Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Drunk Driver Kills Popular Singer 

The Last Ride of Johnny Horton 
by Robert A. Waters 

It was 1960.  Hank was long-dead and old-time country music was dying.  Elvis, a country boy from Mississippi, had inadvertently started the trend.  Suddenly, teens weren't listening to sad songs like "Fraulein" and "Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On" anymore.  A new, driving energy was taking over the airways as electric guitars and rock 'n' roll created new heroes. 

For years, Johnny Horton, a sharecropper's son and singer from East Texas, had struggled to find a niche in the country music industry.  He'd been signed by several record companies, but his star had flamed out with each unsuccessful record he made. 

Then, in 1956, Horton recorded an up-tempo song called "Honky Tonk Man."  Traditional country music lyrics about a rake who loved barflies melded with hot electric guitar licks in just the right blend, and suddenly, Horton hit the jackpot.  Later, that song and others recorded by Horton would be called "rockabilly."  Songs like "Cherokee Boogie," "Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor," and "Sleepy-eyed John" fused rock and country at just the right speed.

By 1959, Horton had again changed his style.  He recorded his biggest hit, "The Battle of New Orleans."  This historically-based frolicking song soared to the top of the charts in both country music and pop music.  It was followed by smash hits such as "Sink the Bismarck," "Johnny Reb," and "North to Alaska." 

Horton had come a long way from the sharecropper life led by his mother and fatherHe'd married a Louisiana beauty, Billie Jean Jones Williams, Hank's second wife.  He'd bought a new home in Shreveport, and was at the very pinnacle of his career.  Money, once a scarce commodity around the Horton home, was now rolling in.   

But for years, Horton had told friends of a premonition he couldn't shake.  He believed he would die at the hands of a drunk driver.  Horton even practiced scenarios in which he would drive his car into a ditch to escape an oncoming driver.  He hoped to outwit death by being prepared.  A teetotaler, Horton would soon discover that even a drunken grim reaper would not be denied.    

Close to midnight, on November 4, 1960, Johnny Horton climbed into the driver's seat of his shiny-new white Cadillac sedan.  He and his band had just played a packed session at the famous Skyline Club in Austin, Texas.  Horton had been skittish about the gig, thinking he might be killed by a drunk in a barroom fight.  So, between sessions, he hung out in the dressing room, away from the crowds.   

After loading their gear into the trunk of the Caddie, Horton, bass player and manager Tillman Franks, and guitarist Gerald Tomlinson headed home to Shreveport.  Horton planned to go duck hunting with future country music star Claude "Wolverton Mountain" King later that morning 

At about one-thirty, in Milano, Texas, Horton's Cadillac "approached a bridge over a train trestle."  Coming the opposite way, 19-year-old college student James Evans Davis drove a 1958 Ford Ranchero pickup.  Davis, who had been drinking, lost control of the truck and slammed into a guard rail.  He bounced off, weaved across the road, hit the opposite guard rail, then smashed head-on into Horton's Caddie. 

Photos show the car crushed like a tin can.     

The carnage on the bridge left Horton dead, and Franks and Tomlinson severely injured.  As happens often, Davis walked away with only minor injuries. 

At Horton's funeral, his long-time friend Johnny Cash read from the Biblical book of John.  Horton was interred at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bossier City, Louisiana. 

In March, 1961, the Dallas Morning News reported that Davis had been convicted of "murder without malice" and "given a 2-year probated sentence in a no-jury trial." 

Horton had told his friends that if he died, he would contact them from the grave.  Franks believed Horton, and later recounted an eerie story that he thought proved contact had occurred. 

Clay Coppedge, in "Letters from Central Texas," published the tale: 

"As for Horton's promise of coming back from the grave, Franks believed Horton made good on his promise.  It happened when Franks was driving to Nashville with singer David Houston.  The radio was out and the CB radio was out.  It was a quiet drive.  Then, according to Franks, the CB kicked in with the opening riffs from Horton's 'One Woman Man.' 'It sounded like a juke box, real full, much louder than a CB would be,' Franks told music writer Colin Escott. 'The whole song played, and then the CB cut out again.  I just froze.  David did too . . . I told Merle Kilgore, and he said, 'Johnny's telling you that the song's gonna be a hit all over again.''' 

It was.  In 1989, George Jones recorded the song and it hit the charts, stopping at number 5. 

Today, Johnny Horton is remembered for his rockabilly influence and the historical songs he loved.  He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.  For some reason, he's never been elected to the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame.

