Johnny Preston’s song “Running Bear” first saw the light of day as a pop smash, whom Richardson had discovered in a Texas nightclub. Preston’s record vaulted all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in 1960.
Running Bear by Sonny James
A country resurrection nine years later by Sonny James sent the title to the summit once again.
A major plus regarding the marketing of Sonny James’ version of “Running Bear” came with his twice-yearly appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Sullivan rarely booked country acts on his show, but he and James got along really well and Ed was always happy to have Sonny come on. I’m guessing that James’ penchant for covering old pop hits and not sounding “too country” was the basis for Sullivan’s welcoming attitude.
When Sonny James performed “Running Bear” on the Sullivan show in May of 1969 (about a month before the record topped out at #1 on Billboard’s country chart June 14th), Ed had his choreographer Peter Gennaro work up a routine to use in the background while James sang the song. The dancers (in full Indian garb) added the extra visual touches during the performance and Sonny thought they did a good job. He credited his exposure of “Running Bear” on that program, as well as a couple of other network TV shows he sang the tune on, with the record’s success. Along with “Young Love,” “Running Bear” became one of James’ trademark hits and soon emerged as the traditional closing number in his live shows.