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Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10

Stilly River Sage 18 Mar 10 - 11:48 AM
Wesley S 18 Mar 10 - 12:06 PM
Stilly River Sage 18 Mar 10 - 05:02 PM
Stilly River Sage 18 Mar 10 - 05:13 PM
Stilly River Sage 18 Mar 10 - 11:18 PM
Uncle Phil 19 Mar 10 - 08:29 PM
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Subject: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 11:48 AM

I've posted articles about this man at Mudcat before, and I think he bears discussion or acknowledgment now. I never went to any of his shows; I'm not really interested in the country music that is largely what they offer over at that theater on Center Street in Arlington, Texas. But I was always intrigued by the fact that year in and year out he could keep that business going because of the local interest in the performers he brought in. And he was such a gentleman, he played fair, and he nurtured talent.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram obituary.

Country showman Johnnie High, 80, loved to make stars of others

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Starmaker Johnnie High, who enjoyed helping other people shine at his iconic Johnnie High's Country Music Revue for more than 30 years, died Wednesday afternoon at home, his family said.

His Opry-style show launched the careers of Nashville superstars including LeAnn Rimes, Gary Morris, the Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack and many others.

Mr. High also made it possible for many North Texans with day jobs to live out their dreams onstage on weekends before members of a legendarily loyal audience, some of whom attended the show faithfully for years.

Mr. High died of congestive heart failure, his granddaughter said. He was 80.

"It's hard to let go of a man who has done so much for this industry," said longtime friend Bill Mack of Fort Worth, the "Midnight Cowboy" of country radio who now has a satellite-radio showcase.

"He was determined to help people get into one of the most complex businesses in the world."

Mack said Mr. High's professionalism was legendary.

"His shows always had a lot of class."

Free performances

Mr. High was born May 1, 1929, in Central Texas. He grew up in McGregor, and music was a major interest from a very early age, music journalist Dorothy Hamm said. He acquired a $6 guitar and when he was 13, hitchhiked to nearby Waco to audition for a radio show.

The station manager told him to get a better guitar, practice two hours every day and come back in a year, Hamm said.

Mr. High followed the advice, and when he was 14 he was given his own radio show, which was broadcast live, 6 to 6:15 a.m. five days a week, Hamm said.

"He went down at 6 in the morning and performed live for free every morning," Hamm said. "He didn't know you were supposed to get paid."

For several years, he was at the radio station, singing and accompanying himself on guitar. He collected words to songs from Country Song Roundup, a magazine that published lyrics, Hamm said. He couldn't read music nor did he need to. As with many other country musicians he played guitar by ear. He said he never missed a show nor was he ever late.

"He seemed to operate at a faster pace than everyone else," Hamm said. "He would read a book in a night. He seemed to get a lot more life in than everyone else."

Mr. High and Wanda Davis met and married in 1948 in Waco when they were still teenagers.

The revue

Mr. High began his country music show in 1974, when he and dance teacher Chisai Childs of Fort Worth bought and refurbished Grapevine's Palace Theatre. Five years later, Childs moved to Branson, Mo., and Mr. High opened his Saturday night show at Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth. It stayed there for 13 years before moving to Haltom City's Shannon Auditorium.

In 1995, Mr. High bought an old movie theater in Arlington and created the Arlington Music Hall. His dream of a permanent home for the show was complete.

"It just filled your heart every week to see that show," said Patsy Seeton of Arlington, who was a longtime revue fan and volunteer usher. She and husband Lee attended for 35 years, she said.

"We started going to the Grapevine show after we saw it advertised in the paper," Seeton said. "We became friends immediately and it just became a weekly thing."

Wanda High and their daughter, Luanne Dorman, worked behind the scenes at the revue. Granddaughter Ashley Smith, however, performed from age 8 onstage with her grandfather and has been hosting the show with him for several years.

Mr. High hadn't been to the revue for a month, Smith said, but before that he was seated in the front row every Saturday although he could no longer be onstage.