Sink the Bismarck by Johnny Horton 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Florida: Land of Sinkholes, Lightning, and other Killers

Five Reasons Not to Move to Florida 
by Robert A. Waters 

In this blog, a native Floridian will tell you what politicians won't.  Here are five reasons you should never ever even consider moving to Florida.  The politicos, Chambers of Commerce, and newspapers will lie to you...but don't believe them.  Your life may depend on it. 

Florida is the Serial Killer Capital of the World 

Long-time Gainesville residents are still haunted by Danny Rolling, a Louisiana drifter who liked to torture coeds, decapitate them, and place their grinning faces where they would be seen by first responders.  After Ted Bundy escaped jail in Colorado, he fled to Tallahassee where he brutally assaulted four coeds, killing two.  Then he kidnapped a child from her school and did even more horrible things to her.  Florida routinely makes the top 3 list of states with the most serial killers per capita, and usually it's number one.  Aileen Wournos Bobby Joe Long Gary Ray Bowles (the Gay Killer) Christine Falling (the Babysitter from Hell).  Christopher Wilder.  These are just a few of Florida's own serial killers.  The fact that it took cops so long to catch all these predators is scary.  Move to Florida at your own risk. 

Florida is the Sinkhole Capital of the World 

Imagine lying in your bed when suddenly the floor collapses and you sink to the bottom of the world.  This happened to Seffner, Florida resident Jeffrey Bush when a sinkhole swallowed him.  His remains were never recovered.  Each year in Florida, sinkholes gulp down homes, automobiles, cattle, even people.  A sinkhole in Pasco County gobbled up two homes and a boat, endangering dozens of lives and causing mass evacuations.  Atlantic magazine reports that "Florida has more sinkholes than any state in the nation."  The scary thing about sinkholes is they often cave in with no warning.  So if you ignore my advice and move to the Sinkhole State, be prepared to dole out thousands extra for insurance since your regular homeowner's policy doesn't cover these weird geologic phenomena.  Better yet, stay up north and enjoy the brisk winters and snow-covered peaks. 

Florida is the Lightning Capital of the World  

The Orlando Sentinel reports that "Florida is hailed as the lightning capital of the country."  Most every afternoon from April to October, heavy clouds purple up and dump torrents of rain onto the ever-growing cities and ever-shrinking country-sides.  With the rains come killer lightning bolts.  A woman was struck and killed as she waded in Daytona Beach Shores.  A farmworker in Manatee County died after being struck.  A man walking down the sidewalk in Largo was killed when lightning struck him.  The Sentinel writes: "Dubbed 'Lightning Alley' by meteorologists, the thunderstorms between Tampa and Titusville generate hundreds of thousands of bolts that cause billions in damage each year."  Recently, a pregnant woman in Fort Myers lost her baby after being struck by lightning.  If you ignore my advice and pack up your belongings to head south, maybe you could stop in Georgia.  I hear Atlanta's a great place to live, and at least it's not the lightning capital of the world. 

Animal Predators Inhabit Florida 

You've heard all the stories about non-native pythons devouring native wildlife in the Everglades.  These stories aren't made up, they're true.  It's only a matter of time before some child is killed and eaten by one of the these creatures.  Florida is also home to other deadly snakes, including rattlers, coral snakes, and water moccasins.  Then there are alligators.  A young boy playing in a Disney World pond was taken by a gator.  Every year, these prehistoric beasts claim several lives in the land of fun and frolic.  Sharks roam the Florida coasts, killing at will.  Sometimes, though, a lucky victim might escape with maybe just a missing arm or leg or half a faceMuch of Florida's wildlife is predatory, and these hungry stalkers don't care whether you're a human or a rat—they just want to eat.  So good luck if you move to Florida.  

More Crazed Killers on the Prowl (Unsolved Crimes in Florida) 

As you walk the ever more crowded streets of the Sunshine State, you'll likely brush against violent human murderers who have never been caught.  Thousands roam Florida's streets.  Listed below are a few unsolved cases: Nancy Bochiccio and her seven-year-old daughter Joey were abducted and murdered by a serial killer near the Boca Raton Town Center Mall; fifteen-year-old Laralee Spear was kidnapped and murdered as she walked home from DeLand High School; thirteen-year-old Jennifer Renee Odom was abducted after she got off her Pasco County school bus; University of Florida coed Tiffany Sessions disappeared while jogging and has never been found.  The list of unsolved murders and disappearances in Florida runs into the thousands.  Between the killers and the drug-runners and gangbangers, life can be hell for transplants.  All things considered, my advice is to stay up north and enjoy the winter sports.