Juan Raul Davis "Johnny" Rodriguez (born December 10, 1951) is an American country music singer. He was the first famous Latin American country music singer, infusing his music with Latin sounds, and even singing verses of songs in Spanish.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he was one of country music's most successful male artists, recording a string of hit songs, such as "You Always Come Back to Hurting Me," "Desperado," "Down on the Rio Grande" and "Foolin'." He has recorded six No. 1 country hits in his career.
Early life and rise to fame:
Rodriguez was born in Sabinal, Texas, a small town situated 90 miles from Mexico. He was the second youngest in a family of ten children living in a four-room house.
Growing up in Sabinal, Rodriguez was a good student in school and an altar boy for his church. He was also the captain of his junior high school football team. When Rodriguez was sixteen, his father died of cancer and his older brother Andres died in an automobile accident the following year. The two incidents had an effect on Rodriguez and he became a troubled teen. In 1969, at age 18, Rodriguez ended up in jail. He sang frequently in his cell and was overheard by Texas Ranger Joaquin Jackson, who was very impressed and told promoter "Happy" Shahan about him. (The common story told is that he was arrested after he and some friends were caught stealing and barbecuing a goat, although Jackson would later state that Rodriguez was in jail simply for an unpaid fine.)
Shahan then hired Johnny to perform at his local tourist attraction called the Alamo Village. While singing at this venue, he came to the attention of country singers Tom T. Hall and Bobby Bare, who encouraged the young singer to fly up to the country music capital Nashville, Tennessee in 1971.
The 21-year old singer arrived in Nashville with nothing more than a guitar in his hand and $14 in his pocket. Fortunately, Hall soon found work for Rodriguez fronting his band, as well as writing songs.
Less than one year later, Hall personally took Rodriguez to the heads of Mercury Records' Nashville division to land him an audition with the record label. After performing the songs "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "If I Left It Up to You," he was then offered a contract with Mercury. He signed with them and began recording in their Nashville studio.
Career in the 1970s:
After signing with Mercury, Rodriguez was soon on the way to becoming famous. His first single to be released for Mercury was 1972s "Pass Me By." This recording was a big success, going to No. 9 on the Hot Country Songs list that year, and making him a country star overnight. Rodriguez became the first well-known Latin American country singer. (Freddy Fender achieved fame a few years later, in 1975.)
In 1972 Rodriguez was voted the Most Promising Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. The next year, he achieved his first No. 1 hit song, "You Always Come Back to Hurting Me." Another song that year, "Ridin' My Thumb to Mexico," was also a No. 1 hit. Both his No. 1 hits charted on the Pop charts, but only moderately. Rodriguez wrote some of his own material such as the song "Ridin' My Thumb to Mexico." In 1973, his debut album was released, which rose to No. 1 on the "Top Country Albums" chart. He was nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year by the CMA Awards. In addition to his success in country music, he also had a role on the television show Adam-12 and also made a guest appearance on The Dating Game in 1974. He also began to appear on talk shows.
The year 1975 was probably his biggest year, in terms of chart success. That year all three singles he released soared to No. 1 on the country charts: "I Just Can't Get Her Out of My Mind" "Just Get Up and Close the Door," and "Love Put a Song in My Heart."
Success on the country charts continued throughout much of the '70s. He recorded songs not only written by himself around this time, but also covers of others' songs such as Linda Hargrove's "Just Get Up and Close the Door," Mickey Newbury's "Poison Red Berries," and Billy Joe Shaver's "Texas Up Here Tennessee." These songwriters were also country music singers themselves. By 1975, Rodriguez was considered a member of the outlaw country market in country music, like fellow musicians Bobby Bare and Tom T. Hall.
Career in the 1980s and 90s:
Despite the outlaw movement fading from view in the late 1970s, Rodriguez was determined to stay on top of his game. In 1979, he switched to Epic Records. Under Epic, he worked with the legendary producer Billy Sherrill, who produced some of the biggest names in the business at the time. His first hit from Epic came that year with the No. 6 country hit, "Down on the Rio Grande." His debut album from the record company was entitled Rodriguez. All the songs from the album were cover versions.
