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Freelance Country Music Writer and Broadcaster
Presenter: “Paul Hazell’s World Of Country” on Uckfield FM
Email: paul@pithon.co.uk  Tel: +44 7775 545 902
    July 08 2016


Johnny Heap - “Heapy” to his friends - enjoyed a long career on the Australian country scene. Starting out in radio in the mid-1950s as a country vocalist, he also worked with rock’n’roll bands, a minstrel show, did a stint as a country radio DJ and remained actively involved in country music until he retired in 2006. Johnny’s first love was always country music and the vast majority of his recordings are in his characteristic mellow, laid back style which reflects his quiet, friendly personality.
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Johnny’s earliest showbusiness experiences were in the 1950s on 3DB’s “The Hill Billies” and Neville Pellitt’s “Harmony Trail Network”, a show that broadcast specially recorded tapes from Shepparton, Victoria. The radio work gave Johnny a grounding in performing and he became respected for his professional approach. So much so that in 1962 he was invited to join the Rick & Thel Carey touring show, one of the most prestigious in the business. Rick Carey had heard one of Johnny’s tapes that Pellitt had broadcast and decided he wanted Johnny on the Rick & Thel Touring Show. Johnny stayed with Rick & Thel until 1968. In the meantime he cut his first records for Hadley* in 1966, moving on to Clarion in 1968 and CM in 1969.

* Two of those early Hadley tracks, “Another Stretch Of Track” and “Lonely Street” from Johnny’s first recording session in 1966, are included at the end of this collection, courtesy of Bellbird Records, who now own the Hadley catalogue.

After a stint as a solo artiste, Johnny joined Nev Nicholls & The Country Playboys – another of the biggest acts in the business - in 1970, remaining a part of their show until 1977. Johnny was featured on their recordings during this period – including an album in tribute to Tom T Hall that was mysteriously released as being by the Jimmy Weston Band! - and regularly performed at the famous Texas Tavern in Sydney’s Kings Cross. During this period, Johnny also recorded his album “Sunday Afternoon And Country Music” for W & G and this album established him as a country crooner, with the laid-back style that was to win him many fans over the coming years.

Johnny continued to focus on performing and from 1974 to 1979 did not record at all. Then in 1979 he was approached by Eric Watson **, esteemed country music discographer, songwriter and historian and owner of Selection Records, to contribute to a project he was putting together. The project was an album to honour the artistes on the prestigious Roll Of Renown in Country Music Capital, Tamworth, New South Wales. Johnny contributed a set of Smoky Dawson songs – he had always loved Smoky’s beautiful songs and grew up listening to Smoky performing his theme songs “Ridin’ With A Smile And A Song” and “Jindawarrabel”. Smoky actually knew Jim Kelly, brother of the infamous highwayman Ned Kelly. Jim was “The Last Of The Kellys”. “My Heart Is Where The Roper Flows Tonight” is a stunning example of the beauty of Smoky’s writing.

The quality of these performances led to a conversation between Eric and Johnny to get Johnny back in the studio to record an album. We are delighted to feature those Smoky Dawson tracks here, courtesy of the family of Eric Watson.

** Eric Watson dedicated the latter years of his life to the preservation of traditional Australian country music. He wrote and published two volumes, “Country Music In Australia”, Volumes One and Two, which have become the “go-to” reference point for collectors and scholars of the genre. He also set up and ran Selection Records for many years and on that label recorded many of the greatest names in Australian country music. We are indebted to his family for allowing these three Smoky Dawson tracks recorded for Eric Watson by Johnny Heap to be used on this album.

Consequently, Johnny was back in the studio the following year to record his now famous album “The Hordern Tree”. Johnny wrote the title track, which gave him a lot of exposure and became something of a country music standard. The album cemented a firm friendship between Johnny and Eric and once the recordings had paid their way for Eric, he and Johnny agreed a deal to allow Johnny to take them back as his own.

Further recordings followed – including some reissues of the earlier material - and in accordance with the custom in the Australian scene, these were released across several labels including EMI, Bunyip, R&H, Music World and Johnny’s own Smoky label.

When the Annual Country Music Festival was established in Tamworth, Johnny became a regular feature and his shows always drew a crowd. The shows provided Johnny with a further opportunity to meet new fans and sell his albums. These festival appearances, along with his numerous road tours, ensured there was never any shortage of work. In 1980 he was honoured by the industry when he was inducted into the Hands Of Fame at Tamworth.

In this way, Johnny Heap remained a stalwart of the Australian country scene until he hung up his guitar in 2006. That is, until I played a Johnny Heap track on my radio show, “Paul Hazell’s World Of Country” in the UK in 2012. The track was “There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight” and it triggered an immediate reaction from listeners around the world. Johnny’s rich, gentle vocals coupled with his simple, acoustic backing awoke a new generation of Johnny Heap fans. So much so, that in 2014 he returned to the studio one last time to record four Jimmie Rodgers songs especially for the show. These four tracks are included on this CD having never previously been released at all.

As you listen to these songs, rejoice in the fact that Johnny Heap never sought the pop backings that have diluted so many country performances. What you will hear is good country songs, sung in Johnny’s relaxed, unique vocal style with simple backings that compliment Johnny’s voice and the songs, played by professional musicians who cared about what they played. The material ranges from classic traditional country standards like “Wedding Bells” and “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” to Australian country classics like Tex Morton’s “Travel By Train”, Eddie Tapp’s “Star Of Love” and Smoky Dawson’s “My Heart Is Where The Roper Flows Tonight”. There are a few songs perhaps less associated with traditional country music but still performed in that “Heapy” country style – “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “For The Good Times” are excellent examples.

The CD itself has become reality because listeners could not believe that there was nothing available by Johnny at the time. So, thanks to the British Archive Of Country Music, who have organized song clearances and production of the CD, country fans can once again hear the music of Australia’s country crooner, Johnny Heap.

©2015 Paul Hazell
Freelance Country Music Writer and Broadcaster
Presenter: “Paul Hazell’s World Of Country” on www.uckfieldfm.co.uk

Acknowledgements: Kevin Emmerson, Meroli Wicks, Alan Seedsman (song selection), Eddie
Tapp (Cover design), Con Anag, Leo Dalton, John Tippett (Jimmie Rodgers session),
Ron Adsett (Bellbird Records), Bill Gunther (for the Eric Watson family)

Contact details:
Paul Hazell,
Email: paul@pithon.co.uk  Or Email  Johnny Heap johnandshirley1@optusnet.com.au
Tel: +44 7775 545 902

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