October 19

Story of “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico” by Johnny Rodriguez

Story of “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico” by Johnny Rodriguez 1

Country singer Johnny Rodriguez set a precedent in country music when became the first Mexican-American to garner a no. 1 record. He was born on December 10, 1951, and grew up in Sabinal, Texas. He was the ninth child of ten children in the family.

Rodriguez functioned well in both environments. He was good in school, unfortunately, he got in jail four times before turning eighteen.  During those incarcerations, a Texas Ranger heard Rodriguez singing in his cell to pass time and he was impressed with the teenager’s vocal abilities. He put Rodriguez in touch with entertainment executive Happy Shahan, who then employed his new singer in a show at this theme park, Alamo Village. Tom T. Hall happened to watch one of his performances, liked what he heard, and offered Rodriguez a job as a guitar player in his band The Storytellers. Hall later introduced  Rodriguez to Mercury label chief Roy Dea, who signed him immediately. Rodriguez’s debut record, “Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through)” brought him to #9 right out of the gate. Hall and Rodriguez teamed up to write the next single “You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)” which became Johnny’s first #1 hit.

Rodriguez was the one wrote his second no. 1 hit while riding in Hall’s touring bus between shows. The song “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico” was inspired by his youthful experiences in South Texas. He hitch-hiked a lot during his travels from town to town and would go down to Mexico sometimes. Rodriguez’s producer at Mercury, Jerry Kennedy, strongly believed that Johnny had delivered a powerful cut of “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico,” and it was shipped to Mercury’s home office in Chicago immediately after the mixing of it had been completed. The company executives were just as excited about it as Kennedy was, and the label’s promotions department decided to push it toward the pop market. However, the Top 40 stations just weren’t that keen on the record, although “Ridin’ My Thumb To Mexico” somehow did manage to reach the #70 mark on the Billboard Hot 100. Of course, it had no problems cruising into the #1 slot on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart October 13, 1973. Two days after the record made the summit, with just three singles under his belt, Johnny Rodriguez was voted one of the five finalists for the Country Music Association’s “Male Vocalist of the Year” award.



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