Country Johnny Mathis, Louisiana Hayride, Grand Ole Opry, Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, Country Music

Elvis Presley and Jimmy & Johnny – The Louisiana Hayride Days

During the years of 1954 and 1955 the paths of Elvis Presley and Jimmy & Johnny (Jimmy Lee Fautheree and Country Johnny Mathis) would cross quite often … on the juke box, on the radio, on the charts, in a Billboard nomination and on the stage of the Louisiana Hayride to a multi-state tour.

Sun Records had released “That’s All Right” by Elvis in July of 1954 and the hit single garnered the attention of the Louisiana Hayride which had brought Elvis to join the cast of the Hayride in October 1954. It was a cast that included Jimmy & Johnny, Slim Whitman, Johnny Horton, Billy Walker, Jim Reeves and many others.

Elvis also secured a new manager in local Memphis DJ, Bob Neal, shortly after joining the cast of the Hayride while Jimmy & Johnny were managed by Tilman Franks. This would lead Bob Neal and Tilman Franks to work together on booking the two acts for tours from late 1954 and 1955.

Jimmy & Johnny were a popular act on the Louisiana Hayride and by the fall of 1954 they were enjoying the success of their Top 5 hit song, “If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will”. While Elvis Presley’s release of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” was also populating Billboard charts during this same time period. The songs battled back and forth a few times for the top spot in regional markets.

The chart success and radio success in 1954 for Elvis Presley and Jimmy & Johnny would lead to both artists receiving their first nominations from Billboard Magazine. The disk jockeys cast their votes for the Top 10 nominees for ‘Most Promising Hillbilly or Country and Western Artists’ for 1954 with Tommy Collins coming in at Number One. Jimmy & Johnny landing at Number 3 on the list, Elvis at Number 8. An impressive acknowledgment for Elvis considering his first single was released in July of that year.

1955 Jimmy & Johnny would make multiple appearances with Elvis Presley in cities from west Texas to Tennessee with the artists typically being back on Saturday night to perform on the Hayride. These were either Louisiana Hayride traveling shows or concerts where the two acts were paired together.

Country Johnny Mathis shared a lot of stories from his days on the Hayride, touring with all the artist, including Elvis. Those were formative years in the music business. Johnny shared on occasion that one of the biggest goals for a performing artist during those times was to receive an encore at the end of their set, many times artists would pull out all the stops to see who would get the most encores by the end of the night.

It also wasn’t necessarily that lucrative for artists in those days either, Johnny told the story one time of how he and Jimmy, along with Elvis and his band, played an impromptu local date just so the artists could pay their hotel bill.

Here is one of those stories Johnny shared with Ralph Emery in an interview on the Nashville Now TV show in 1992 of “how he almost ruined Elvis’ career”.

Country Johnny Mathis interview with Ralph Emery
Cashbox announcement of Elvis and Jimmy & Johnny show in Memphis.

By the way, it was Jimmy and Johnny’s manager, Tillman Franks, who claimed to be the one who encouraged the Hayride management to initially bring Elvis to the Louisiana Hayride. His motivation ? His act was riding a hit record and could make more lucrative money on other dates, but they were bound by contract to be at the Hayride, unless Tillman could find a replacement. Although on the night of Elvis’ first appearance on the Hayride, October 16,1954, Jimmy and Johnny were there to play their middle set, while Elvis appeared in the later part of the show.

Excerpt from the book ‘Elvis in Texas – The Undiscovered King’, covering one of the Louisiana Hayride tours in Cherry Springs, TX and mentioning Elvis big break on the Hayride, thanks to Jimmy and Johnny’s absence.

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