#1257: The Mansion You Stole by Johnny Horton

Peak Month: December 1960
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CFUN chart
Peak Position #8 CFUN
Peak Position #7 CKWX
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “The Mansion You Stole
Lyrics: “The Mansion You Stole”

John LeGale Horton was born on April 30, 1925, in Los Angeles, born to migrant fruit pickers. He spent most of his life growing up in East Texas when the family wasn’t back in California picking fruit. A great athlete, twenty-six colleges offered him basketball scholarships after his graduation from high school. Horton chose to study geology for a while in Seattle. Then in 1948 he went north to Alaska to pan for gold. While there he began to write songs. Back in the lower forty-eight, Horton was a winner at a talent contest in Henderson, Texas. This prompted him to move back to California and seek a career in music. He was a guest on Cliffie Stone’s Hometown Jamboree on KXLA-TV in Pasadena. This spawned The Singing Fisherman, Horton’s own half-hour show. He got married to a girl he met in Hollywood named Donna Cook. In high demand to perform on the Louisiana Hayride, they relocated to Shreveport, Louisiana. Touring was hard on the newlyweds and Horton got divorced.

On New Year’s Day 1953, Johnny Horton learned on the radio Hank Williams had died of a heart attack in the backseat of his Cadillac after playing a New Year’s Eve gig at the Skyline Club in Austin. Nearly ten months later, Horton married Hank William’s widow, Billie Jean, on September 26, 1953. Horton went on to become one of the era’s most successful recording artists with hits on both the country and pop charts. He was recognized as a honky tonk singer with strong rockabilly tendencies.

Though he released a number of singles starting in 1953, it was his ninth single, “Honky-Tonk Man”, that was his first to chart nationally. Recorded in January 1956, the single climbed to #9 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Later that year “I’m A One-Woman-Man” climbed to #7 on the Hot Country Songs chart. While in 1957, Horton was back in the Top Ten nationally on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “The Woman I Need”.

In 1958 Johnny Horton had a #1 hit in Vancouver on CKWX with “Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor”. A track from his 1956 album, Honky Tonk Man, the single didn’t chart nationally on the Hot Country Songs chart in the USA. In 1959, Johnny Horton had his first number-one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart titled “When It’s Springtime in Alaska (It’s Forty Below)”. The song about a prospector visiting Fairbanks, Alaska, after two years in the wilderness, appealed to folks in the lower forty-eight the year Alaska became the 49th state in the USA.

His biggest success was in 1959 with a recording of “Battle of New Orleans.” The song went number one on both the pop and country charts in the USA. It climbed to #16 on the UK charts despite the BBC banning the song because of the lyrics “the bloody British.” In Vancouver the song spent nine weeks at #1 on CKWX and seven more weeks in the Top Ten during an 18 week chart run. Horton followed that success with a string of ‘saga’ songs like “North To Alaska” and “Sink The Bismark”.

In 1953, on his fourth single release the B-side was a song Johnny Horton wrote called “The Mansion You Stole”.

The Mansion You Stole by Johnny Horton

The song was classic country and western. Since Horton didn’t begin to have sizable hits on the American Country charts until 1956, the single, along with his first eight releases, failed to get much notice. However, after Horton’s stellar success on the charts in 1959 and into 1960, it was decided by Columbia Records to re-record Horton’s song with a newer urban country arrangement with strings. The songs’ lyrics offered a warning to people who cheat on their lovers that they’ll wind up lonely.

Johnny Horton believed he had psychic abilities and believed someday he’d be killed by a drunk driver. On November 5, 1960, he died in an automobile accident at the Little River bridge on Highway 79 in Milano, Texas. James Evan Davis was driving a pick-up truck that smashed head-on into Horton’s car. Horton was alive when ambulances arrived on the scene but died en route to hospital. Davis, the uninjured driver of the truck, was charged with intoxication manslaughter as he was drunk at the time of the accident. Horton had played earlier that night at the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas. This was the same club that Hank Williams had played at the night before he died on route to a concert in Canton, Ohio. Horton was driving from Austin to Shreveport, Louisiana, when he died. His two back-up bandmates in the car suffered injuries but lived.

Horton was 35 when he died. Johnny Cash read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 20, at Johnny Horton’s funeral. John 20 tells of the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, and several Biblical accounts of his subsequent appearances.

At the time of Horton’s death, “North To Alaska” was #7 on the CKWX charts after having spent seven weeks in the Top Ten, peaking for two weeks at #2. After Johnny Horton died, “North to Alaska” climbed back up to #2 for three more weeks and the song ended up spending a total of sixteen weeks in the Top Ten and twenty weeks on the CKWX Official Survey.

In the aftermath of Johnny Horton’s death on both CKWX and CFUN the B-side, “The Mansion You Stole” also climbed the record surveys. Although CKWX had the song peak at #7, it was on CFUN the song had a longer chart run, although it peaked at #8. Aside from Vancouver, it was only in San Antonio, Texas, where “The Mansion You Stole” made it into the Top 30.

In 1961 several singles recorded by Johnny Horton were posthumously released. These included “Sleepy-Eyed John” and “Ole Slew Foot”.

January 16, 2017
Ray McGinnis

J. L. Hererra, Johnny Horton was a Pioneer in Both Country Music and Rockabilly, axs.com, June 17, 2015
Clay Coppridge, The Eerie Demise of Johnny Horton, Texas Escapes.com, May 26, 2015
The Johnny Horton Biography, Rockabilly Legends.com.
Guitar chords, “The Mansion You Stole“, cowboy lyrics.com.
Fabulous Forty,” CKWX 1130 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 31, 1960.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

One response to “The Mansion You Stole by Johnny Horton”

  1. Lindsay says:

    very interesting Ray. our band plays this song. have you ever seen the sheet music for it?

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