The Life and Times of a Great Bass Guitarist, Tommy Tomlinson (Original Recording by Johnny Horton)
Tommy Tomlinson was born on October 28th, 1930 in Hampton, Arkansas (AR). The Tomlinson family resided on a farm located just a few miles away from Johnny Cash’s farm between Kingsland and Tinsman, Arkansas (approximately 75 miles south of Little Rock, AR). After a flood destroyed most of the area, many families had no choice but to move out. The Cash family moved to Dyess, Arkansas and the Tomlinson’s moved to Minden, Louisiana in 1940. Later on, Tommy’s brother, Bill, joined the U. S. Navy to serve in World War II and the guitar was given to Tommy. A friend of Tommy’s taught him how to play a few chords and by the age of fifteen he had his own band and was playing bar dances and social events.
But before Tommy could really get going, he joined the Marine Corp (Feb., 1951) and served in Korea. After his discharge (1953), Tommy joined the Louisiana Hayride staff band. He also began to record with artists on the Hayride at the time. In 1954, Tommy met up with Johnny Horton and he began recording with Johnny in 1956. Tommy became a bit of a fixture on Johnny’s sessions, including such hits as Honky-Tonk Man, The Battle of New Orleans, Sink The Bismarck and North to Alaska. With Tillman Franks on bullfiddle bass, Tommy become the nucleus of Horton’s touring band.
By the time North to Alaska was riding the airwaves in 1960, Johnny was getting strong premonitions of an early and violent death. Speaking to Merle Kilgore, he said that the spirits had told him he was going die within a week. Horton said an intoxicated man would kill him. He thought it would be a drunk in a bar at one of the gigs he was going to play in Texas. To the outside world, Horton seemed have it all: good looks, charm, a great singing voice and incredible athletic talent. His appeared to be a charmed life. But Horton’s premonitions of death grew stronger the more popular he became with country and pop audiences. He cancelled an appearance at the premiere of the movie ‘North to Alaska’ and tried to get out of his gig at the Skyline Club, but to no avail. Johnny was booked into the Skyline Club in Austin, Texas on November 4, 1960. He stayed in his dressing room at the Skyline, convinced a drunk would kill him if he went back to the bar. After two sets, he started the 220 mile drive back to Shreveport, Louisiana. He was headed to a lake in Southern Louisiana for the start of the duck hunting season.
With bass player Tommy Tomlinson in the back seat and manager Tillman Franks in the front, they set off for Shreveport. Tillman noted Horton was driving too fast, but that was not unusual. Horton always drove fast, as if propelling along his own prophecy. As they approached the Little River Bridge on Highway 79, near Cameron, Texas, James Evan Davis was driving a pick-up truck that smashed head-on into Horton’s car. Davis’ pick-up bounced off both sides of the bridge before plowing into Horton’s vehicle. Both Franks and Tomlinson were taken to a hospital in Cameron. Horton was alive when ambulances arrived on the scene but died en route to the hospital. Franks suffered head injuries and Tomlinson suffered multiple leg fractures that eventually led to the amputation of his leg. Davis, who was not injured, was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
In 1962, Tommy worked some with Claude King who was climbing the charts with “Wolverton Mountain” and, in August 1963, he backed David Houston on the all time hit “Mountain of Love”, written by Maggie Lewis and Mira Smith from Shreveport. That session was produced by Tillman Franks who worked the deal with “Epic” records. Tommy will work on David Houston touring band, with Gene Wyatt – another Rockabilly cat, for a while.
Tommy Tomlinson’s great work on stage and in the recording studio helped Johnny Horton move from his rockabilly sound to the solid beat on his honky-tonk recordings. The demand for his guitar expertise on recordings kept growing. He worked with such stars of that era as Jim Reeves, Claude King, Marty Robbins, David Houston and Johnny Cash. Tommy never stopped entertaining audiences with his talents. In fact, he performed with his band, the Country Connection the night before he passed away on April 8, 1982.
RJB: Country Music Historian, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. April, 2011. References: Record Research: Country Music Singles 1944 — 1993; Billboard Magazine; RJB: Original Country Music Chronicles.
Duration : 0:2:39