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The Spectacular Johnny Horton

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Album Review

Horton's brief flurry of country-pop mega-stardom coincided with some of his less interesting music, as this 1960 album proves. Corny Americana became his meal ticket after "The Battle of New Orleans" (which leads off the disc), and more of the same follows on the gold-prospecting tales "Sam Magee" and "When It's Springtime in Alaska." Those songs are country-pop with a banjo for a whiff of (not quite genuine) authenticity. On several of the other tracks, he didn't bother with the banjo, leaving average or below-average country-pop balladry to remain. Yet he hadn't forgotten how to play and sing gutsy rockabilly cum honky tonk, as shown on the album's best cuts. His self-penned "The First Rain Headin' South" is certainly the best of the crop; the cover of "Cherokee Boogie," like Warren Smith's "Ubangi Stomp," flirts with imagery that will strike many as un-PC these days; and "Got the Bull by the Horns" and the cover of Hank Snow's "The Rocket" are respectable up-tempo numbers. Half a good album, then, and Horton wouldn't have a chance to resolve his conflicting directions, dying in the same year as the LP's release.

Biography

Born: 30 April 1925 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Country

Years Active: '50s, '60s

Although he is better-remembered for his historical songs, Johnny Horton was one of the best and most popular honky tonk singers of the late '50s. Horton managed to infuse honky tonk with an urgent rockabilly underpinning. His career may have been cut short by a fatal car crash in 1960, but his music reverberated throughout the next three decades. Horton was born in Los Angeles in 1925, the son of sharecropping parents. During his childhood, his family continually moved between California and Texas,...
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