Friday, October 7, 2011
ROCKABILLY LITTLE BOY BLUE
A couple days ago I was remembering a moment about 45 years ago. It was in the time of the Navy, I think late 1964, the ship was in port in Charleston. I was on a watch with a welder who was working on a ship, on the interior. We kept a regular watch with welders in case something unpredictable might happen. I think I was 22. The welder and I talked as time went by. Music came up and he told me he'd had a minor hit, Little Boy Blue. It was on the country chart. I've remembered that guy and the association with Little Boy Blue. Finally, I thought to look it up on YouTube, and there it was. His name was Hoyt Johnson. The Johnson part rang a bell, but the Hoyt was new. I found a picture of him and added maybe 10 years to it and if my memory has any accuracy in it, I'd say it's him. I think he died something like 22 years ago.
When I heard the song on YouTube, I can't say I "recognized" it. If I'd heard it, I didn't pay it any mind. That's a long time ago. In that time, my ear leaned more toward the black sound than the white sound, and this guy, Hoyt Johnson, definitely played white music. It was a little teeny-bop for my ears in that time. I was listening to Ivory Joe Hunter, Little Willie John, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo, and Chuck Berry. Carl Perkins was about as white as my ears could handle at the time. Johnny Cash was way too white for my ears then. When I started listening to music at about age 13, it was black music I wanted to hear. Andre Williams, "Seventeen and a half is still jail bait." When I listened to Little Boy Blue, I heard Johnny Otis's song, Willie And The Hand Jive that came along a few years later. Johnny Otis lifted the tune from a forgotten rockabilly. I couldn't quite go with, "Little Boy Blue said to Little Bo Peep." In the time I met Hoyt Johnson I was listening to jazz of the New York BeBop period, and some early Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard's first band they called Little Boy Blue. I didn't know that then.
Hoyt Johnson told me he'd thrown away his music success for liquor. Couldn't handle it. It never occurred to me to doubt him, as we were just two men talking at work. I had a friend on the ship from Mississippi, a young dj, who was hyper-enthusiastic about everything that interested him. He was also fun. I told him I'd just did welding watch with the guy that sang Little Boy Blue. DJ friend about blew a gasket. He wanted me to take him back there right now so he could meet him. Not possible. He hoped maybe he'd get assigned watch with Johnson, but it never happened. Never saw him again and never heard of him again. He's surfaced in my mind over the years wondering what happened to him. I found in Wikipedia he died I think in 1989. Bad alcohol issues. Evidently the kind of alcoholic Carter Stanley and one in about every brother group was, the kind that couldn't be cured and wrecks lives.
That was my encounter with a famous guy I'd never heard of. In that time I probably remembered hearing the song in the past, maybe even a year or so before I started hearing the new rock and roll. I started hearing it in the time of Elvis at the Sun label, the Coasters song Searchin, still one of my all time favorite songs, was then and continues now. Johnny Ace, Pledging My Love. Chuck Berry's Maybellene. Little Richard's Long Tall Sally. I suspect Hoyt Johnson's Little Boy Blue was in there just before my ear began to catch hold of the new music. A neighbor kid, Jim Estes, a couple years ahead of me in school had a 45 record player and some 45s. He turned me on to the first songs I heard; Elvis Presley, the Coasters, Johnny Ace, Earth Angel by the Penguins. Then the radio started playing the new music. Then I discovered the black station that played the really good music. Bo Diddley, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Reed, James Brown and the Famous Flames, TRY ME. Little Eva, Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown. For a kid in early teens it was a dynamic time to wake up to music. I had the world I shared with everybody else, home, school, church, but my music was my own. Totally my own. Maybe this is why music has been so dominant a theme in my life.
It's curious to have this question I've carried in my mind since the hour or two spent with the welder who had recorded a song called Little Boy Blue. I've learned quite a bit about Johnson by googling the song title first, then finding his name and his picture. He didn't let on like he'd been any kind of big deal. Just that he once made some records and had a song on the charts. Was a little-known country rockabilly singer. The press I see about him says he was quite good and promising as a rising star. Johnson might have been in the time of early Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. The highway was rough on those guys. Cochran was killed in a car wreck and Vincent was crippled in one. Another story of a musician liquor took down the drain. Happens all the time. One of the perils of the game. Some make it and some don't. I think there was a sayin then, Some cats got it and some cats aint. I reckon Hugh Johnson would say he didn't have it. He carried an addiction demon that wouldn't allow him success in what he wanted to do. About all that can be said to that is, Shit happens.
I've wondered who that welder was all these years. Never made an effort to go looking for a song Little Boy Blue, until it came to mind the other day to go to google. Isn't google the most wonderful invention there has ever been! I'm sitting on the porch one day and see two exotic black parrots fly by and wonder what they're doing flying in Whitehead, NC. Obviously, they got out of somebody's house who kept exotic, expensive birds. I started searching on google, eventually found a place to write with the description for what they were. A kind of Raj from Western Borneo. A week or two later I saw one. Then no more. They did not know defensive flying, so they couldn't last long. The hawks that caught them had a one-time treat. In the years before google, if I'd seen such birds, it would take research in probably an urban library to find one. Like with Johnson, first I googled Little Boy Blue, then googled Hoyt Johnson and found everything I wanted to know and a lot more.