Johnny Horton was born on April 30. 1925 in Los Angeles, California. His parents were sharecroppers, so they moved between Tyler, Texas, where Horton was raised, and California, trying to find work. When he was eleven, his mother taught him to play the guitar. In 1944, he graduated high school and started Methodist seminary. However, he only stayed a short time before leaving to travel the country. Eventually, he made his way to Alaska, where his songwriting career started taking off. In 1950, Horton moved back to his hometown. The same year, Jim Reeves was hosting a talent contest which Horton entered and won, prompting him to pursue a career in music. He started performing in other talent competitions, where he met Fabor Robinson, who became his manager. Horton began performing on several Los Angeles TV shows as well as hosting a radio show in Pasadena using the stage name, The Singing Fisherman. In 1952, he signed with Mercury Records. Over the next three years, he suffered a series of tragedies and little success at the label. So, in 1955 he changed managers to Tillman Franks and left Mercury Records for Columbia Records. Changing labels ignited his music career. In one year, he reached the country’s top ten. Unfortunately, during the late 50s, his chart-topping hits stopped, and he started shifting his musical style to Rockabilly. However, a folk ballad returned him to the charts and segued into some of his most famous songs. After this success, he began to focus more on folk ballads instead of his earlier styles of music. Sadly, on November 4, 1960, Horton died in a car crash driving home to Austin after a car accident. These are the ten best Johnny Horton songs of all time.
10. Out In New Mexico
The character in this song is promised a job in New Mexico by someone in a small town. The lyrics detail the misadventures of the hopeful cowboy who ends up not being paid for his work. By the end of the song, he regrets leaving his home.
9. Big Wheels Rollin’
In this song, the man leaves his girl to travel around the country. Even though he goes across the country, he still calls home and thinks about her at each stop and wishes he was home. Throughout the lyrics, he admits he can’t go anywhere in the world without thinking of her. The chorus begins to be a wish to go home and see her again.
8. I Won’t Get Dreamy Eyed
There is more of a bluegrass influence in this song. Like many of his other songs, this ballad is about a man who is missing someone back home. It’s also a promise that no matter where he goes, he will stay true. There are several fiddle solos in this song, giving it a depth absent in some of his other songs.
7. Go And Wash Your Dirty Feet (Barefoot Boy Blues)
This song is about Johnny Horton’s childhood, growing up as the child of a share cropper’s son. It’s a sweet song about a boy growing up in a simpler time and a strong mom who raised him well despite adverse circumstances. It’s also about the life lesson we take from our childhood and echo into our adult years.
6. They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me
Horton embraces a style like other crooners of the time. This song is a lilting love gone wrong ballad. The lyrics detail a man who regrets losing the one he wanted to be with forever. However, after letting her go, he realizes that she still had a hold on him.
5. Sam Magee
The music in this song has an Appalachia feel despite being about a gold prospector’s journey to gain wealth. The lyrics in this song were inspired by Horton’s days in Alaska. Magee’s journey ends badly; after death, the character in the song cremates him. The backdrop of the Northern Lights gives this song an eerier feel.
4. Sal’s Got a Sugar Lip
This song is a springtime love song. The lyrics speak more to young love than a timeless relationship because the lyrics are light and comical. The character in the song wants to steal a kiss from a girl who is rumored to give sweet kisses. Many of the analogies in the song are syrupy confections that he equates to Sal’s kisses. The song is something you might hear at a square dance.
3. Take Me Like I Am
Many people in life look down at someone who is in a different social class than they are. However, Horton’s message in this song is that it’s about your attitude towards life and not all the material things you have. The character in this song is flawed but knows that he is a good person. The refrain of the song is one we should all follow. Be yourself, and find the people who like you and not someone you are pretending to be.
2. Battle of New Orleans
One of the things Horton was famous for was writing songs about historical events. This song is a short history lesson with witty lines and a more humanistic view of 1814. The drum beats in the background sound similar to ones used during that period. Additionally, there are some portions of the song that sound like cadences soldiers may have sung.
1. North To Alaska
During his first career as a fisherman, Horton began to write songs that later made him famous. This is another song that draws on his experiences and travels. The song is another about prospectors looking for gold. However, as he keeps searching, he realizes he just wants to have the woman he loves. Horton’s early upbringing is honored in this song because, like other songs, he understands that a person’s character is more important than a person’s wealth.