska to become a fisherman, and, maybe find some gold.  His mother had taught him to play the guitar at age 11, and, he began writing songs while in Alaska.  He had always loved fishing, and, in his early singing days, Johnny Horton was known as "The Singing Fisherman".  Within a year, however, he moved back to East Texas where he had grown up to pursue his singing career.

* Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash posing with their catch of the day *

In 1951, after winning a few talent contests, and performing on some TV shows and radio shows, Horton became a regular on the Louisiana Hayride, and, made good friends with Johnny Cash as well as many others on the circuit.  The Hayride is the first place Horton got to see and meet Elvis.  He really liked Elvis' style, and the newer rockabilly music that was becoming popular on the Hayride.  Johnny Horton was anxious to 'step up his game'!

**** And, he did! ***

* Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton on the Louisiana Hayride *

After many ups and downs, disappointments and short-lived recording companys, Columbia Records eventually signed Johnny Horton to their label.  Within months, his first single on this label,  "Honky Tonk Man",  featuring Elvis' bassist on the record, was in the Country Top 10!

Billboard reviewed "Honky Tonk Man", and admitted, "The wine, women and song attractions exert a powerful hold on the singer.  A very good jukebox song." * 1956

I checked this song out myself, and found it to be exactly as described by Billboard 100.  It has the distinct sound of a honky tonk, and Horton's voice makes it clear as mud!
Let's have a listen! 🎸

*  Moving right along now!  Must we?  Ah yes...we need to fast forward up North!

Throughout the early, mid, and late 1950's, Johnny Horton was on a great ride!  He was so talented, and, had become a household name.  I was pretty young in 1956, mostly listening to Elvis, and Rick Nelson.  By 1959, I guess I was somewhere near 10 years old, and I was becoming more attuned to various other artists!   "The Battle of New Orleans" is the first Johnny Horton song I remember.  This song topped the pop charts as well as maintaining 10 weeks at the top of the Country charts!  The Western Writers of America reviewed this song and rated it as one of the top 100 Western songs of all time!  And, I concur!!!  We sang this song, each one of us trying to outsing the other.  The song brought about many fun times for a lot of folks!

Another hit that grabbed my attention is the song "I Got A Hole In My Pirogue".  "What in the world", you ask?  I had no idea what this was either, so I looked it up!
Turns out, a pirogue is a small fishing boat!  LOL!  Who knew?

* The two Johnny's (Horton and Cash) on a dual Pirogue!
...just kidding!  I'm not sure if a Pirogue is for two!

From Billboard; "Pirogue" is a Rockabilly novelty song of great appeal.  Horton's vocals against this twangy backing makes a terrific impression.  It's hard to see how this can miss becoming a gold mine!"

Well, you know...I did listen to this song, and, honestly-it is a pretty good fishin' song!  If you get the chance, mosey on over to You Tube and hear it for yourselves!

And, that brings us to one of the greatest western hits of all time!  "North To Alaska"!  This song ranked #1 on the US Country chart, and #4, on the Billboard Hot 100!  Additionally, the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time!

1960 we know that this song is the featured song played during the opening titles to John Wayne's movie, also named "North To Alaska".  What I found confusing, is, did the song come first, or, was the movie first?  Of course, I did a lot of reading back and forth to try to determine how both song and movie got together!  Please humor me some more!  Haha!  I mean, Alaska became our 49th state in 1959, and, presto...we're making a movie soon thereafter!

What I found out is that, originally the movie was titled "The Alaskans".  However, I could not determine when it changed to "North To Alaska".  After delays resulting in director conflicts, writers strikes, and John  Wayne's movie commitments during that time, "North To Alaska" didn't start filming until May of 1960.

*  Johnny Horton's recording "North To Alaska" was released August 22, 1960, and the movie of the same name released November 13, 1960.  Sadly, by that time, Johnny Horton has died as a result of a head-on auto collision, at the young age of 35.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you:
North To Alaska!

* I do so appreciate you coming by Rock A Billy and checking out my post!  I hope I have found you to be feeling great, and having a wonderful January (half over, lol!).  Stop in and say hello-I hope I didn't ramble on too long.  Sometimes, the information is so great that it takes a while to spit it all out!  I mean to say, I had no idea Johnny Horton had accomplished so much in the small amount of years he was with us!  I admire his talents and work greatly!

And, I must definitely thank:
Yahoo Images
You Tube
US Billboard Hot 100
US Billboard Hot C & W

In Remembrance

~Johnny Horton * April 30, 1925 * November 5, 1960

Please be safe, and kind to all!  Have a great week...see you soon ♥