The last of the pre-rock & roll artists I’ll feature in this series is Johnnie Ray. He was popular for most of the 1950’s and is considered a precursor to the rock & roll era (Tony Bennett called him “The father of rock & roll”). He and Dorothy Kilgallen had a lengthy affair after he made an appearance on What’s My Line? and remained close until Ms. Kilgallen’s death in 1965, even though he was known to be gay. He was deaf in one ear from an accident at Boy Scout camp when he was younger, and lost the hearing in both ears after surery in 1958, although he was able to hear with hearing aids.
Johnnie’s first and only #1 song was 1951’s “Cry,” which he recorded with the Four Lads. It was on the Okeh label, the R&B subsidiary of Columbia Records. When it proved to be a hit, Columbia A&R man Mitch Miller moved him over to the main Columbia label. In addition to the Billboard chart (this was before the Hot 100), it also was a #1 on the R&B chart and on the Cash Box chart.
His other biggest hit was 1956’s “Walkin’ In The Rain.” The song was written by two inmates of the Tennessee State Prison, Johnny Bragg and Robert Riley. Bragg and his group, the Prisonaires, had a #1 with it in 1953, and initially Johnnie was reluctant to sing it but was convinced to do it by Miller. It reached #2 on the Billboard chart, #3 on the Cash Box chart, and was a #1 hit for him in the UK, and earned him a gold record. The male voices of the Ray Conniff Singers and a whistler accompany him on this.
Johnnie was an alcoholic through most of his peak years, but gave up drinking after a bout with tuberculosis in 1960. In 1969, his doctor told him that he had recovered sufficiently from his alcoholism that he could have an occasional glass of wine. He lapsed back into alcoholism and his health declined until his death in 1990 at the age of 63.
Johnnie Ray, your Two for Tuesday, January 9, 2018.