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Johnny Tillotson

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Johnny Tillotson
Tillotson in 1965
Tillotson, c. 1965
Background information
Born (1938-04-20) April 20, 1938 (age 86)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
GenresCountry, pop
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1957–present
LabelsCadence, London, Apex, MGM, Amos, Buddah, Columbia, United Artists, Reward, Atlantic

Johnny Tillotson (born April 20, 1938) is an American singer-songwriter.[1] He enjoyed his greatest success in the early 1960s, when he scored nine top-ten hits on the pop, country, and adult contemporary Billboard charts, including "Poetry in Motion" and the self-penned "It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'" and "Without You".


Tillotson is the son of Doris and Jack Tillotson, who owned a small service station on the corner of 6th and Pearl in Jacksonville, and acted as the station's mechanic. At the age of nine, Johnny was sent to Palatka, Florida,[2] to take care of his grandmother. He returned to Jacksonville each summer to be with his parents when his brother Dan would go to his grandmother. Johnny began to perform at local functions as a child, and by the time he was at Palatka Senior High School he had developed a reputation as a talented singer.[3] Tillotson became a semi-regular on WJXT's McDuff Hayride, hosted by Toby Dowdy, and soon landed his own show on WFGA-TV.[4] In 1957, while Tillotson was studying at the University of Florida, local disc jockey Bob Norris sent a tape of Johnny's singing to the Pet Milk talent contest, and he was chosen as one of six national finalists. This gave Johnny the opportunity to perform in Nashville, Tennessee, on WSM the Grand Ole Opry, which led Lee Rosenberg, a Nashville publisher, to take a tape to Archie Bleyer, owner of the independent Cadence Records.[5] Bleyer signed Tillotson to a three-year contract, and issued his first single, "Dreamy Eyes" / "Well I'm Your Man" in September 1958. Both songs were written by Tillotson, and both made the Billboard Hot 100, "Dreamy Eyes" peaking at No. 63. After graduating in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and communications, Tillotson moved to New York City to pursue his music career.[2][3][6]

From late 1959, a succession of singles – "True True Happiness", "Why Do I Love You So", and a double-sided single covering the R&B hits "Earth Angel" and "Pledging My Love" – all reached the bottom half of the Hot 100.[1] His biggest success came with his sixth single, the up-tempo "Poetry in Motion",[1] written by Paul Kaufman and Mike Anthony, and recorded in Nashville with session musicians including saxophonist Boots Randolph and pianist Floyd Cramer. Released in September 1960, it went to No. 2 on the Hot 100 in the US, and No. 1 on the UK's Record Retailer chart in January 1961. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[7] On Bleyer's advice, Tillotson focused on his recording career, also appearing on television and being featured as a teen idol in magazines. His follow-up record, "Jimmy's Girl",[1] reached No. 25 in the US charts and No. 43 in the UK; after that, "Without You" returned him to the US Top Ten but failed to make the UK Singles Chart.[2] He toured widely with Dick Clark's Cavalcade of Stars.[5]

Early in 1962, Tillotson recorded a song he wrote, "It Keeps Right on A-Hurtin'",[1] inspired by the terminal illness of his father. It became one of his biggest hits, reaching No. 3 in the US pop chart,[1] and was the first of his records to make the country music chart where it peaked at No. 4. It earned his first Grammy nomination for him, for Best Country & Western Recording, and was covered by over 100 performers including Elvis Presley and Billy Joe Royal, whose version was a country hit in 1988.[3] Tillotson then recorded an album, It Keeps Right on A-Hurtin', on which he covered country standards including Hank Locklin's "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" and Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)," which also became hit singles.[1] He continued to record country-flavored and pop songs in 1963, and "You Can Never Stop Me Loving You" and the follow-up, the Willie Nelson song "Funny How Time Slips Away", both made the Hot 100.[2]

With the demise of the Cadence label, he formed a production company and moved to MGM Records, starting with his version of the recent country charted No. 1 song by Ernest Ashworth, "Talk Back Trembling Lips", reached No. 7 in January 1964 on Billboard's Hot 100.[1] He earned his second Grammy nomination for "Heartaches by the Number", nominated for Best Vocal Performance of 1965, which reached No. 4 on the Easy Listening chart. He also sang the theme song for the 1965 Sally Field television comedy Gidget.[8] While his fortunes waned with changing musical tastes in the late 1960s, he continued to record before moving to California in 1968. Besides concert and recording he appeared in several films. He appeared in the 1963 British music film Just for Fun;[9] 1966 camp comedy The Fat Spy starring Jayne Mansfield;[10] the Japanese movie Namida Kun Sayonara, after his Japanese hit of the same name;[11] and the 1976 made-for-TV film The Call of the Wild.[11]

In the 1970s, he recorded for the Amos, Buddah, Columbia, and United Artists labels.[3] He appeared in concert, appearing in theaters, at State Fairs and Festivals, and in major hotels in Las Vegas and elsewhere.[1]

In 1984, he charted briefly on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart with "Lay Back in the Arms of Someone" on Reward Records,[12] and it was during the 80s that his hits in South East Asia had him appear in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand on a regular basis with tours in Japan and Hong Kong. In 1990, he signed with Atlantic Records and released "Bim Bam Boom", which received significant airplay on Country music stations.[13]

On Sunday, May 19, 1991, his 22-year-old daughter Kelli, who was a model and lived in Encinitas, died in a traffic accident in Parker, Arizona.

