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 ♥


  1. Hi, Suzanne!

    I'm sure Karo is pleased with the great job you did on this post on his Rock A Billy Rock blog. Thanks for setting it up with a history lesson about the Alaskan Gold Rush. It was very interesting!

    During my vinyl collecting years I owned Johnny Horton's three biggest hit singles on Columbia Records, "The Battle of New Orleans, "Sink the Bismarck" and "North To Alaska." I was unaware of most of these other facts about Johnny. I didn't even know that he was killed in a car crash in his mid 30s. Surely that was an incalculable loss to the music world.

    Your article prompted me to do some additional reading and research and I discovered that on the B side of his first single released in the summer of 1952, Johnny recorded a "Your Cheatin' Heart" type of song called "(I Wished For An Angel But) The Devil Sent Me You."

    I also noticed that "Honky-Tonk Man," released originally in the spring of 1956, cracked the top 10 on the Country Chart but missed the pop chart entirely. When the record was re-released by Columbia in the spring of 1962, it reached #11 on the Country Chart and made a slight dent in the Hot 100 at #96. In between Johnny released a single in 1958 titled "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor."

    Johnny had a doublesider with "Sal's Got a Sugar Lip" b/w "Johnny Reb." (My Joel Whitburn Record Research book lists "Sal's" as the A side while the 45 Cat website and Wiki list "Johnny Reb" as the A side.) Both sides made the Hot 100 and both placed high on the Country Chart - "Sal's" reaching the top 20 and Johnny Reb" hitting the top 10:

    "Johnny Reb":

    "Sal's Got a Sugar Lip" (melody and arrangement derivative of "Battle of New Orleans"):

    While on YouTube I listened to Johnny's "I Got A Hole In My Pirogue" and liked it a lot. I enjoy Horton's down home, no-nonsense singing style laced with vocal breaks for added feeling. Surely he would have recorded many more song classics if he had lived longer.

    Thank you very much for spotlighting the talented rockabilly singer Johnny Horton, dear friend Suzanne!

    1. Hey Shady! I'm with you on the song, "I Got a Hole In My Pirogue"! Had some trouble with the spelling, lol! But, it was a cool song! And, I really thought it was fun seeing photos of Horton and Cash fishing! So, through all of the research, I found so many songs by Horton, I just couldn't believe it. And, some of them have such funny titles! I didn't listen to "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor", he could sing about anything!

      The breaks in his voice are so unique-other artists do it, but his voice was so clear! I tried to make those breaks in my voice, but it doesn't sound the same!

      I'm so glad you enjoyed this, Shady! When you dive into a subject, you never no what you will find! I never thought about Johnny Horton going to Alaska for a time, then actually recording a song about the Gold Rush! And, like you, I had no idea Johnny Horton died at such a young age.

      Thank you for coming by! We're under cool to mild weather in Fort Worth for now. Hope your weather is treating you good, Shady. I appreciate your comments and friendship. Have a great week! ♫

  2. Hi there Suzanne, goodness me you've been busy with all that research! Well done. Johnny Horton figured largely over here too - especially with his "North to Alaska". Thanks for the video, I enjoyed listening to him again. Too much time can go by can't it, but the minute a certain song plays - we're kind of teenagers again, in our minds anyway ;D)
    A lovely way of continuing your dear Karo's blog. The sidebar photos are gorgeous too.
    Hugs and cheerio for now :D)xx

  3. Hello Sue. I found a lot of information on Johnny Horton that I had no idea of! He recorded so many songs, and was very well loved! He was a favorite in Australia as you said. The song "North to Alaska" was a huge hit there rating #2 on the Australia Singles chart. We are still teenagers when it comes to the music we loved. We hear a song we loved, and, are so grateful to hear it again. And, there are songs we may not have loved, but, now, they're just wonderful! I'm so glad we can still find them to listen to, and we have our oldies radio stations that I love. I've got one playing throughout the day, everyday!

    I'm so glad to see you, Sue. And, I really loved your Koi paintings. Thank you for your kind comments, and have a wonderful day! ♥

  4. Hello Suzanne, this is an interesting post. I enjoyed the photos, I like the photo with Elvis. I do not really remember the song North to Alaska. Thanks for sharing all your research. Happy Thursday, enjoy your day and weekend ahead!

    1. Hi Eileen. Well, North to Alaska was from 1960. You must have just been a tiny tot, or came along later. I'm glad you did enjoy the post, and, doesn't Elvis take a great photo? Thank you for coming by, and leaving a comment. Have a great weekend!

  5. Hi there Suzanne. My goodness, you did a lot of research there for this Post! Well done. It was fun seeing the young photos of Elvis and Johnny Cash. I well remember that song, North to Alaska. A very interesting and informative post, my Texan friend ❤️

  6. Well, Thisisme, hello there! Johnny Horton had such a full life for someone who died so young. And, he had more roads to travel. I really admire his work, and all of his accomplishments. I, too, just love to see the old black and white photos when they were younger. Thank you so much for coming by, Thisisme, and for your kind comments. Have a great Sunday, see you soon! ♥