Johnnie Ray had it bad, he had just found himself replaced by a new craze called Rock and Roll. The half American Indian, half deaf teen idol must have been in shock.
Things had looked so rosy for him just a few years earlier. With Guy Mitchell and Frankie Laine he had rocked the charts with huge hits like ‘Cry’, ‘Just Walking in the Rain’ and ‘You Don’t Owe me a Thing’- then Elvis had arrived and suddenly the ‘cry guy’ wasn’t hitting the charts with such ease.
The first full 12″ album he recorded was called ‘The Big Beat’. A classic, heavily influenced by R’n’B. ‘I’m Gonna Move’ was the opposite of the hit records of the time. The album released in 1956 was ahead of its time! It’s available now on CD- check it out!
The next few albums were great listening– ‘Til Morning’, ‘A Sinner Am I’ and ‘Live at the Desert Inn’. All three of these stumbled along, none set the charts alight. Columbia grew disenchanted and suddenly the golden boy wasn’t so golden.
In 1959, he scored his last hit, a self penned record called ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’. The record was a huge hit in the UK, but just a minnow in the USA and with that last disc his chart career was over. A few albums followed, along with alcoholism and cabaret clubs. There was nothing more or less to it. Johnnie Ray slipped away. The man who had been chased onto the roof of the London Palladium and held captive until he did a rooftop show was now a golden oldie.
In the 70’s, he came to England and caused a frenzy. I often wonder why he didn’t live here. His career could have taken off again, singers never go out of work in the UK. He just kept on going, he survived the scandal of being gay in 1959 and beat his drug addictions. Finally, he died in 1990 and I wonder if he ever knew how great he was?
If you have a chance guys, check out his discs. They’re masterpieces, real masterpieces!