"You know how he was -- he had to make sure everything was running smoothly," Smith said.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Wednesday night. Smith said the revue will be dark Saturday night.

"We decided it was about Pa-Paw now, so we'll have a weekend to remember him and not have a show," she said.

She and her mother were at the Highs' home Wednesday afternoon when he died. He had been hospitalized twice during the past month for congestive heart failure, she said.

"We were all here, but we didn't realize that this was the day," Smith said.

Jon Rutherford of Lewisville, a vocalist and longtime revue regular, said he met Mr. High in 1995 and within a couple of months was performing on the show and receiving the polish and performing tips that Mr. High dispensed.

"He was like my father," Rutherford said. "What I do is because of him. He encouraged me and gave me an opportunity to do what I love."


I posted a link or an article about him a number of years ago, so I'll poke around and see if I can find it and add it to this thread.

SRS


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Subject: RE: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Wesley S
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 12:06 PM

Yes his shows weren't exactly my cup of tea but there were always several good reasons to attend the shows he produced. The world needs more promoters like him. I can't think of anyone who had any unkind words to say about him. I hope someone steps into his void and keeps his shows running.


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Subject: RE: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 05:02 PM

I found some more in archived articles:

Where are the 1993 stars of Johnnie High's revue?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - Sunday, January 6, 2008 (B1)

In 1993, Johnnie High's Country Revue was in a state of change. It had left the Will Rogers Auditorium in Fort Worth for temporary quarters in Haltom City. And it would be another year before High bought a defunct movie theater in Arlington and transformed it into the Arlington Music Hall, the revue's home ever since.

"Ever been between a rock and a hard place?" said High, remembering the days at the Shannon Auditorium in Haltom City, when performers and producers had to set up and take down equipment every night. "We were there three years. It had 1,600 seats and a 40-foot stage but not a lot of dressing area. There was a curtain, and the seats were wooden. That was the only real drawback."

Like the performers of today, the 18 who took the stage Jan. 9, 1993, all hoped for stardom. LeAnn Rimes' success is well-known. But the others, not so much.

Shannon Shepherd worked for Wayne Newton before marrying a Cleveland Browns football player.

Kristy and John Struble married years earlier after High introduced them to each other. John Struble is now a dentist in Aledo.

Two of the stories ended tragically. Ashly Horton, a former Miss Lubbock, was killed in 1996 by a drunken driver, and Paulette Agnew recorded a Christmas album before she died of cancer later in 1993.

Even after 22 years, Patsy Andrews still gets a thrill stepping onstage at the revue.

"It's a family reunion every week," she said, adding that there have been changes in her life and her attitude since that night in 1993.

"I don't sing in the bars anymore, and I'm on the praise team at church," Andrews said. She performs occasionally with friends in the music business and occasionally will sing the national anthem at a rodeo.

Mike Stewart, a 21-year revue veteran, said the all-for-one attitude among the performers back then has carried over to today.

"There's still plenty of camaraderie. There are no jealousy factors or personal competitions," he said. "It's always been a group effort."

Stewart said many of the show's fans who were around in 1993 have gradually become unable to attend or have died, but recently he has noticed a surge of younger people filling the seats.

Longtime performers like Andrews and Stewart understand the challenge of keeping up the energy and creativity over the years.

"There have been times it's been

Where are they now?

Patsy Andrews

Andrews still performs on Johnnie High 's Country Revue and is one of two women ever to win its Entertainer of the Year. Her daughter Kitsy Tuck sings occasionally, and son Koby Tuck has learned to operate the lights. Both children are heavily involved in high school rodeo. Andrews has twice been voted Entertainer of the Year at the revue, and her one-woman shows, where she covered Patsy Cline songs, were recorded on a CD that still sells well at the show.

Paulette Agnew

Died of cancer Dec. 20, 1993, in Dallas at age 40. The Grapevine resident with the great voice and sparkling sense of humor was a regular, singing every week at the revue. She had only been married a year and had a young son when she died. Agnew recorded a tape of Christian songs in the months before her death.

