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Biography: Johnny Rodriguez

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There is a great man from south Texas that broke down countless racial barriers and became one of the biggest names in country music in the process. That man's name is Johnny Rodriguez!

 

Johnny Rodriguez was the second youngest of ten siblings growing up.

 

It was on December 10th, 1951, that Juan Raul Davis Rodriguez came into this world.  A native to the tiny town of Sabinal, he was a good kid growing up - he was an altar boy, a fine student, and even the captain of his junior high football team.  His older brother Andres, who was a fan of country music, bought Johnny his first guitar when the latter was only seven years old.  Although his family was poor, life was more-or-less ideal for the young man until a series of tragedies struck in his teen years.  Sometime shortly after Rodriguez's sixteenth birthday, his father died of cancer.  His brother Andres, who had been a big part of his childhood, was taken in an automobile accident about a year later.  The formerly squeaky-clean Rodriguez, understandably, became something of a rebel and was arrested four times over the next two years - once for stealing and barbecuing a goat!  Luck was ultimately on his side, however, as legendary Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson overheard Rodriguez singing while he was in prison.  The Ranger directed him to a man named "Happy" Shahan who happened to run a tourist destination that is still known as Alamo Village (as it was originally the set for the John Wayne movie The Alamo).  Now out of jail and a singing tour guide, Rodriguez spent his days performing for tourists to make a living - but luck was not done with the young Johnny R.

 

Introducing was Rodriguez's first and highest charting album.  It hit #1 on the US Country and #156 on the Billboard 200 charts.

 

Two big names in country music, Tom Hall and Bobby Bare, were touring through Texas in 1971 and happened to stop by the Alamo Village where they came upon Rodriguez performing.  At their insistence, Rodriguez grabbed a plane to Nashville and began working for Hall.  When 1972 rolled around, Hall personally took Rodriguez to meet with the big wigs at Mercury Records, who then offered him a contract after an audition.  A single called "Pass Me By" was released by the end of the year and immediately went straight up to #9 on the country charts.  Not only was Rodriguez named "the Most Promising Vocalist" by the Academy of Country Music, he was now officially the first Hispanic country star.  Things were just getting rolling for the 21-year-old, however, as he had his first #1 single the following year: "You Always Come Back to Hurting Me".  The next single, "Ridin' My Thumb to Mexico", also became a #1 hit as did his debut album Introducing.  After a nomination for "Male Vocalist of the Year" from the Country Music Association, he got onto the television programs Adam-12 and The Dating Game.  In addition, 1974 had five Top 10 singles, two of which hit #1, and two Top 10 albums in total for Rodriguez - all in all, not a bad year!

 

A proud Texan, Rodriguez kept good company!  From left to right: Johnny Rodriguez, Doug English,  Lana Nelson, Earl Campbell, Willie Nelson, and Randy Willis.

 

By 1975, Rodriguez was considered part of the Outlaw Country scene, which featured other Texas greats like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  That year was a good one as all three of Rodriguez's singles shot straight up to #1 on the country charts.  Although 1975 would be seen as the high water mark of Rodriguez's charting career, he still had some of his best work ahead of him.  1976 saw two more Top 10 albums and three more Top 10 singles.  1977 did not produce any Top 10 albums, but it did see two more Top 10 singles - as did 1978.  1979 saw a big change for Rodriguez as he left Mercury Records for Epic Records where he worked with producer Billy Sherrill, a man well known for his work with numerous other artists like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Charlie Rich.  During his seven years with Epic, Rodriguez recorded seven Top 20 hits (three of which made the Top 10).

 

A man known for his excellent live performances, Rodriguez had a particular flair for television appearances.

 

Rodriguez left Epic Records in 1986 and briefly joined Capitol Records the following year.  Although his Gracias album did not chart, it spawned five Top 100 hits with one of those making it to #12.  He left Capitol in 1989 and did not release any more albums until 1993, although he remained in high demand on the road.  His 1993 album Run for the Border did not chart or produce any hits as the sounds of popular country music at that time had shifted towards artists like Garth Brooks and Dwight Yoakam.  Regardless, Rodriguez continued pulling large crowds at his live shows so he continued releasing more independent albums sporadically - something he continues to this day.  Rodriguez had a run in with the law in 1998 as he shot a man in his home who he mistook for a burglar, but was ultimately acquitted by a jury as they considered the shooting a case of self-defense.

 

With over four decades in music behind him, Rodriguez continues to tour regularly and release new material.

 

Since the dawn of the new millennium, Rodriguez has continued to tour regularly although he officially moved back to Texas.  Although he has performed for every president since Jimmy Carter, he was specifically invited by President George W. Bush to play for his 2001 inaugural ball.  In 2007, he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame alongside Red Steagall and the late Bob Luman.  Somewhere along the way he also earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do!  Furthermore, he was awarded the Institute of Hispanic Culture Pioneer Award for his achievement of becoming the first major Hispanic country artist.  Ultimately, Rodriguez had twenty Top 10 singles, six of those hitting #1, and seven Top 10 albums.  As he's still on the road and releasing new music, it's not out of the question that those numbers may grow before everything is said and done!  Don't forget to check out his official website here!