Country Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop singer of the same name was born September 28, 1930 in Maud, Texas, was known as both a Country Music songwriter and artist. He grew up the middle child of 7 children as the son of a holiness preacher. He learned to sing and play guitar in his dad’s church and the family picked cotton to make ends meet. By the time Johnny was 15, he quit school and began playing in the honky tonks around Texas. He discovered music was a good way to stay out of the cotton fields and have “perpetual fun” (as Johnny termed it).
Johnny adopted the label of Country Johnny Mathis in the late 50s to distinguish himself from the another emerging singer of the same name, and began his career as a recording artist on the StarTalent label in 1949. He would go on to record for many record labels during his music career including Chess, Jim Bulleit Records, Columbia, D Records, Starday, Mercury, Decca, United Artists, Little Darlin’, Hilltop and Stonegate.
As a part of the duet, Jimmy and Johnny, he scored a Top 5 Billboard Chart hit in 1954 with the song, “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will”, released on Chess Records. In 1954, on the heels of their chart success, Jimmy and Johnny were teamed with Elvis Presley for tour dates as both acts continued their weekend appearances on The Louisiana Hayride. Both Jimmy and Johnny and Elvis received Most Promising nominations in Billboard Magazine’s Most Promising Artists category for 1954.
Johnny’s highest charting single as a soloist, “Please Talk To My Heart” (Billboard Hot Country Singles Top 15), occurred while recording for United Artists in 1963. (Mathis also recorded several Rockabilly sides for D Records under the name of Les Cole & The Echoes. The most notable being “Bee-Bopping Daddy”.) Johnny was a regular performer on The Louisiana Hayride during the 50’s, he also performed on the Big D Jamboree, The Grand Ole Opry, The Wilburn Brothers Show and TNN’s Nashville Now to name a few. Johnny contributed interview segments and his song “Let Me Go Back One More Time” was featured in the 1984 Louisiana Hayride documentary, Cradle Of The Stars, narrated by Hank Williams Jr.
As a songwriter, ‘Country’ Johnny Mathis had a notable body of songwriting work that now spans 7 decades of placement. His songs have been recorded by George Jones (over 20 cuts), Tammy Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Pride, Johnny Horton, Ray Price, Jimmy Dean, George Hamilton IV, Freddy Fender, Melba Montgomery, Webb Pierce, The Whites, Carl Smith, Bobby Helms, Elvis Costello, Faron Young, Gene Watson and many, many others.
Mathis has been credited with writing over 400 songs, he landed dozens of songs on 14 Billboard Charting Country albums and Gold Records, with 10 Billboard Charting Country singles as a songwriter. A total of 12 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees have recorded his music. His songs are still be recorded and placed today.
Like many songwriters in the 50’s, Johnny sold his writer’s share to dozens of songs. Johnny estimated that he sold up to 100 songs during that time. Sometimes he would give them away to his close friends like Webb Pierce.
He sold the song, “Am I That Easy To Forget”, outright for $15. The song does not bear his name in the writer’s credits, and later became a Country Music standard and was awarded the BMI Million Performance category achievement. This act of “selling songs” was a common practice during that period in Country Music for songwriters.
In 1964, after almost 20 years in Country Music, Johnny had a spiritual turning point in his life while driving down a Texas highway. After having a Billboard Top 20 Country single, that was in Cash Box magazine’s Top 50 Best Country Records, Country Records Most Played, and putting Johnny in the Top 50 Country Artists of 1963, he returned to his roots of faith to sing and evangelize in churches across the country.
In 1965, Johnny was contacted by Aubrey Mayhew, who was a big fan and wanted to sign Johnny to his new label, Little Darlin’ Records. For the remainder of the 60s, he recorded several Gospel albums and continued writing and recording Country songs.
In 1967 Johnny met Louisiana native, Jeannie McLain, they married in 1968 and had 3 sons. Johnny spent time during the early 70s recording a few Country records, working with The Hubert Long Agency, doing a few tours and appearances with artists like Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker, and a final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1973.
During the late 70s Johnny formed a family band with his 3 songs, The Johnny Mathis Family, that played and sang in churches in Texas, Louisiana, and other southern states. Many times he would take his young musicians to the local nursing homes, homeless shelters or prisons to play music.
A visit in 1980 from his old producer, Aubrey Mayhew, talked Mathis into moving to Nashville to write for Mayhew’s publishing company, Dream City Music. This stint lasted for a year but landed the Mathis family permanently in Tennessee where Johnny continued to write songs and make records. During the late 80s and 90s, Johnny traveled singing Gospel music and evangelizing in churches across the country.
Country Johnny Mathis had a massive stroke in February 1999 which led to his passing in 2011. His wife Jeannie quit her full-time employment to be Johnny’s full-time caregiver during that time.
In a final tribute to his passing, many media outlets such as WSM, KWKH, and television news networks acknowledged Johnny’s passing, which included commentary from the host of the Mike Huckabee Radio Show, Mike Huckabee.
Johnny’s eldest son, John Mathis Jr., continues to manage the copyrights of his songs in the Avid Group Publishing catalog, placing Johnny’s music on new recordings and in film, TV, and commercials such as CBS’ ‘Young Sheldon’ and Michelob Ultra’s 19th Hole commercial in 2022 & 2023. (Sync License Representation by Koze Music)
Country Johnny Mathis left a legacy in so many areas, from music to faith to family. He is missed, but the celebration of his life and music lives on through his family, friends, and followers of his music.
The biography, ‘Country Johnny Mathis – Sometimes Stardom Ain’t Enough’ is available on Amazon.
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