Born Hoyt Ray Johnson, 30 November 1935, Arley, Alabama
Hoyt Johnson was a talented artist, who could have been much bigger if he hadn't had a weakness for the bottle. Johnson came from Arley in Alabama, a small community just north of Jasper. He was discovered and managed by deejay Jim Atkins. According to Dave Travis, Atkins was Chet's brother. But although Chet did have an older half-brother called Jim, this was not the same person. Chet's brother worked at a disc jockey at WLS in Chicago, the other Jim Atkins at the much smaller radio station WARF in Jasper. Atkins connected Hoyt with Erwin Records, a Memphis label owned by Marshall Erwin Ellis. Johnson's first record for the label (September 1957) was a song he co-wrote with Atkins, originally called "Where You Are", but released as "It's A Little More Like Heaven (Where You Are)". Hank Locklin heard the song and recorded it for RCA in early 1958, scoring a # 3 country hit in the process. Soon thereafter, Sam Phillips offered to record the song again with Johnny Cash, if Cash would receive a third of the writers royalties for changing the lyrics and the title to "You're the Nearest Thing To Heaven". This also became a Top 5 country hit (Sun 302), while the other side, "The Ways Of A Woman In Love", was an even bigger hit (# 24 pop, # 2 country). A nice little earner for Johnson.
Hoyt's next release, in December 1957, was "Enie Meanie Minie Mo" (Erwin 555), which is now considered as a rockabilly classic and has been reissued on at least twelve different compilation CD's. The other side, "Standing In Your Window", another Atkins-Johnson collaboration, has also had its share of reissues.
In late 1958, Johnson landed a contract with a major label, RCA, where his records were produced by Chet Atkins. The best of his three RCA singles is the second one, "Little Boy Blue"/"My Special Girl" (RCA 7607), both sides his own compositions. "Little Boy Blue" features very interesting guitar accompaniment by Chet Atkins. Despite an enthusiastic review in Billboard, which made it a Billboard Pick, the record failed to sell. RCA gave it one more try with the Jack Clement song "Too Shy", released in April 1960, before releasing Johnson from his contract. By then, he was drinking heavily, and the Grand Ole Opry, which had invited him to become a member in 1959, dropped him. Hoyt went on to record country and gospel music in the 1960s for small labels like Zone, Satellite, Allstate and Gold Standard before he returned to his native Arley, raising chickens on a farm. Alcoholism certainly contributed to his early death, at the age of 53. His funeral was attended by George Jones and several other country stars.
More info: http://www.rockabilly.nl/?artists/hoytjohnson.htm
Acknowledgements: - Dave Travis, Liner notes for "Memphis Rockabillies, Hillbillies & Honky Tonkers, Vol. 2 : The Erwin Records Story" (Stompertime, 2002).
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