Now let me go back to songs for a minute, you know I never had much encouragement in my musical years, not even from my immediate family, nobody really encouraged me. I got one brother, my youngest, I think was a fan and still is, Billy.
I got to thinking about it and you know, and say “well, you’re never gonna make nothing out of this, you’re wasting your time”. But I got to countin up, I guess I sold about 50 songs and for the entire 50 songs, I might have made $500, but I doubt it.
Then writing and I would say that my songs have made one half million dollars in royalties, mechanical, BMI Broadcast Music, Inc. I know two songs that I didn’t even sell which Charlie Pride recorded at his peak, and I should have made over 50 thousand dollars for that song, that’s what I was told by people in Nashville. I might have got $700 royalty off that.
Then there was the biggie, that’s my great $15.00 song. Carl Belew, who was on the Louisiana Hayride, he come to me and we lived in one little ole cheap apartment. We lived around the corner of each other, he come to me with this song “I Can Still See The Blue In Your Brown Eyes” or something, and he wanted me to start helping him write this song. So I tried to help, but I was not inspired because it was not my idea and I couldn’t grasp which way he wanted to go.
He was messin around and I had the guitar, and Carl had the paper to write on, and I hit an “E” chord and I said “You found somebody new….” and I said “Man! This is great, this song is great!” I had a great tune and everything, so we begin to write that song, I began to write it and Carl put it down on paper. We wound up it was about 7:00 and it was 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, several pots of black coffee, and put the finishing touches to it. Not over ten lines to the entire song, and so we sung around, and I forgot it a little bit. (The song was “Am I That Easy To Forget”.)
So Carl Belew went out of town, like he often did and he’d go out of town and come back with a great song. He never could write, when he was in town or when I was with him. I wrote with him later in Nashville because he recorded a song, at least this time he put my name on it and put somebody else’s name on it, that wasn’t even in town when we wrote the song.
In the meantime when he was gone he recorded the song (“Am I That Easy To Forget”) without me knowing and the meantime I got hard up for money, as usual, and I tried to sell the song to Tillman Franks for $15.00, and he said, “now Mathis, that’s a good song, but it’s too much like that one that Kitty Wells had out”. So I said “okay”.
So I went on my way and I ran into Shelby Singleton. Shelby had just stared working with Mercury Records at the time, and I sold it, and old Shelby bought it real fast for $15.00. We signed a little ole piece of paper and Shelby bought it, and Debbie Reynolds recorded it and it sold over a million records, and guess everybody in the music business since then have recorded that song.
Ah, I suppose, I know it sold ten million records, I also know it helped get Carl Belew into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and they didn’t even know my name at the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He went off and recorded on Deca and he didn’t even put my name on it.
We were in Tootsies Orchid Lounge long after that and we were discussing songs and we was talking about who wrote the song, and I was half lit with beer and what have ya, I jumped up and pushed the table a little a bit and said, “let’s go outside and we’ll see who wrote the song” and Carl said “okay, so you wrote the thing, but I get the publicity for it”. I said, “well it just does me good to hear you admit it and I get self satisfaction knowing I wrote it”.
I guess that’s a dumb thing thinking like that. Well I get the satisfaction that I wrote it while I’m eating this bologna. I don’t know it might be like my grandma said you know when she told my mamma Ruth, “I think he’s crazy”. Didn’t take me too long to prove it, but I’m sitting here now writing this and telling this, and I’m still trying to figure out what the world made me tick. I still have no idea, no earthly idea, wha I was doing or even what I was trying to do, if I was trying to do anything. I was just drifting.
Editor’s Note: “Am I That Easy To Forget” was recorded by many music icons over time, was a chart topper, and since has become a Country Music standard as well as earning a BMI Award for One Million Performances in airplay.
Note about Johnny’s Memoirs: Prior to Johnny’s stroke in 1999, he had sat down at his typewriter and began to share stories about his life and music. We are sharing these excerpts in Johnny’s own words… just as he told them.