JIMMY LEE FAUTHEREE
Born James Walton Fautheree, 11 April 1934, Smackover, Arkansas
Jimmy Lee Fautheree is probably best remembered as one half of the country / rockabilly duo Jimmy and Johnny, but he also had a solo career. Besides, he was a guitarist of more than average virtuosity. Deke Dickerson has called him "the missing link between Merle Travis and Lightnin' Hopkins".
When Jimmy was twelve years old, his aunt bought him a guitar, and his parents wanted him to be an entertainer. Countless days and nights were spent practicing guitar and singing with two of his younger brothers, Lynn and Jackie. We'll come back to Lynn later on ; Jack Fautheree would later co-write "Cradle of Love" for Johnny Preston.
Country and gospel were Jimmy's favourite genres. Ernest Tubb and Jack Guthrie were big influences, along with Merle Travis, whose distinctive finger-picked electric guitar style left a lasting impression. At the age of 16, he debuted on "The Big 'D' Jamboree" in Dallas and made an impression with his hot guitar playing. He was signed to Capitol Records in 1951, where he was renamed Jimmy Lee. Among the tracks cut at his first session was "Go Ahead And Go" (Capitol 1709, his own composition), which already had the basic form of rockabilly in place, three years before Elvis. The same can be said of "I'm Digging A Hole To Bury My Heart" (Capitol 2153), from 1953, the year in which Jimmy teamed up with "Country" Johnny Mathis. They appeared as Jimmy and Johnny on the Louisiana Hayride, where they were managed by Tillman Franks, and began recording for a host of mostly Southern labels. In the autumn of 1954, the duo crept into the Country Top 10 with "If You Don't, Somebody Else Will" (Chess 4859), which peaked at # 3. In 1953 they had already recorded this hillbilly bopper for Feature. However, the pair soon broke up and Jimmy formed a new partnership with Wayne Walker, which lasted less than four months, but it did produce one rockabilly gem, "Love Me" (Chess 4863), cut in January 1955 in Shreveport.
Jimmy then teamed up with his brother Lynn as the new "Johnny". Together they recorded some classic rockabilly sides for Decca, including "Sweet Love Of My Mind" (adapted by Wayne Walker from Jimmy Lee's song "Living In A Dream World"), which they recorded on July 25, 1956, a few weeks after the famous version by the Johnny Burnette Trio. The brothers moved to Nashville while they were under contract to Decca, but returned to East Texas when it ended in 1957.
The next few years found Jimmy Lee reuniting with Johnny Mathis, though both men also made solo records during this time. In 1958 they released another rockabilly classic, "I Can't Find the Doorknob", on Pappy Daily's D label. There were further Jimmy & Johnny releases on D and Republic, but sales were poor and having tired of Johnny Mathis' uneven personality, Jimmy Lee eventually moved out to Farmington, New Mexico, to join in the family asbestos installation business.
But prior to that, in 1958, Jimmy recorded the disc that is probably of most interest to rock 'n' roll fans, "Baby It's Love"/"Teenage Wedding" (Vin 1004), which was credited to Johnny Angel. Backed by Cosimo Matassa's studio band, these were two slices of fervent New Orleans R & R, but completely uncharacteristic for Fautheree. A second Vin single, "Look What Love Will Do", was released under his own name (Jimmy Lee) and more in his usual style. In the sixties, Jimmy recorded as Jimmy Fautheree for small labels like Paula, Lodema and Town House. Later he turned to gospel.
Not long before his death, Fautheree's rockabilly career was revived. He performed - with great success - at the Rockabilly Rave in Rye, Sussex, England, in March 2004 (his first-ever gig in Europe). There he was backed by Deke Dickerson and his band, the Ecco-Fonics, who had also recorded a CD with Jimmy in 2003, which was received with enthusiasm by the music critics. Howard Cockburn wrote in Now Dig This (issue 253, April 2004): "What a truly wonderful set! Ten out of ten in all departments - choice of material, singing and musicianship. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED." During the Rockabilly Rave, Jimmy was already in advanced stages of cancer. After his condition worsened, he had to cancel appearances at Viva Las Vegas and the Ponderosa Stomp. He died on June 29, 2004, at the age of 70.
Acknowledgements : Tapio's discography at
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