Born Cyrus Whitfield Bond on June 1, 1915, in Enville, OK (died on June 12, 1978, in Burbank, CA) to a poor farming family.
Although he composed hundreds of songs including "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight," "Love Gone Cold," "Your Old Love Letters," "Tomorrow Never Comes," and "Those Gone and Left Me Blues," during his entertainment career that endured for more than 30 years, the humorous, self-depreciating singing cowboy Johnny Bond was best remembered for his western classic "Cimarron." In addition to songwriting, recording, and performing, Bond also landed numerous roles in B-western films, often appearing as the musical sidekick for stars such as Gene Autry, Charles Starrett, and others. A successful radio and later television personality as well, Bond was a mainstay on Autry's popular radio show, Melody Ranch, from 1940 until the show's cancellation in 1956 and hosted his own television show called Town Hall Party.
Born Cyrus Whitfield Bond on June 1, 1915, in Enville, Oklahoma, to a poor farming family, Bond discovered his musical talents at a young age. He started out as a boy playing trumpet, his first instrument, but also learned both guitar and ukulele along the way. Largely inspired by the playing of Jimmie Rodgers, the first performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and often referred to as the father of country music, as well as western swing bandleader Milton Browne and his Light Crust Doughboys, Bond started entertaining for the first time at local dances during his teens. Upon graduating from high school in 1933, Bond continued to perform locally until he left his rural hometown in 1937, moving to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to try and establish a radio career. He first broadcasted under the name Cyrus Whitfield and later as Johnny Whitfield before settling with Johnny Bond. Around the same time, Bond also met and formed a trio with Jimmy Wakely and Scotty Harrell. They originally called themselves the Singing Cowboy Trio, but later changed their name to the Bell Boys after their radio sponsor, the Bell Clothing Company.
The Bell Boys, whose influences were heavily drawn from cowboy singers such as Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers, started out broadcasting from WKY radio in Oklahoma City and cutting transcription discs at KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bond, who would go on to a prolific songwriting career, was already penning songs of his own, writing his first classic, "Cimarron," in 1938. Regional success followed, and they soon caught the attention of Hollywood, California, then the center of country music. Autry himself also expressed interest in using the Bell Boys in his radio show, Melody Ranch, after hearing them perform during one of his tours in the late 1930s. The trio got their first taste of Hollywood in 1939, when they were brought out for an appearance as the Jimmy Wakely Trio in a B-western, singing cowboy film for Republic Pictures called The Saga of Death Valley, which starred cowboy singer Roy Rogers, the most popular western film star of all time.
Although Autry, whose film success helped to launch the entire B-western genre, in addition to Rogers, would remain the most prominent of the singing cowboys, their success undoubtedly paved the way for others, and the taste of movie work struck a chord with both Wakely and Bond. By May of 1940, the Wakely Trio--at this time consisting of Bond, Wakely, and Dick Reinhart-- and their families had arrived in Hollywood in Wakely's Dodge with the words of Autry still ringing in their ears: "If you boys ever get to California, look me up," as quoted in the Illustrated History of Country Music. Almost immediately upon their arrival, the group joined Autry and became regulars on his Sunday afternoon radio show for CBS, a national broadcast called Melody Ranch. The move marked an important boost to the careers of Bond, who continued to play on the show for 16 years until its cancellation in 1956, and Wakely, as well as for the development of the country music scene in California. And with their music now reaching millions of listeners, the Wakely Trio became an instant hit across the country. As record offers came pouring in, the trio pulled a clever musical scam, recording as the Jimmy Wakely Trio for the Decca label and as Johnny Bond and the Cimarron Boys for Columbia.