Autumn Barr

Barr, who was a teen when she performed on the revue and is now 32, plays upscale clubs and restaurants throughout Dallas-Fort Worth four or five nights a week. "We play everything from Texas blues to classic rock, and as a duo on up to a five-piece band, depending on the venue," Barr said. She debuted on the revue at age 10 and was an every-weekend regular from ages 12 to 17. Barr was a semifinalist on Star Search at 13 and later had modeling and acting jobs as well as musical dates. "There's not too many venues where as a teenager you'd have the opportunity to get the experience of playing onstage with an awesome band," Barr said of her years on the revue. She has opened concerts for Ray Charles and Martina McBride.

Gloria Gilbert Barron

Miss Texas 1982, Barron, a ventriloquist, credits her years with Johnnie High with helping her hone skills that she still uses in her shows. A mother of four ranging from ages 20 to 11, the Aledo resident recently performed at Nolan Ryan's 60th birthday party and a benefit headlined by country star Neal McCoy.

Dave Cave

Cave, a Lockheed Martin executive by day, has built an impressive musical career that includes dates with the Fort Worth and Dallas symphonies, performances at the White House, and tours of churches and civic organizations around the country. He records occasionally and still performs five or six times a year at the revue. The Fort Worth native was the revue's Entertainer of the Year in 1992 and keeps in touch with other High veterans. He says he appreciates the revue's lack of backbiting. "It's because of the leader, Johnnie," Cave said. "He can spot a fake a mile away. You know what I'm saying?"

Mike Edmonson

Edmonson was the revue's Male Vocalist of the Year in 1993 and Entertainer of the Year in 1994. He married singer Elizabeth Alldredge, also a High veteran, in 1995. They began touring as full-time performers but scaled back in 2003 when they adopted baby Loralee and Edmonson became pastor of the Lighthouse Church outside Weatherford. He also builds custom rustic furniture. The Edmonsons are performing again on a limited basis, after her successful treatment for breast cancer in 2005.

Jill Floyd

Floyd has her own six-piece country band, Sister Jill, in Fort Worth, where she plays Billy Bob's Texas, Rodeo Exchange and private events. The Kennedale resident has been married 15 years to Mike Muzyka and is the mother of daughters Kennedy, 10, and Logan, 8. Jill and brother Joey were among High's first regulars, joining the show in 1979 when Jill was 8 and Joey was 10. "I still play Johnnie's show every couple of months," she said. "Whenever he calls, I come."

Joey Floyd

Joey Floyd, Jill Floyd's brother, lives in Nashville with his new bride, singer-choreographer Laurin Simmons. He is a 10-year member of country star Toby Keith's band, and he tours the country playing acoustic guitar, fiddle and harmonica.

Blaine Gray

Gray fronts his own six-piece country band, playing as many as 50 dates a year across Texas, Oklahoma and the Southwest. The band just returned from playing the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas for the sixth year. Gray has recently released a new album, Shades of Gray, on which he wrote all 10 songs. He played the revue while attending the University of Texas at Arlington from 1992 to '95 and was voted its Male Vocalist of the Year for 1993. "Johnnie really has a first-class operation, and he taught me the performing part as well as the business end of it."

Steve Holy

He was brought onto the revue by Rimes and was a regular from 1993 to 1997, when he signed a Nashville recording contract. Steve's second single, Good Morning Beautiful in 2002, was his first No. 1 hit and has become his signature song. He is now a touring country-music favorite, and his single Brand New Girlfriend went to No. 1 last year. Holy still lives in Dallas. He is currently off the road for a brief rest and will performing on the revue on Saturday.

Ashly Horton

Horton was killed in an auto accident in Dallas on Dec. 15, 1996. The 23-year-old Richardson native was Miss Lubbock 1993 and was a Miss Texas runner-up that year. She was attending Texas Tech University when she died and loved to sing on the revue.

LeAnn Rimes

Rimes, a top country-pop star who is a household name today, was part of the lively band of revue regulars during its early years. She played 423 Johnnie High shows during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when she was 8 to 13 years old. She left for Nashville after hitting it big with her breakthrough single, Blue, while still a teenager. She has sold 37 million records and is nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award for her latest single, Nothin' Better to Do. She is married to Dean Sheremet.

