Sunday, February 28, 2010

Let's go honky tonkin'

Well I'm a honky tonk man and I can't seem to stop
I love to give the girls a whirl to the music of an old juke box
But when my money's all gone, I'm on the telephone singing
Hey, hey, mama can your daddy come home

Dwight Yoakam's twangy "Honky Tonk Man" will get those boots tapping. If you see it listed on a juke box you're going to punch it in. Released as a single off Yoakam's 1986 debut album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., it reached No. 3 on the country charts and still receives heavy play on radio stations and juke boxes.

But we always aim to give credit where it's due. "Honky Tonk Man" was written and recorded first by Johnny Horton. Now Horton, who is remembered more for "saga" songs like "The Battle of New Orleans," had some rockabilly in his bones. He died tragically at age 35 before the world knew what he was truly capable of accomplishing. His song, featuring Hank Garland's nifty guitar, was actually released twice: in 1956, when it reached No. 9, and two years after his death (No. 11).

Digging even deeper: You may not know of Al Dexter, but he deserves a respectful mention in any conversation about honky tonk music. On this date in 1946 Dexter was flyin' high with "Guitar Polka," which for 15 memorable post-war weeks was the most-played "juke box folk record" in America.

Maybe you have heard "Pistol Packin' Mama"? That's Dexter's, too. It's a shame it got watered down by Bing Crosby's more famous version, but you can't argue with the results. In his first recording session in 1936 Dexter laid down "Honky Tonk Blues," which is believed to be the first reference to the term. Talk about burying the lead. All of this information is bound to win you a bar argument some day, or at least keep you in the running on Trivia Night.

After searching for the most appropriate clip the Sanctuary settled on a German-dubbed intro to Clint Eastwood's "Honkytonk Man" from that fine 1982 movie. Enjoy...


  1. I'll have to check out Al Dexter, thanks.

    Hank Garland was great and quite versatile ... he also played those tasty Spanish fills on "El Paso."

  2. fellas, i am pretty sure hank garland did not play on either of those tracks. i think grady martin played the nylon string stuff on el paso, and the almost-rockabilly of "honky-tonk man."

  3. Karl I think you might be right. I was apparently misinformed by somebody you probably know, who shall remain nameless (in northern VA).