Also in 1940, the group made a second appearance for Republic, this time credited as Jimmy Wakely and His Rough Riders, in the film The Tulsa Kid, starring Don "Red" Barry. The group's subsequent film, 1940s Pony Post, starring Johnny Mack Brown, came next for Universal. In addition to recording and making film appearances, the group played numerous concerts at ballrooms and clubs throughout Southern California. Along with Harrell, who the group welcomed back into the lineup when he joined them later in Hollywood, the Wakely Trio continued to work together in various configurations for the next two years until Bond--the first group member to receive a solo contract in 1941--and Wakely broke up the trio to move on to broader horizons. Wakely, a handsome man who patterned himself after Autry, formed his own band after leaving Melody Ranch and the Wakely Trio and started performing at promotor Forman Phillips' popular "Los Angeles County Barn Dance" at the Venice Pier, one of the major stops for touring country stars. He became so popular that he formed a backing trio, The Saddle Pals, was featured in more than 30 B-westerns, and eventually signed with Monogram Pictures to star in his own western series.
But whereas Wakely experienced meteoric success as an entertainer, Bond enjoyed a steadier career over the years. In 1941, Bond signed with Columbia Records, for which he became a mainstay over the next 14 years. Art Satherly, who had also signed Autry, Tex Ritter, Leadbelly, and other music legends to Columbia, took responsibility for sealing the deal. Bond's first solo recording sessions occurred by August of that year, yielding a hit song entitled "Those Gone and Left Me Blues." He entered the studio again in April of 1942 to record covers of the Carson Robinson, who wrote songs about news events such as "1942 Turkey in the Straw," "Mussolini's Letter to Hitler," "Hitler's Reply to Mussolini," and "Hitler's Last Letter to Hirohito," a series of humorous, insulting numbers inspired by World War II, though Columbia decided not to issue Bond's renditions. Around this time, Bond started earning recognition for his own songwriting skills, as his "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" and "Cimarron" went into publication. He recorded more work, backed by a band that included bandleader Spade Cooley on violin, including the originals "You Let Me Down" and "Love Gone Cold." Like Wakely, Bond became popular in the Los Angeles country ballroom scene and was usually backed by the Cass County Boys, Autry's own touring band. He also frequently played with Autry on tours and on record throughout the forties and fifties.
Although monetary shortages during the wartime era interrupted Bond's singing career over the next few years, he resumed sessions again in June of 1945, recording three originals including "Heart and Soul," "Gotta Make Up for Lost Time," and "Sad, Sad and Blue." However, Bond kept busy while away from the studio by appearing on Autry's show and other programs, as well as performing on behalf of the war effort. In addition, he worked in 38 films as both a musical sidekick in B-westerns for stars like Autry, Wakely, and Ritter and in musical sequences built around non-singing actors like Johnny Mack Brown and Ray "Crash" Corrigan. He also found work in other types of films, such as in the 1941 comedy Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga, starring Leon Errol and Lupe Velez, as well as a rare supporting role appearance for a major film, David O. Selznick's 1946 film Duel In the Sun. His last movie appearance came a year later in Wakely's final western, 1947's Song of the Wasteland.
All the while, Bond found time to work with other West Coast entertainers, including leading Ritter's studio band, the Red River Valley Boys. And with the end of his movie career, Bond found more energy to focus on his songwriting recording several country hits in 1947 such as "So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, "Divorce Me C.O.D.," and "The Daughter of Jole Blon." In 1948, he recorded the top ten hit "Oklahoma Waltz," and recorded two more hits the following year with "Till the End of the World" and "Tennessee Saturday Night." Another top ten hit arrived in 1950 entitled "Love Song in 32 Bars," while "Sick, Sober and Sorry" made the charts in 1951. Also in 1950, Bond became the emcee and a writer for the popular Los Angeles country music television show on KTTV called Town Hall Party. He worked on the program for nearly a decade.
By the 1950s, though, the new sounds of rock and roll began to overshadow country in terms of mainstream popularity. However, unlike many of his comrades, Bond never felt threatened by such changes, and because he realized that country and rock shared close ties, he sometimes tried to combine elements of rock and roll into his songs with some success. Nonetheless, Columbia declined to renew his contract in 1957. By this time, Bond had penned 123 songs, many of which were covered by both country and non-country artists alike for years to come. For example, not only did "Cimarron" become a country standard through recorded versions by the Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills, and Jimmy Dean and with concert renditions by Johnny Cash and Chet Atkins, the song was also recorded by musicians from other genres such as Les Paul, Harry James, and Billy Vaughn.
