Johnny Horton

Johnny Horton/ allmusic.com

Johnny Horton as a balladeer

Honky-tonk music wouldn’t be the same without Johnny Horton. He was the pioneering figure that managed to infuse honky-tonk with an urgent rockabilly underpinning. Aside from this, his saga ballads have also marked the country music history. His song “The Battle of the New Orleans” did not just commemorate a historical event but it also left a message of patriotism among the listeners. The song garnered the Grammy Award for Best Country and Western Recording in 1960. Also, RIAA listed the song on their record of “Songs of the Century.”

Johnny Horton as a “Honky-Tonk Man”

If there’s anyone who can deliver a song about a honky-tonk man, that would definitely be the one and only Johnny Horton. He recorded “Honky-Tonk Man” in 1956 as his debut single under Colombia Records. The crafting of the song has been attributed to Johnny Horton, Tillman Franks, and Howard Hausey.

The song talks about a life of drinking and dancing with young women in honky-tonk bars. Also, the narrator suggests the irresistible drive of the kind of life he is living. However, at the end of the night, he is particularly aware that his money is gone and that’s the consequence of living like a “Honky-Tonk Man.”

The jukebox record was completed in January 11, 1956 at the Bradley Barn Studio in Nashville. Instrumentalists include Harold Bradley, Grady Martin, and Bill Black, the bassist of Elvis Presley during that time.

For the record…

Billboard gave a positive remark for the song commending its suitability to Horton’s persona. The funky sound and pounding beat indeed make any listener feel the honky-tonk experience.

“Honky-Tonk Man” peaked number 9 on the U.S. country singles charts. Six years later, Horton re-released the song and landed number 11 on the same chart.

Other Versions

Bob Luman recorded his version of “Honky-Tonk Man” in 1970 for his album, Is it Any Wonder That I Love You. His cover spent 14 weeks at the 22nd spot on the chart. Dwight Yoakam’s rendition, released in 1986, also showed a promising chart position. It landed at number 3 on the U.S. Hot Country songs and number 1 on the Canadian RPM Country Tracks.

Meanwhile, here’s the original version of “Honky-Tonk Man” by Johnny Horton.

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