Johnny Tillotson Biography

20 April 1939, Jacksonville, Florida, USA. Tillotson’s father was a country music disc jockey and Johnny himself was appearing on local radio from the age of nine. His parents encouraged his talent by giving him first a ukulele and then a guitar, and he was influenced by the singing cowboys (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers) and country singer Hank Williams. He appeared regularly on Tom Dowdy’s television show, from which he was recommended to Archie Bleyer, the owner of Cadence Records. His first single in 1958, recorded while he was completing his BSc in Journalism And Communications, combined the teen ballad ‘Dreamy Eyes’ with the up-tempo ‘Well, I’m Your Man’. Although his roots were in country music, he was encouraged to revive the R&B ballads ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘Pledging My Love’ and ‘Earth Angel’. In 1960 he released the classic teen-ballad ‘Poetry In Motion’, which went to number 2 in the USA and number 1 in the UK. The b-side, ‘Princess, Princess’, was popular in its own right and the equal of many of his later hits. Tillotson’s follow-up, ‘Jimmy’s Girl’, was less successful but he went to number 3 in the USA with ‘It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’’, a self-penned country ballad. The song has been recorded by over 100 performers including Elvis Presley.

Tillotson’s baby-face and slight frame made him an ideal teen-idol for the early 60s, but his musical preference was country music. He had further success by reviving the country songs ‘Send Me The Pillow You Dream On’ and ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)’. In the movie Just For Fun he sang ‘Judy, Judy, Judy’, which he wrote with Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. His ballad ‘You Can Never Stop Me Loving You’ was a US Top 20 hit, but Kenny Lynch’s version was preferred by UK record-buyers. A spell in the US Army prevented Tillotson from capitalizing on his success, but when he signed with MGM Records he was determined to become a country performer. ‘Talk Back Trembling Lips’ was a country and pop hit, but his subsequent records - ‘Worried Guy’, ‘I Rise, I Fall’, ‘She Understands Me’, ‘Heartaches By The Number’ - only reached the Top 40. Tillotson moved to California in 1968, and during the 70s recorded for the Ampex, Buddah Records and United Artists Records labels. He also became a regular on the lounge circuit in Las Vegas, hence a single of ‘Cabaret’. Tillotson also remains popular on US army bases in Europe and he has had several hits in Japan following successful appearances there. The 30-track compilation All His Early Hits - And More!!!!, which was released in the UK by Ace Records in 1990, is the best introduction to his work and includes an early version of ‘Poetry In Motion’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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