In the 1990s, Tillotson recorded several Christmas songs with Freddy Cannon and Brian Hyland for the Children's Miracle Network, produced by Michael Lloyd. He also recorded with Tommy Roe and Brian Hyland, again for Michael Lloyd for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998), "We Can Make It".[14]

After a decade-long absence, in 2010 Tillotson released a single titled "Not Enough," a tribute to the military, police, fire, and all uniformed personnel of the United States.[11]

On March 23, 2011, Tillotson was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, which is the highest honor that the State of Florida bestows on an artist.[11][15] Their plaques are on permanent display in the Florida State Capitol.[16]




Year Album US
1959 This Is Johnny Tillotson
1960 Johnny Tillotson (EP)
1962 It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin' 8
1963 You Can Never Stop Me Loving You
1964 Talk Back Trembling Lips 48
The Tillotson Touch
She Understands Me 148
1965 That's My Style
Johnny Tillotson Sings
1966 No Love at All
The Christmas Touch
Johnny Tillotson Sings Tillotson
1967 Here I Am
1969 Tears on My Pillow
1970 Johnny Tillotson
1977 Johnny Tillotson


Year Album US AUS
1962 Johnny Tillotson's Best 120
1968 The Best of Johnny Tillotson
1972 The Very Best of Johnny Tillotson
1977 Greatest
1984 Scrapbook
1986 20 Greatest Hits' 96
1990 All the Early Hits – and More!!!!
1995 Poetry in Motion: Best of Johnny Tillotson
1998 Country Hits Collection
2001 25 All-Time Greatest Hits
2003 Sings Love Songs & Standards
2011 Outtakes
2013 Poetry in Motion
Johnny Tillotson's Best
2014 It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'
Travelin' on Foreign Grounds
2015 It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'


Year Single Peak chart positions Album
US Billboard[23] US Cashbox US Billboard R&B US Billboard Country US Billboard AC CAN CAN Country UK[24]
1958 "Dreamy Eyes" /
"Well I'm Your Man" (from Words and Music by Johnny Tillotson EP)

Johnny Tillotson's Best
"I'm Never Gonna Kiss You" (with Genevieve) Non-album track
1959 "True True Happiness"
b/w "Love Is Blind" (Non-album track)
54 49 Johnny Tillotson's Best
1960 "Why Do I Love You So"
b/w "Never Let Me Go" (Non-album track)
42 31
"Earth Angel" /
"Pledging My Love"*

"Poetry in Motion"
b/w "Princess Princess"
2 2 27 1
1961 "Jimmy's Girl"
b/w "(Little Sparrow) His True Love Said Goodbye"
25 24 43
"Without You"
b/w "Cutie Pie"
7 12
1962 "Dreamy Eyes" (re-issue)
b/w "Well I'm Your Man" (from Words and Music by Johnny Tillotson EP)
35 46
"It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'"
b/w "She Gave Sweet Love to Me" (Non-album track)
3 5 6 4 31 It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'
"Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" / 17 14 11 5 21
"What'll I Do" 106
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" / 89 94
"I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)" 24 29 8 41
1963 "Out of My Mind"
b/w "Empty Feelin'" (from You Can Never Stop Me Loving You)
24 23 11 34 Non-album track
"You Can Never Stop Me Loving You"
b/w "Judy, Judy, Judy"
18 18 4 You Can Never Stop Me Loving You
"Talk Back Trembling Lips"
b/w "Another You"
7 7 6 Talk Back Trembling Lips
"Funny How Time Slips Away"
b/w "A Very Good Year for Girls"
50 62 16 It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'
1964 "I'm a Worried Guy" / 37 38 Talk Back Trembling Lips
"Please Don't Go Away" 112 122
"I Rise, I Fall"
b/w "I'm Watching My Watch"

