Johnnie High, Mentor to LeAnn Rimes + More, Dies at 80
Johnnie High, who spent decades helping to develop the careers of country artists in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, including LeAnn Rimes, Steve Holy and Lee Ann Womack, passed away on Wednesday at his home outside of Forth Worth. He was 80 years old. His daughter, LuAnne Dorman says he had been battling heart disease, according to the Associated Press.
The Texan was the founder of the Johnnie High Country Music Revue in Arlington, where LeAnn, Steve and many other young performers were given the opportunity to sing before landing record deals in Nashville.
"Johnnie was a huge part of my career, and I wouldn't have had the kind of experience at such an early age in such a wholesome environment if it wasn't for Johnnie's show and his belief in me," LeAnn said in a statement issued Thursday. "He was a very important man who was greatly instrumental in shaping my life and career; he will be greatly missed. My love goes out to his family, who have always been like an extended family to me."
Steve Holy calls Johnnie one of his most influential mentors. The singer continued to perform on the Revue even after having his No. 1 hit 'Good Morning Beautiful.'
Johnnie's weekly show also provided Miranda Lambert, Gary Morris,Boxcar Willie, the Dixie Chicks (before Natalie Maines joined them), Linda Davis and many others from the Dallas-Fort Worth region a venue in which to perform. Musician Joey Floyd literally grew up on the stage of the Revue, and starred in the Willie Nelson film, 'Honeysuckle Rose' when he was just a teen. He currently is a member of Toby Keith's band. Like LeAnn, Linda Davis was also a teenager who performed there on a regular basis from 1990 to 1995, before moving to Nashville.
"It's hard to let go of a man who has done so much for this industry," Bill Mack told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Mack is a well-known DJ and co-writer of LeAnn's first hit, "Blue." He has often been quoted as saying if it wasn't for Johnnie High, he would not have won a Grammy for that song. "He was determined to help people get into one of the most complex businesses in the world. His shows always had a lot of class," Bill added.
Johnnie was born in Central Texas and grew up in McGregor. He bought a guitar when he was 13 and auditioned for a radio show in Waco. The station manager told him to get a better guitar, practice two hours a day for a year, and come back. The next year the 14-year old landed a 15-minute radio show on the station. "He went down at six in the morning and performed live for free every day," said journalist Dorothy Hamm, who knew Johnnie for 30 years. "He didn't know you were supposed to get paid."
Johnnie founded the Grapevine Opry in 1972. After his partner moved to Branson, Mo., Johnnie started the Country Music Revue, housing it first at the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth, where it remained for 13 years. He then moved it to the Shannon Auditorium in Haltom City, outside of Fort Worth before finally settling into an old movie theater in Arlington in 1995. He refurbished the theater, naming it the Arlington Music Hall, and produced the Country Music Revue there. He continued to remain active in the show, in recent months sitting on the front row instead of performing his hosting duties onstage. His granddaughter, Ashley Smith, who has performed on the show since she was eight, has been co-hosting the show with him for several years.
The theater will be dark this Saturday in honor of Johnnie, making it one of the few times the show has not been produced. "We decided it was about Pa-Paw now, so we'll have a weekend to remember him and not have a show," says Ashley. The Johnnie High Revue will continue, according to High's business partner Burk Collins, with Ashley as emcee.
Funeral services will be held Saturday (March 20) at 2:00 p.m. at the Arlington Music Hall.