Shannon Shepherd

Shepherd sang with Wayne Newton's stage shows in Las Vegas and Branson, Mo., for two years. She met Philip Dawson at the Johnnie High show one night, and now she and Dawson, a place kicker for the Cleveland Browns, are married and have two children. An adoptee, Shepherd found her birth mother last year in Mississippi.

Mike Stewart

A staple on the revue and one of the most popular people in the cast, Stewart and his comic alter-ego, Earl, have a standing weekly date in Arlington. He is a roofing contractor in Hurst by day. Once, the self-described family man went to Branson to work at a theater for a few weeks, but "it wasn't my cup of tea," so he hurried home to his wife and three children, and the revue. Stewart, 53, had a mild stroke a few weeks ago but still sang at the revue's Christmas performances. "We've had a couple weeks off, and I can't wait to get back there," he said.

John Struble

Struble, a dentist in Aledo, began performing on the revue in 1982 while attending dental school at the University of Texas at Austin. He occasionally performs.

Kristy Struble

Struble met her husband, John, while both were performing on the revue. "Johnnie introduced us at the water cooler at Will Rogers Auditorium before a show," she said. "He said, 'Y'all talk' and left us standing there like two idiots." The Strubles have been married for almost 20 years and are parents of three sons: 17, 11 and 8 years old. She still performs regularly on the revue, where she began singing in 1985.

Bobby Wayne

Unknown. The revue regulars don't remember him, and it is possible he performed only briefly on the show.

Jay Wickizer

Opry-style entertainment has become a high-profile career for Wickizer. He is currently a headliner on The Presleys Jubilee show in Branson, and he formerly performed on The Shoji Tabuchi Show there. Wickizer was one of the revue's all-time audience favorites during the 1980s and early '90s.


Note: This article is available via an online text only source, so I can't see any of the original images that ran with it.


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Subject: RE: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 05:13 PM

Here's the one I think I linked or posted at the time it came out. Great article:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - Monday, November 5, 2007
Author/Byline: DAVID CASSTEVENS, Star-Telegram staff writer
Edition: Tarrant
Section: Your Life
Page: E1

Starmaker on Center Street - He put LeAnn Rimes onstage when she was 6. He's boosted the careers of many a musician at his Arlington theater. Now, at 78, Johnnie High has even bigger plans up his sleeve.

Marvin Blum's spirits sank when he drove up to the Arlington Music Hall.

Johnnie High 's Country Music Revue was staging an open audition that weekend morning, eight years ago, and hundreds of hopeful performers — many of them youngsters, in Western costume — formed a line that snaked around the building.

The Fort Worth tax attorney turned to his 13-year-old.

Elizabeth Blum wasn't a country singer. She knew Tchaikovsky, not Tammy Wynette. Twice monthly she and her parents and grandparents attended the Fort Worth Symphony. At home her dad listened to classical music and Broadway show tunes. But the child desperately wanted to sing — to entertain — and her father had told Elizabeth, promised, that once she completed her Hebrew studies in preparation for her bat mitzvah he would help her pursue her dream.

Even so, the elder Blum knew this was a bad idea.

"Lizzie, this isn't your world," he said as they sat in the car. "You don't belong here ... Let's go home."

"Dad, we're already here," she replied. "Let me try."

And so, reluctantly, he parked among the pickups and trailers, some with performers' names spelled out on the sides. Father and daughter took their place at the end of the line. Inside the hall, Marvin Blum's apprehension grew as he listened to the voices, a roll call of talented, accomplished singers belting out country songs. The sound of a steel guitar was as foreign to him as cowboy boots.

At noon, Elizabeth still was waiting her turn, so they went to a fast-food restaurant, where over lunch Blum again tried to dissuade his child. "I just don't want you to be hurt ... You're going to leave in tears."

Finally, late in the day, the determined child stood nervously before the judges.

