Country Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop singer of the same name was born September 28, 1930 in Maude, 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.
‘Country’ Johnny Mathis, as he was labeled early in his career to distinguish himself from the other emerging singer of the same name, began his career as a recording artist on the StarTalent label in 1949. He would go on to record for a number of record labels during his music career including Chess, Columbia, D Records, 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 1953 with the song, “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will”, released on Chess Records. In 1955, 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 1980’s 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. 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 and many, many others.
Mathis has been credited with writing over 500 songs, he landed dozens of songs on multiple Billboard Charting Country albums and Gold Records, multiple Billboard Charting Country singles and had a total of 11 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees record his music. His songs are still be recorded and utilized in albums and documentaries today.
Like many songwriters in the 50’s, Johnny sold his writer’s share to several of his songs. He sold the song, “Am I That Easy To Forget”, outright for $15. The song does not bare his name in the writer’s credits, and later became a Country Music standard and awarded the BMI Million Performance category achievement. This act of “selling songs” was a common practice during that time period in Country Music for songwriters.
In 1964, after almost 20 years in Country Music, Johnny had a spiritual turning point in his life. On the heels of a record deal with United Artist and a Billboard Top 20 Country single, as well as a nomination for“New Male Vocalist In Country Music” by Billboard Magazine’s Disc Jockey Awards, he left his career in Country Music and returned to his roots of faith to sing and evangelize in churches across the country.
He later met Louisiana native, Jeannie McLain, they married in 1968 and had 3 sons. Johnny spent most of his time during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s writing and singing Gospel music and evangelizing in churches across the country. He was a devoted father, passing along his love for music, faith and dedication, to his sons John Jr, Bill and James. Many times he would take his young musicians to the local nursing homes 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 until a massive stroke in 1999 which led to his passing in 2011.
In a final tribute at his, 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 140 copyrights of his songs in the Avid Group Publishing catalog.
‘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 live on through his family, friends and followers of his music.
Johnny had began to chronicle some of the stories of his career in his memoirs prior to his stroke, he didn’t have the opportunity to finish those, but excerpts from his writings are shared in blog pages on this site.
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