johnny dollar action packedJOHNNY DOLLAR, ROCKABILLY SINGER AND MUSICIAN – For many people, “Johnny Dollar” will always put them in mind of the old radio show Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. That detective series about an insurance investigator described Johnny with the tagline “The man with the action packed expense account,” prompting the nickname “Mr. Action Packed” for the later rockabilly performer who used Johnny Dollar as his stage name.

(Personally, I always think his early effort Action Packed led to that nickname. Maybe it was both elements.)

johnny dollar with guitarBorn John Washington Dollar Jr. in Kilgore, TX on March 8th, 1933, this future guitarist and singer-songwriter did a stint in the Marine Corps before working as a truck driver, a hand in the Texas oil fields, and as foreman in a Dallas lumber yard while pursuing his dream of stardom.

In 1952, Johnny cut a single – Walking Away – with Shelby Singleton’s music label D Records, but it failed to make an impression (See what I did there?). Staying in the music field, Dollar became a DJ in Louisiana and New Mexico.

On the side he formed a band called the Texas Sons, which eventually became a regular act on Louisiana Hayride, a radio and television show broadcast from Shreveport. (“Way up north, around Shreveport” for you Justin Wilson fans.)

During this period, Dollar cut another single – Lumberjack – for Slim Willett’s Winston label, but, like Johnny’s earlier song, this single went nowhere. By the late 1950s, Dollar switched from country & western to rockabilly and, at first finding no success – not even with the future rockabilly staple Action Packed – he resorted to selling insurance in Oklahoma.

A versatile musician, Johnny picked up extra money on the side by performing with Marvin “Sparky” Montgomery’s latest roster of his decades-spanning Western Swing band the Light Crust Doughboys.

This led to a chance meeting with country singer Ray Price and a contract with Columbia Records in 1964. In 1966 Johnny Dollar charted with the single Tear-Talk, and broke into the Top 15 in 1967 with Stop the Start (Of Tears in My Heart).

The performer’s first album, titled Johnny Dollar, came out in late 1967 and by 1968 it had charted with the singles Your Hands, The Wheels Fell Off the Wagon Again, Everybody’s Got To Be Somewhere, and Do-Die. Johnny’s second album, Big Rig RollinMan, put hits on the charts in 1968, 1969 and 1970 with the title song, plus Big Wheels Sing for Me and Truck Driver’s Lament.

In 1971, Dollar released no album, and his singles Highway in the Sky and If  I Make the Front Door, Woman (I’m Gonna Kiss You) failed to chart or even light up rockabilly’s trucker music subgenre. For most of the 1970s, Johnny worked in Nashville as a record producer for, among others, Jimmy Dickens and for Norwegian country singer Teddy Nelson (Somebody tell Andre Einherjahr!).

He would also periodically release more singles, including one on his own Johnny Dollar record label in 1977, but none reached as high as his 1966-1971 output. Dollar had been living the full throttle musician lifestyle, and went through four divorces and a bout with alcoholism. Eventually, Johnny was diagnosed with throat cancer, and the subsequent surgery caused the loss of his voice.

For Johnny Dollar that was the final blow, and he took his own life on April 13th, 1986. 



Filed under Neglected History


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