Despite his departure from Columbia, Bond continued to pursue his singing and songwriting career, spending a brief period with Autry's Republic Records label. For Republic, he recorded the song "Hot Rod Lincoln," a crossover tune that sold well and went on to become a rock and roll standard. In 1960, Bond moved to the Starday label, where he remained for the next 11 years. For Starday he recorded a new version of a previous song, "Ten Little Bottles," which became Bond's greatest hit of his career, reaching the number one spot on some charts. However, most of his other songs for Starday, largely a repertoire of drinking songs that made Bond seem a one-note performer, failed to sell with the same success. Ending his relationship with Starday in 1969, Bond, aided by Ritter's influences, signed with Capitol Records. He recorded one album for the label in 1969 with longtime friend Merle Travis, a Delmore Brothers tribute entitled Great Songs of the Delmore Brothers, which again failed to sell. By the end of 1969, he was dropped by Capitol and picked up again by Starday. He remained with his former label until he left Starday permanently in 1971. During the early 1970s, Bond recorded songs for the Lamb & Lion label, then signed with Wakely's Shasta label in 1974. His work with Shasta included just one session, which resulted in remakes of some of his older songs and a cover of Woody Guthrie's "Oklahoma Hills."
After enjoying a prolific entertainment career, Bond turned to writing in his later years. He wrote a brief autobiography, in addition to a biography of his old friend Tex Ritter. Bond died on June, 12, 1978, in Burbank, California, and had written more than 400 songs at the time of his death. On September 22, 1999, Bond was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during the 33rd Annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.
by Laura Hightower
Johnny Bond's Career
Moved to Oklahoma City, OK, 1937; formed the Bell Boys (later named the Wakely Trio), 1937; penned classic song "Cimarron," 1938; appeared in first B-western, The Saga of Death Valley, 1939; moved to Hollywood, CA, with the Wakely Trio, joined Gene Autry's Melody Ranch radio show, 1940; signed solo recording contract with Columbia Records, 1941; made final film appearance in Song of the Wasteland, 1947; recorded top ten hit "Oklahoma Waltz," 1948; recorded top ten hit "Love Song in 32 Bars," 1950; became host and writer for Town Hall Party television show, 1950; signed with the Starday label, 1960; recorded new version of "Ten Little Bottles."
Johnny Bond's Awards
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, September 22, 1999.
- Selected discography
- That Wild, Wicked But Wonderful West , Starday, 1961, reissued by Shasta, 1994.
- Live It Up, Laugh It Up , Starday, 1962.
- Songs that Made Him Famous , Starday, 1963.
- Johnny Bond's Best , Harmony, 1964.
- Hot Rod Lincoln , Starday, 1965.
- Ten Little Bottles , Starday, 1965.
- Famous Hot Rodders I Have Known , Starday, 1966.
- Bottled in Bond , Harmony, 1967.
- Bottles Up , Starday, 1968.
- The Man Who Comes Around , Starday, 1968.
- Branded Stock of Johnny Bond , Starday, 1969.
- Great Songs of the Delmore Brothers , Longhorn, 1969.
- Drink Up and Go Home , Starday, 1970.
- Ten Nights in a Barroom , Starday, 1970.
- The Best of Johnny Bond , Starday, 1971.
- Something Old, New, Patriotic and Blue , Starday, 1971.
- Here Come the Elephants , Starday, 1972.
- How I Love Them Old Songs , Lion & Lamb, 1974.
- Johnny Bond Rides Again , Shasta, 1975, reissued by CMH, 1992.
- The Way They Were Back Then , Shasta, 1975.
- The Best of Comedy , Richmond, 1996.
- Truckstop Comedy , King, 1996.
- The Very Best of Johnny Bond , Varese, 1998.
- 1999--Country Music Hall of Fame , King, 2000.
- Carr, Patrick, editor, The Illustrated History of Country Music, Doubleday, 1979.
- Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 18, 1999.
- USA Today, June 17, 1999; September 22, 1999.
- "Johnny Bond," All Movie Guide, http://www.allmovie.com, (January 12, 2000).
- "Johnny Bond," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com, (January 12, 2000).