She sang one of her favorites, Tomorrow, from the musical Annie, with a taped accompaniment.

After the final note, she waited to hear what every performer before her had heard, a polite "Thank you, we'll be back in touch."

Instead, Johnnie High wanted to hear the song again, without accompaniment.

The founder and host of the weekly show — now in its 34th consecutive year — is blessed with an eye and ear for talent. He put LeAnn Rimes onstage when she was 6. High's 21-year-old granddaughter, Ashley Smith, sang You Are My Sunshine on the show at age 4. She still performs and now co-hosts the show.

High is a people person, gracious, generous, empathetic, nurturing. He can't watch American Idol. " They tear 'em down for entertainment purposes," he said of the harsh judging. "There's no way of knowing how many kids' lives [Simon Cowell] has screwed up."

High won't berate auditioners. He offers words of encouragement, and his show has opened doors to future stars, such as Rimes, Lee Ann Womack, Linda Davis, Gary Morris and Steve Holy. Gutsiness and perseverance are qualities High admires.

That afternoon Johnnie smiled at Elizabeth and asked, "Do you know any country songs?"

"No," she told him, "but I can learn one."

High gave her the title of a number to practice and, to her surprise, invited her to return and appear on his show.

The protective father was right about Lizzie's tears.

"I was crying," his daughter, now 22, said, reliving what she calls the happiest and most important day in her life.

A month later, the teen walked out and bravely faced an audience in the 1,200-seat music hall. As the closing act, she sang an old Brenda Lee song, Sweet Nothin's. As she turned to leave the stage, washed in applause, High pulled her back and together they stepped forward, hand in hand, and happily told the crowd goodnight.

Blum regularly appeared on High's show until she finished high school. Now a senior at New York University, she studies music and sings country music, and jazz, at Manhattan nightclubs. Part of her heart remains in Texas and belongs to the person who provided her a safe training ground and helped her believe in herself.

"There's no one better," she said. " Johnnie High changed my life. And I'm just one of many stories."

Country to the core

In his mind he can see Lizzie Blum's debut, as clearly as if May 1999 were yesterday.

"It's amazing — he remembers everything," marveled his daughter, Luanne Dorman.

"Except what I had for breakfast," High joked and flashed his bright smile.

A child of the Depression, High grew up in the 1930s in rural Central Texas, near McGregor. His family, High is fond of saying, was what the poor people called poor. Their home had no electricity. For entertainment Johnnie sat next to a battery-operated radio on Saturday nights and drew a mental picture of Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff and the "fiddle bands" of that era as they performed live from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The lively, heartfelt music — such as Acuff's songs The Wabash Cannonball and The Great Speckled Bird — became part of the common bond that united rural folks across the country.

When High was about 12, he spotted a used guitar at a Waco pawn shop. Price: $6.50.

The boy had $6 cash, earned the hard way, in the farmland fields chopping cotton for $1 a day.

"You really want that guitar, don't you?" his dad said, after they had left the shop.

His father fished into his pocket and loaned Johnnie 50 cents.

At 14, High began singing and picking as host of a 15-minute morning radio show in Waco, earning $25 a week.

After an Army stint, he worked two decades as a sales manager for a hand-lotion company, but country music remained as dear to him as his teenage sweetheart, Wanda. The couple has been married 60 years.

In 1974 he started his country show in Grapevine, thanks largely to the generosity of a benefactor, Susie Slaughter (known as "Aunt" Susie). High's revue, which showcases local talent of all ages and offers an evening of family entertainment, moved to Fort Worth's Will Rogers Auditorium and later to Haltom City before reopening in 1995 at its current location, a remodeled 1950s-era movie theater in downtown Arlington, near Center and Division streets.

Many years, High lost money producing the show. To stay afloat, he sold his home. He sold his office space. He sold his stocks — "Exxon, would you believe."

The singer/musician/songwriter and businessman could have quit, but determination and resiliency are part of his DNA.

