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

Johnny’s Memoirs – Radio, Jail and the Big D Jamboree

Well it’s time to get back to the cotton field. We moved from Houston down to a place outside of Dallas called Farmersville, TX. Started to pick cotton there again during that season. That’s when I became 18 years old.

Had my first radio program. I was really on my way, wasn’t I? Had my first radio program and I was known as the Country Cowboy and I’ve tried to recall the name of the station but I can’t. Use to thrill me to death. They’d tell me that Eddie Arnold didn’t have a thing on me and don’t you know it it made my head get big. Made me feel good anyway! I kept that program for a good while pickin and singin every Saturday.

I moved back to Dallas and I was still pickin in the nightclubs and even living in some of them, picking my music and that’s the first experience I had of going to jail. An object that had a piece of tape wrapped around that looked like a blackjack and it was laying in my guitar case. And the police came to round up the drinks and they took me along with them because I had that thing.

And my poor old papa came down got me out. Never scolded me or any of the other things that parents usually do in that kind of situation. He was just such a great understanding man. He had wisdom, Lord God if I just had half the wisdom that he had. He knew how to handle people, knew how to handle his children. My wife has often said your daddy was a preacher and he let you do all that stuff. My daddy didn’t let me do nothing, I did it myself and I didn’t ask his permission, and I realize that undoubtedly I drove him and mamma crazy. All the hours, nights, weeks, not knowing where I was. I would drift into the house a while. I thought I was pretty good to papa and mamma, I thought I was a pretty good fella til I had children, you know, then it dawned on me, how I must have drove them half insane.

My daddy would always look me up, come check on me see if I was doing alright. He wouldn’t worry for a while. But we kept picking on honky tonks and still picking in church and all this time God was after me. I said and say its better by far to be running to God than running from God.

Somewhere along about this time about 19 years of age I had another bout with ostemylitis in my leg and I spent 16 strait weeks in Baylor Hospital in Dallas. I got so use to that place I almost hated to go home. It became home nearabout. Far as that still goes I had one little uprising with it when I was 24 years old and that was the end of it. Never been bothered with it again to this day. Thanks be to God!

As far as my favorites in entertainers and entertainment, my favorite program back then was Amos & Andy and some of you don’t know them. They was black comedians. I’ve rushed home many a time from the cotton fields. They put them on at just the right time, dinnertime. Hear Amos & Andy and I rush home for the checkerboard jamboree, starring Eddie Arnold and the Tennessee Plow Boys and then Ernest Tubb. I guess Eddie Arnold was my favorite that was alive when he had a Country band back then. Little Roy Wiggins on the steel guitar, but my favorite of all was Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler and then Gene Autry. Gene Autry was one of the most classiest singers. I refer to him as the country Bing Crosby. He was great!

And then I just did my own thing as far as music. I really didn’t copy after nobody and always felt like I could do anything I wanted to do or take the notion in music. You usually can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it. Two bad words is ‘I can’t’. or three ‘I don’t know how’.

You know they say a professional singer is when you get paid for singing. So I guess I’ve been a professional all my life. At lease since I was 16 and I was making money out of it. Well just enough to make me think I was gonna make some at it. And my first success of any great notoriety would be Big D Jamboree

Along about 1949 there was a fella by the name of Dave Landers had a song out called Before You Called. He sang like Gene Autry and Tex Ritter and Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff. And it just so happened that I could do just that same thing. I wouldn’t say as good as he did, but I made a stab at it. I was in a little café beer joint not far from the Big D Jamboree at the Sportatorium in Dallas one night singing with a long time friend of mine Riley Crabtree. He had out a big record back then called Shackles and Chains. I was playing steel guitar for him, and Al Turner the MC of the Big D Jamboree happened to be in there that night drinking beer and me and Riley was messing around and every once in a while I’d hit off on that Before You Called, maybe one line of Gene Autry, or Tex Ritter, and it caught Al Turner’s attention. He turned around right quick and said hey do you know that song, “can you do that song”? I said “well yeah, I don’t know it all but I can do it. I could learn it”. He said “learn it and I’ll put you on the Big D Jamboree Sat night”.

Man, I said “hot dog! Let’s go!” And I learned that song and went down to the Big D Jamboree that Sat night and went out there and done Before You Called. I was good enough at it that they encored me. Brought me back for another song.

So I began my career actually at the Big D, but I actually wasn’t there very long it just wasn’t meant for me to operate from the Big D Jamboree.

But I met a little old buddy while I was there. His name was Jimmy Fautheree. And I must have been pretty good at that imitating business because Jimmy hung around me for a couple of weeks. He thought I was Dave Landers. I said no I’m not Dave Landers. He said I was wondering why you was hanging around a little old show like this with a big hit record.

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.