Johnny Tillotson met with success in the 50's and 60's, placing 25 Hot 100 entries on the pop chart, some of which he had written himself.
Tillotson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1939, the son of Jack Tillotson and his wife, Doris. Although some biographical data lists Johnny's father as a radio disc jockey (due to a reporter's mistake that has been perpetuated), in reality, he owned a Standard Oil service station and served as a mechanic there, in Jacksonville. At the age of nine Johnny went a little way south to Palatka, Florida, to look after his grandmother. He went to school in Palatka but returned to live with his parents in Jacksonville in the summers. Young Johnny was performing on a local radio program called Young Folks Revue. He later became a disc jockey himself on radio station WWPF. He began to draw notice in the region and appeared as a regular on the Toby Dowdy television program in Jacksonville, and later on his own show. He attended the University of Florida, where he would eventually earn a degree in Journalism and Communications.
Continuing with his singing and acting, Tillotson entered a national talent competition and found himself in the finals, held in Nashville. There he was spotted by Cadence Records' owner Archie Bleyer. Bleyer was a music industry veteran and had success with other recording artists such as the Chordettes, Julius LaRosa, the Everly Brothers, Andy Williams, and Link Wray; it is Bleyer's voice that is heard on the Chordettes' hit Mr. Sandman, and he was married to Janet Ertel of that group. Bleyer signed Johnny Tillotson to a three-year contract with Cadence in 1958.
Tillotson began recording with Cadence and followed the success of the Everly Brothers into the pop chart, at times singing country songs that he delivered with a pop sound. His first single was two self-written songs titled Dreamy Eyes backed by Well I'm Your Man, and both met with mild success. After several other minor hits, including his cover of the Penguins' Earth Angel, he came up with his breakthrough hit in late 1960, Poetry In Motion, written by Paul Kaufman and Mike Anthony. It was his first of more than a dozen hits to reach the top forty, going all the way to number two (and to number one in the UK), and it would prove to be his biggest hit ever.
He followed it with Jimmy's Girl and then his second of four to reach the top ten, the self-written Without You, in 1961. Others came along, with his next big one It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' going to number three in 1962. He went top forty pop with writer Hank Locklin's previous hit Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On (later a hit for Dean Martin) and covered a classic country hit by Hank Williams, I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You) later that same year. Tillotson was hot.
He appeared on television and in the 1963 film Just For Fun along with other recording stars of the day (Freddy Cannon, the Crickets, the Tremeloes, Bobby Vee, Ketty Lester, and others), but at the urging of Bleyer, concentrated primarily on his recording career. In late 1963, after switching to the MGM label, Tillotson came up with what was to be his final pop top ten entry, Talk Back Trembling Lips, written by John D. Loudermilk; it had been a number one country hit for Ernest Ashworth earlier that year. He continued recording and coming up with minor hits, and by 1965 his run on the pop top forty ended with his cover of Guy Mitchell's Heartaches By The Number. He continued placing songs on the country chart through the late 60's.
Songs written by Johnny Tillotson have been recorded by a number of prominent artists, including Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Skeeter Davis, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Sonny James, Carl Dobkins, Jr., and Petula Clark. One of his compositions, It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin', has been recorded by over one hundred different artists. He has recorded for a variety of record labels over the years, received two Grammy nominations, and sold millions of records. As this is written in 2011 he continues to record and tour, and he maintains a web site at www.johnnytillotson.com. He is probably most closely associated by fans of 60's pop music with his giant 1960 hit Poetry In Motion.
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