Jimmy (Fautheree) & (Country) Johnny (Mathis), the most enduring non-sibling Hillbilly/Rockabilly duet
The mainstay of this ensemble was Jimmy Lee Fautheree. Born (James Walton Fautheree) on April 11, 1934 in Smackover, Arkansas. When he was 12 years old, his aunt bought him a guitar and he was fortunate that his parents wanted him to be an entertainer : so Fautheree became an accomplished guitarist at the age of 16 He spent many hours and dayspracticing guitar and singing with two of his younger brothers, Lynn and Jackie, both of whom in adulthood would follow him in musical pursuits. Their father was an oilman and moved his family from town to town as jobs became available, but settled in Dallas in 1946. The family was very musical minded, so Jimmy came by it honest. Jimmy liked and was around most phases of music : blues and hillbilly were his favorites, but country and gospel also fell into place. Ernest Tubb and Jack Guthrie were big influences, but Merle Travis left a definite impression on Jimmy with his distinctive finger-picked electric guitar style.
Following a successful appearance on the Big « D » Jamboree, Jimmy Fautheree was soon a regular feature of the Dallas Country music scene. ‘Country’ Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop crooner of the same name, hailed from Maud TX, where he was born in 1935. Mathis is arguably the most notable of the many individuals that made up the other half of the Jimmy & Johnny guise. Mathis had already garnered some experience in the recording field, having waxed a handful of sides for the JB [an extra-Bullet outfit of Jim Bulleit] in 1951 and Talent (Dallas, Texas) (1949) labels. Jim Bulleit acted also as manager for Jimmy Fauthereee (see below Billboard snippet).
In 1951, the boys were invited on to the Louisiana Hayride and very quickly became part of the house band which was then run by bassist Tillman Franks (more on him in the article devoted elsewhere in this site to the early days of Webb Pierce in Shreveport). Recently unearthed tapes of the Hayride concerts stand testament to their talent. Shortly after joining the prestigious show, Fautheree was signed to a recording contract with Capitol records. His first Capitol session took place at the Louisiana Hayride in 1951 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Four songs were recorded – “Go Ahead and Go” (a Jimmy Lee original), the fine uptempo “I’m Diggin’ A Hole To Bury My Heart” (# 2153) and here, Fautheree was also renamed “Jimmy Lee“. He went on to be a great star in the hillbilly field. One of his Capitol records is interesting,”Blowin’ And Goin’” as it includes a muted trumpet, an unusual instrument in early ’50s Country, but in Lee Bond‘s Republic sides, e.g. “How About A Date“, cut at the same time as Jimmy Lee (see elsewhere for this label’s story)
In 1953, the pair Fautheree-Mathis recorded « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will » for Feature (a Crowley, La. Jay D. Miller label), but it wasn’t until the following year, when they re-recorded the song for Chess, that it made the n°3 spot and became their only hit record. Jimmy Lee continued working and recording under the name of Jimmy & Johnny (Decca), albeit now with his brother Lynn. The new duet cut superb Rockabillies : the furious « Sweet Love On My Mind » (written by Wayne Walker, and shortly thereafter recorded by Johnny Burnette and the Rock’n’Roll Trio on Coral)(# 30061), the lazy uptempo Hillbilly bop bordering Rockabilly « Sweet Singing Daddy » (# 29772), the equally good « What ‘Cha Doin’ To Me » (# 30410), while the latter’s flipside, « I’ll Do It Everytime » was titled « Skiffle-Billy Beat » ! They were featured on Faron Young‘s band – Faron Young & The Deputies, on to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, performing there many times on the famous stage. Jimmy was featured in many shows of Elvis Presley’s early years, with Elvis being Jimmy’s opening act several times. Wow, how many can say that has happened for them ? Fautheree also did teaming up on Chess with Wayne Walker for the major 1955 Rockabilly classic « Love Me » with its furious steel-guitar and Fautheree’s own raucous, gutbucket bluesy guitar. In addition, he made later some solo recordings : in 1958, he cut the out-and-out rocker « Teen-Age Wedding » for the Vin label in New Orleans under the name Johnny Angel.
KWKH was a radio studio, also the only recording studio in Shreveport. Its studio was built as a room within a room : about two ft. away from the outside walls of the building, another wall was constructed stuffed with fiberglass. The only windows faced the annoncer’s booth and an area in front of the studio where the coffee machine and several chairs and tables were situated. The dimensions of the studio were approximately 25×30 ft. with a 12-foot ceiling, which was similar to the Dallas’ Jim Beck’s studio facility. Nevertheless, engineer Bob Sully excelled in being able to make the most out of what was available. For instance, he discovered that an echo effect was possible through feeding the output back into the board. Which he did, with Jimmy Lee & Wayne Walker « Love Me ».