The Tillotson Touch
b/w "Sufferin' from a Heartache"
45 45 5 36
"She Understands Me"
b/w "Tomorrow"
31 29 4 25 She Understands Me
1965 "Angel"
b/w "Little Boy" (from She Understands Me)
51 53 33 Johnny Tillotson Sings
"Then I'll Count Again"
b/w "One's Yours, One's Mine" (from Johnny Tillotson Sings)
86 67 That's My Style
"Heartaches by the Number"
b/w "Your Mem'ry Comes Along"
35 32 4 14
"Our World"
b/w "(Wait Till You See) My Gidget"
70 54 23 Johnny Tillotson Sings
1966 "Hello Enemy"
b/w "I Never Loved You Anyway" (from Johnny Tillotson Sings)
128 104 Non-album track
"Me, Myself and I"
b/w "Country Boy"
That's My Style
"No Love at All"
b/w "What Am I Gonna Do" (from Talk Back Trembling Lips)
No Love at All
"Open Up Your Heart"
b/w "More Than Before"
Non-album tracks
"Christmas Is the Best of All"
b/w "Christmas Country Style"
The Christmas Touch
1967 "Tommy Jones"
b/w "Strange Things Happen" (from Johnny Tillotson Sings)
91 Here I Am
"Don't Tell Me It's Raining"
b/w "Takin' It Easy"
"You're the Reason"
b/w "Countin' My Teardrops" (from That's My Style)
48 24 The Best of Johnny Tillotson
1968 "I Can Spot a Cheater"
b/w "It Keeps Right On a-Hurtin'" (from The Best of Johnny Tillotson)
63 Non-album tracks
"Why So Lonely"
b/w "I Haven't Begun to Love You Yet"
"Letter to Emily"
b/w "Your Memory Comes Along"
1969 "Tears on My Pillow"
b/w "Remember When"
119 98 94 Tears on My Pillow
"Joy to the World"
b/w "What Am I Living For"
"Raining in My Heart"
b/w "Today I Started Loving You Again"
1970 "Susan"
b/w "Love Waits for Me"
Singles only
"I Don't Believe in If Anymore"
b/w "Kansas City, Kansas"
1971 "Apple Bend"
b/w "Star Spangled Bus" (Non-album track)
127 Johnny Tillotson (1970)
"Welfare Hero"
b/w "The Flower Kissed the Shoes That Jesus Wore"
"Make Me Believe"
b/w "The Flower Kissed the Shoes That Jesus Wore"
1973 "Your Love's Been a Long Time Comin'"
b/w "Apple Bend"
"If You Wouldn't Be My Lady"
b/w "The Sunshine of My Life"
77 Non-album tracks
"I Love How She Needs Me"
b/w "So Much of My Life"
1974 "Till I Can't Take It Anymore"
b/w "A Sunday Kind of Woman"
1975 "Big Ole Jean"
b/w "Mississippi Lady"
"Right Here in Your Arms"
b/w "Willow County Request Line"
1976 "Summertime Lovin'"
b/w "It Could Have Been Nashville"
Johnny Tillotson (1977)
1977 "Toy Hearts"
b/w "Just an Ordinary Man"
1979 "Poetry in Motion" (re-issue)
b/w "Princess Princess"
67 Johnny Tillotson's Best
1984 "Lay Back in the Arms of Someone"
b/w "What's Another Year"
91 Non-album tracks
1990 "Bim Bam Boom"
b/w "I Was Born a Dreamer"
2010 "Not Enough"
"—" denotes items which were not released in that country or failed to chart.

Video releases[edit]

  • Best of Johnny Tillotson (2003) K-tel
  • Rock'n Roll Regends (2005) MVD Visual
  • Johnny Tillotson Sings His All-time Greatest Hits (2006)Varese Sarabande


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 1181. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b c d "Biography by William Ruhlmann". AllMusic. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d Pore-Lee-Dunn Productions (April 20, 1939). "Johnny Tillotson". Classicbands.com. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  4. ^ [1] Archived December 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b "Johnny Tillotson Interview". Classicbands.com. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  6. ^ [2] Archived June 15, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 129. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  8. ^ Fitzgerald, Michael R. "Clean Living Pays Off For Tillotson", Paxety Pages. June 10, 2005. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  9. ^ Davis, Sharon (2012). Every Chart Topper Tells a Story: The Sixties. Random House. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  10. ^ Schlossheimer, Michael (2018). Gunmen and Gangsters: Profiles of Nine Actors Who Portrayed Memorable Screen Tough Guys. McFarland & Company. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d "A love affair with Asia", New Straits Times. August 15, 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  12. ^ "Hot Country Singles", Billboard. April 7, 1984.
  13. ^ "Country: National Airplay", Radio & Records. March 9, 1990. p. 66. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  14. ^ Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer - Original Soundtrack, AllMusic. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  15. ^ "Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee Announces 2019 Inductees into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame", Florida Department of State. April 9, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  16. ^ Fodor's 2012 Florida. Fodor's Travel Publications. October 15, 2011. p. 86. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  17. ^ [3] Archived January 12, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Legendary Awards – The Epitome of Brand Success". The BrandLaureate. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  19. ^ "Johnny Tillotson – Division of Cultural Affairs – Florida Department of State". Florida-arts.org. Archived from the original on November 15, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  20. ^ "Inductees". Hit Parade Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on October 17, 2016. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  21. ^ "2006 Alumni of Distinction " College of Journalism and Communications " University of Florida". Jou.ufl.edu. August 14, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  22. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 310. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  23. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 899. ISBN 978-0-89820-188-8.
  24. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 560. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.

External links[edit]