Although Rodriguez did not make the Top 10 continuously as in the past, he managed to stay in the Top 20, with hits like "Fools For Each Other" and "What'll I Tell Virginia." At the same time, Rodriguez continued to be a popular concert attraction. However, Rodriguez was also having personal problems. In 1982, he did a duet with Zella Lehr on the song "Most Beautiful Girl (La Chica Mas Linda)." The single was released by Columbia Records. In 1983, he went into the Top 5 with the hit song "Foolin'," followed by the Top 10 hit "How Could I Love Her So Much." However, by the mid-80s, he was becoming less successful. In 1986, he left Epic Records.
In 1987, he signed with Capitol Records for a brief period of time. He had his last major hit in 1988 with "I Didn't (Every Chance I Had)," which reached No. 12 on the country charts. By 1989, he left Capitol Records.
Overall in the course of his career, Rodriguez released 26 albums and 45 charted singles. He has also had six No. 1 hits on the country charts.
In 1993, he recorded an album for Intersound Records called Run For the Border. In the mid-1990s, the indie label High-Tone released his album You Can Say That Again. He continued to tour around the country during this time. In 1996, he turned to another label, Paula Records, which issued a single called "One Bar At a Time", but it was unsuccessful. By this time his musical presence was fading from the public view, as more neo-traditional country singers were making hits on the country charts, like Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, and Dwight Yoakam.
Album CD reissues:
Several labels have re-issued the music of Johnny Rodriguez. The UK-based Hux Records re-issued digitally remastered versions of his first two albums "Introducing" and "All I Ever Meant To Do Was Sing." Hux Records plans to release more of Johnny's classic material in the near future. The label is owned and operated by an English businessman named Brian O'Reilly, who is an outspoken fan of Johnny Rodriguez.
Life after 1998 to present:
Since 1998, Rodriguez has toured the United States and world, performing in countries including Switzerland, Poland, England, South Korea, Canada, and Mexico. He has performed concerts at the famed Ryman Auditorium and Carnegie Hall.
Rodriguez continues to tour and record new material, performing dates in the United States and Canada, where his music remains popular. In 2012, he released the first official live concert album entitled Johnny Rodriguez: Live from Texas. The album includes most of his biggest hits in addition to fan favorites and new songs from recent releases.
Awards and recognition:
Rodriguez has been honored by three U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. He played at George H.W. Bush's inaugural ball.
On August 18, 2007, Rodriguez was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, located in Carthage, Texas.
On October 23, 2010, Johnny Rodriguez received the Institute of Hispanic Culture Pioneer Award, in recognition of his accomplishment as the first major Hispanic singer in country music.
Johnny Rodriguez was first married to Linda Diann Patterson, a Southern Airways flight attendant from Conyers, Georgia. Her current name is Linda Diann Patterson Rodriguez Adams. Johnny and Linda married February 17, 1976 at Brentwood United Methodist Church located in Brentwood, Tennessee (Country Song Roundup Magazine, 1976). Johnny married Robyn Benard from Houston, Texas in a September wedding. As reported by writer Pat Harris of Music City News, Johnny and Robyn attended the September wedding of Nashville restaurateur Marlo Ferrazi when they learned that a local judge who was attending the wedding could marry them so they tied the knot. Johnny Rodriguez then married a third time in 1995 to Lana Nelson daughter of country singer/songwriter Willie Nelson. His marriage to Lana lasted only 7 months (Smolowe, Jill People Magazine Nov. 1, 1999 Vol. 52 No. 17). Johnny's last marriage was to Debbie McNeeley, a hair salon owner in 1998 with whom he had a daughter, his only child, Aubry Rae Rodriguez born April 1998 (Smolowe, Jill People Magazine, Nov. 1, 1999 Vol. 52 No. 17). Aubry has a music Facebook page Aubry Rodriguez Music. She can be followed via instagram and Twitter @AubryRMusic.
In 1998, Rodriguez was arrested at his home after shooting and killing a "drinking buddy" of his, Israel "Bosco" Borrego, whom he mistook for a burglar. He was charged with murder but was acquitted by a jury a year later on grounds of self-defense, under Texas law.
He is now living in Texas. Johnny has achieved a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.
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