Mathis teamed early in 1955 with a Dallas club owner, Les Chambers, who put on several singles on Starday by himself. The pair issued two nice fast Hillbilly boppers : « Everybody Else Does (Why Can’t I ») (Starday 181), as an answer to « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will », and « Give Me A Little More » (Starday 206).
Chambers soon disappeared, recording-wise, while Johnny Mathis switched naturally under the protection of Starday, when this label and Mercury went to a common venture early in 1957. There he had «One Life » (# 71273), as several tracks on various artists albums, e.g. « Hillbilly Hit Parade ». He even cut uncredited for the
low-budget Dixie label a nice version of the, I believe he was
the originator, Porter Wagoner song « I Thought I Heard You Call My Name » (# 526). Later in 1958, he recorded Rockabilly on ‘D’ as Les Cole and the Echoes (« Bee Boppin’ Daddy /Rock-A-Bye-Baby», # 1010). He and Fautheree were reunited in the late fifties for a couple of releases on ‘D’, (“My Little Baby” , # 1089 ) and one for the Los Angeles Republic label (« Knock On Wood », # 2014), in 1961 before finally dissolving the act, and once again each one going their own way.
During the 1960s, Jimmy Lee recorded for the Paula label in Shreveport : a more modern version of « Can’t Find The Door Nob » (sic, # 239) (1966) and one very tough, fine guitar-led instrumental: “Box Full Of ‘Git’” Next year, he cut the nice, loud rocker “Overdue ” (also on Paula 279), then on the Lodema label, more instro with “Project X-9” and the awesome country bopper “Laziest Man In The World” (Lodema # LR 101, 1983).
Jimmy produced several Gospel albums, his first in the late 1970’s. Lynn Fautheree died in 1989 from asbestosis. It would not be before 1995 that Jimmy & Johnny performed again together for the first time in 35 years, when they recorded a gospel tune “It Won’t Be Much Longer“, released on the Dallas based TIMA Records in 2000. It was their last recording together. It was however their last recording as Johnny became ill in 1999. He was invited to come back for a reunion on the Louisiana Hayride show on June 27 and 28, 2003, titled “One More Ride“, at the original Municipal Auditorium, 706 Elvis Presley Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana. Jimmy opened the Friday night show by singing one of his recordings, “Unknown Legends“, written by Johnny Mathis. That song was perfect for the night, and as many of the original performers such as Kitty Wells, Johnny Wright, Bonnie, Maxine, and Jim Ed Brown, Billy Walker, just to name a few, were present to once again perform their talents, and could say, “we are home once again“.
Also last year (2003), Jimmy performed a Rockabilly Show, “The Ponderosa Stomp”, in New Orleans, Louisiana, backed by Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics Band. That performance went so well that Deke invited Jimmy Lee to his Fort Horton studios in Austin, TX., to record with the band. The result is: “I Found The Doorknob“, Jimmy Lee’s first recording in forty years! The new CD features the hit “I Found The Doorknob” (answer song to “Can’t Find The Doorknob“), and many others including “Gotta Get You Near Me Blues“, “Overdue“, “Box Full of Gits” (Jimmy’s admirous guitar picking), “I’m Diggin a Hole“, “Big Mamma Blues“, “Nine Pound Hammer“, and many more. This CD is available through the web site – dekedickerson.com, his first album for nearly 30 years.
Jimmy went to Rye, Sussex, England, and performed the Rockabilly Rave Show on March 7, 2004, doing an outstanding performance playing his guitar and singing to many a fan who never thought they would get to see their favorite artist in person. This was also the first time he ever did perform in Europe. Three months later, he lost his battle against cancer : he passed away at his home in Dallas TX, on June 29, 2004.
As a solo artist, Johnny Mathis released several singles for D, United Artists and Little Darlin’. His final charting single was “Please Talk to My Heart,” released in 1963. He also encountered significant success as a songwriter, penning songs for Johnny Paycheck, George Jones and Webb Pierce, among others.
Mathis suffered a stroke in February 1999, and was no longer able to perform. He died on September 27, 2011, one day prior to his 78th birthday
There was also a release on TNT which is by a different Jimmy & Johnny duet; a Jimmy Lee has « Look What Love Will Do » on Vin 1010, and a record on Feature is by a Jim & Johnny, once again no relation to Messers Fautheree and Mathis.
Biography based on Dik De Heer work (www.rockabilly.nl), Walter Stettner’s own, from « Steel Guitar Forum » (published on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame site), and, most of all, from the very fine and indispensable book « Cowboys, Honky-tonks and Hepcats » written and published by my good friend Tony Biggs. Nearly all pictures were provided by Tony, too. And all the music comes from his fabulous collection…Thanks-a-lot, Tony!