Johnny Horton: Age 35 | Cause Of Death: CAR CRASH
(b. 3 April 1925, Los Angeles, CA, d. 5 November 1960, Texas)
For a time he worked in the fishing industry but began his singing career on KXLA Pasadena in 1950 and soon acquired the nickname of The Singing Fisherman. Horton recorded Honky Tonk Man the day after Elvis Presley recorded Heartbreak Hotel and Presley’s bass player, Bill Black, was on the session. The song was successfully revived by Dwight Yoakam in 1986, while George Jones revived another song recorded that day, I’m A One Woman Man, in 1989. He married Hank Williams’ widow, Billie Jean, in September 1953. In 1959, Horton switched direction and concentrated on story songs, often with an historical basis, and had his first US country number l with a Tillman Franks song, When It’s Springtime In Alaska. This was followed by his version of Jimmie Driftwood’s The Battle Of New Orleans, which became a number l pop and country hit in the USA. On 5 November 1960 Horton was killed in an automobile accident on a Milano, Texas bridge following an appearance at the Skyliner in Austin, which also claimed the life his guitarist, Tommy Tomlinson. Tillman Franks received serious injuries but eventually pulled through. Billie Jean became a country star’s widow for the second time in seven years.
Visitor’s letter (March 24, 1999):
I did catch one discrepancy, though. It is in the account of Johnny Horton’s car accident. I wanted to check it out to see whether you mentioned Tommy Tomlinson, his guitarist. You did. However, you incorrectly stated he was killed in the car wreck. Fortunately for me, he wasn’t. He, [and] my father, and Horton were friends. Tommy did lose one leg in the accident and spent the rest of his life in pain. I was born in 1955 and grew up knowing Tommy. He spent a lot of time in our home during my youth and I learned much about the guitar from him. The last time I saw Tommy was in 1975 at my uncle’s funeral. He (Tommy) eventually died of congestive heart failure due to longtime addiction to painkillers and amphetamines. I lost track of him after the midseventies but remember reading in the Shreveport La. Times of his death in the very early eighties. Tillman Franks, who played upright bass, was in the backseat of the car wreck and was not hurt terribly bad. He still lives in Shreveport and writes and records gospel music these days. I saw him a couple of years ago at a spring cultural festival I played at on the Red River in Shreveport.