Lehman Monroe « Johnny » Tyler was born in Pochontas, Arkansas, on February 6th, 1918. What he made during the Thirties and how he traveled so far to California in the mid-40s is unknown, neither if he had particular talent in his youth for music. He must although have been a good seller in 1946-47, because RCA-Victor made him cut no less than 35 tracks within a year.
Johnny has probably started making own 78s records in the mid 1940s. He had already recorded 8 sides for Fargo as « Johnny Tyler & His Riders of the Rio Grande », (even issuing four under the pseudonym « Rocky Ship and his Prairie Pioneers ») before he hit big with his composition« Oakie Boogie » on the Stanchel label (# 101). The original label although may have been Bixby, because it was perhaps the only time he ever used the band name « Johnny Tyler and his Original Hillbillies ». It is a fast Hillbilly boogie, lots of guitar, fiddle and steel prowesses, on a assured vocal from Tyler. Indeed the song was covered, first by Jack Guthrie on Capitol 341, and much later by Hank Swatley on the Arkansas based Aaron (# 101) label. Another good Stanchell issue : the mid-paced to fast « Troubles On My Mind » (# 102). About a year later, Johnny Tyler re-recorded « Oakie Boogie » for RCA-Victor, a young Jimmy Pruett pumping the 88 keys on for a powerful version.
The next recordings that Johnny made were probably the circa 30 RCA-Victor items he cut between January 29 and December 2, 1947. Two of them remain unissued. Another 8 songs were recorded for RCA with Johnny fronting vocally Luke Wills’ Rhythm Busters. Actually, Luke Wills didn’t like the deal including Tyler and Johnny’s band member Billy Hughes (fellow in the Fargo stable) as guest artists in these two recording sessions of 1947. Julian Aberbach of the Hill & Range Publishing Company had certain commercial reasons working out a «special deal » with Steve Sholes of RCA. Anyhow neither Tyler nor Hughes were allowed to have their names appear on Wills’ label artwork. Tyler’s best tracks with Wills were the amusing and powerful « Never Turn Your Back To A Woman » (RCA 20-2310) or the equally good « Corn Fed Arkansas Gal » (RCA 21-0020), not to say the romper “High Voltage Gal“, to be found on the Luke Wills’ album below. All are good-time Western swing tunes!
Sunny Ciesla reported in the National Hillbilly News (July-August 1947) that Johnny was enjoying some success appearing at the Rancho and also in San Pedro, and that his recordings on RCA Victor at the time were a boost.
Other goodies from his thirty-five 1947 RCA sides are numerous, mainly uptempo, and good Honky tonk/Western swing music, backed by the then cream of California musicians. Let’s only mention a few : « Old McDonald’s Boogie » (# 20-2774), « Freight Train Boogie » (is this the Delmore Brothers’ classic ? – nevertheless we find here a very young Terry Fell on harmonica, and fabulous Leodie Jackson on steel) (# 20-2182), and its flipside, the fast Carlisles’ « Rockin’ Chair Money »; another train song, « City Of Memphis » (# 20-2503), the WS standard « Find ’em, Fool ’em And Forget ’em » (# 20-2928), « Peepin’ Through A Keyhole (Watching Jole Blon) (# 20-2620), surfing on the monster 1946 Harry Choates’ « Jole Blon » hit, that Johnny doubled with own “New Pretty Blonde (New Jole Blon)” (RCA 20-2171). In the Hillbilly blues category , I also appreciate much the lazy « Swamp Woman Blues « (# 20-2774), again with Terry Fell’s harmonica, or the mid-paced “Nothin’ Won’t Cure The Blues” (RCA 21-0105).
It seems that Tyler performed frequently on the Dallas scene during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The Country Song Roundup of December 27, 1953 reported that Johnny Tyler was at that time with radio WGST in Atlanta, Georgia, and a TV show was in preparation.
Earlier during this 1953 year, Tyler had waxed, probably at KWKH studio in Shreveport, Louisiana, 4 sides for West coast Art Rupe’s Specialty label, issued in their short-lived 700 Hillbilly serie. Best sides are « Take Your Blues And Go » (# 713) and « Hillbilly Preacher » (# 717), done Hillbilly bop style (swooping piano!). The afore mentioned article also said that Tyler had then just joined Jimmy Smith and his Texans, who were playing nightly at the Jo Cotton Rhythm Ranch » in the heart of Atlanta. Their live show from the Ranch was aired every night from 8:00pm to 12:00pm over WGST. One Jimmy Smith had a late ’60s novelty country ditty on the Hollywood Valhalla label, but I don’t know if this is the same person, Smith being a so common name.
In 1955 Tyler recorded in Hollywood for the small but important Ekko label (which in its short existence- 24 records in the main 1000 serie – had issues by no one than Al Dexter, Riley Crabtree, Eddie Bond, Lloyd McCollough, not to say the famous first Eddie Cochran records). Tyler cut for them 4 sides, that has to be reissued yet, the best being « Devil’s Hot Rod » (# 1000). He then went to Starday, and cut for them in Houston, Texas a much-sought after by collectors « Lie To me Baby » (# 263). It is interesting that Jimmy O’Neal’s name crops up in several of Tyler’s ’50s releases as joint songwriter (as early as 1953 on the Specialty sides), and leads some historians to believe that the pair had a joint business venture. So it was natural for Tyler to go on O’Neal’s Rural Rhythm label, which he cut his last 10 sides for in 1956-57. The best being the mid-paced country rockers “God’s Gonna Turn Us To Dust” (EP 509) « Devil On My Shoulder » (# 510) and its flipside« If I’m To Bear The Name ». « Bad Luck Done Got Me » and « The Devil’s Slate » (EP # 509) are nice slow bluesy ballads. He maybe recorded Guy Michell’s « Singing The Blues » for the low-budget label Tops (# 296), but it’s unsure if it’s him.
There is no easily available current compilation of Johnny Tyler’s music. Cattle CD is badly distributed (RCA sides). Try http://unclegil.blogspot.fr/ site in order to download Allan Turner Hillbilly Researcher # 21 compilation.
(from the notes to Cattle CD 300 « Two dozen western swing and boogie jewels », and the article written by Tony Biggs in his indispensable book « Cowboys, Honky tonks and Hepcats »). Additions by bopping’s editor.
Discography at: Johnny Tyler (Praguefrank)