"Country" Johnny Mathis (1930-2011) was a Texas kid who broke through in the early 1950s as a hillbilly singer playing driving, uptempo material in the years before his style of music transformed into early rock'n'roll. He was a cast member of the Louisiana Hayride for nearly a decade, performing and recording both as a solo artist and as part of the stellar hillbilly duo, Jimmy And Johnny. Mathis and his parter, Jimmy Lee Fautheree, became protegees of Nashville superstar Webb Pierce, who recorded several of their songs. Mathis left the duo for several years, briefly returning in the late 'Fifties before shifting his focus from secular to religious material. Here's a quick look at his work...
Jimmy & Johnny "If You Don't, Somebody Else Will" (Bear Family, 1996)
Wow! I picked this CD up years ago just because it was something new from Bear Family, and 'cuz it looked cool. Imagine my ecstasy when I discovered that these guys were part of Webb Pierce's regular songwriting stable in the late '50s... not only that, but one of these fellows went into a performing and songwriting partnership with Wayne Walker -- one of my favorite Webb cronies... and there are demo tapes here to prove it. Great stuff in a variety of styles, including ultra-twangy, uptempo honkytonk, Everly-esque teenpop, and out-and-out rockabilly. They even poke fun at their patron, Webb Pierce, on "Sweet Singin' Daddy." Singers Jimmy Lee Fautheree and "Country" Johnny Mathis, each went on to record solo work, though Mathis is probably the better-known of the two, later emerging as a potent country gospel artist. This early stuff is highly recommended!
Country Johnny Mathis "Come On In" (BACM) (CD)
A collection of secular material from Mathis's early years, nicely complimenting the Jimmy & Johnny set above.
Country Johnny Mathis "Country Johnny Mathis" (Stampede, 1965) (LP)
Country Johnny Mathis "Country Johnny Mathis" (Hilltop, 1965) (LP)
Apparently after several years in Nashville's orbit, Mathis dropped out of the commercial country scene and got religion, as heard by this all-gospel country record (listed here in two different editions). It's a great record -- heartfelt, hardrock, and full of true twang. Mathis was still in fine voice, though obviously getting a little long in the tooth. It took a couple of minutes for me to place the similarity, but a light went off and I realized he sounded quite a bit like his old boss, Webb Pierce, who he wrote several songs for, back in the good old days. And that's a good thing: as Jesus-y country records go, this one's very, very satisfying.
Country Johnny Mathis "He Keeps Me Singing" (Little Darlin' Records, 1967) (LP)
(Produced by Aubrey Mayhew)
Mathis lives up to his "country" nickname on this treble-icious, twangy set, presumably recorded with the full backing of the same Little Darlin' house band(s) that backed Johnny Paycheck in the same era. Plenty of tasty steel guitar licks (one would assume from Lloyd Green) that sometimes upstage the vocals, but most add a healthy vigor to the whole album... Mathis still echoes Webb Pierce's tones, though on the more raucous numbers, you can hear a likeness to rockabilly-era George Jones as well. If you're one of those country fans that wish country gospel had more bounce and twang to it, you'll want to check this one out. A few tracks are a little drippy, but even on these slower songs, the musical backing is pretty strong. Recommended!
Country Johnny Mathis "Come Home To My Heart" (Little Darlin' Records, 1969) (LP)
(Produced by Aubrey Mayhew)
Country Johnny Mathis "Meet The Johnny Mathis Family" (Sonlight Records, 1977) (LP)
Country Johnny Mathis "Born Again" (Little Darlin' Records, 1979) (LP)
Some of Mathis's gospel material was reissued as part of one of Aubrey Mayhew's periodic attempts to capitalize on old stuff in his vaults... This is mostly stuff from his old Little Darlin' singles and albums, with a couple fo tracks that were previously unreleased.
Country Johnny Mathis "Heartfelt" (President Records) (LP)
Likewise, this appears to be some of his secular stuff from the late '60s, basically a reissue of the Come Home To My Heart album...
Hick Music Index