High never considered giving up, not even after he received a phone call on the morning of a scheduled Friday-night show informing him that Will Rogers had closed. A worker, he was told, had discovered asbestos in the building. After leasing the venue for 15 years, High was given no warning. When he drove to the auditorium, he grew angry. All his sound equipment had been dumped in the parking lot.

High set up chairs next door, at the coliseum. Staff members telephoned every season-ticket holder informing them of the venue change.

A way of life

High's life and career are testimony to the old theatrical credo that the show must go on.

In 1983, High was introducing an act when he felt a burning sensation in his chest. After he left the stage, High's doctor, seated in the audience, was summoned. The host was having a heart attack and needed hospital care.

Dressed in a rhinestone-crusted, Western-cut suit, his lanky 6-foot-3 frame stretched out atop a grand piano backstage, High said he didn't want the ambulance to pull away with lights flashing and siren wailing. Don't tell the crowd, he insisted. Ticket holders weren't informed of the medical emergency until the end of the performance.

The outpouring of concern from audience members helped High recognize that his wealth far exceeds his bank account. He considers himself blessed by the incalculable riches of friendship, people like Patsy Seeton of Arlington, who has attended every show.

"I just loved it from the start," Seeton said. "Getting to know Johnnie and Wanda, going to the show every week, has become part of my life. I can't imagine Saturday night without Johnnie High . It's like family."

That family includes the host's seven-member band and a popular cast of regulars.

Singer Mike Stewart joined High's group 20 years ago and can't say enough about his friend's selflessness.

"People have walked up and said, 'Johnnie, I sure like your shirt,'" Stewart said. "I've seen him take it off and give it to them."

After an evening show at Six Flags Over Texas, High and some of his cast met at a restaurant for a late dinner. The place was packed. Stewart stuck a fake set of buck teeth into his mouth, buttoned his collar and put on a ball cap. High asked to speak with the maitre d'.

"I want you to meet someone," High told the headwaiter.

Keeping a straight face, he turned toward Stewart.

"This here is ... Earl," High said, picking a name. "He only gets out twice a year, for his birthday and Christmas. This is his birthday, and he's gotta be back in by midnight."

"They felt real sorry for me," Stewart recalled.

The restaurant set up tables for the group, tied party balloons to Earl's chair and brought him dessert.

That's how Stewart's comic persona — Earl makes a brief appearance during most shows — was created.

The jokes, with High as straight man, are hokey but in keeping with the host's pledge to provide G-rated entertainment.

"You've got to set boundaries and stick to 'em, or your reputation and credibility aren't worth a flip," High said. "I have a ground rule. I tell [first-time performers], 'As best I know, my grandmother never said 'hell' in her life. She certainly never said 'damn.' I want you to assume my little grandmother is sittin' in the audience. Keep that in mind. Don't embarrass me.'"

Lecil Martin, performing as hobo singer Boxcar Willie, once told an off-color joke onstage. High interrupted the act.

"Nobody apologizes for me," Boxcar told High.

"Well, I do," the host shot back. High's close friend didn't speak to him for two years.

In the 1980s, High booked singer Engelbert Humperdinck and a 40-piece orchestra for a sold-out show at the Tarrant County Convention Center. Beforehand, he issued a very clear warning to the 1960s pop-music star and his manager. This wasn't to be a Las Vegas act. No alcohol onstage. No women onstage. No offensive language.

"I guess he decided he was going to show me something," High said, picking up the story. "He started telling off-color jokes. He had someone bring him a glass of whatever it was. Then he got a lady onstage. He put a scarf in his pants and asked her to take it out. That's when I stopped the show."

From the wings, High walked out, apologized to the audience and restated his commitment to offering a clean show.

Humperdinck left town — that night.

"Madder," High said, "than two wet hens."

Big plans

At age 78, he has survived three heart surgeries. Four years ago he was flown to Houston and underwent a life-saving operation to repair an aneurysm.

High opened a show last month by informing his audience that he had been to his doctor. A severe pain in his big toe was a new ailment.

"I got the gout," he announced.

Ashley Smith knows her grandfather doesn't feel good some nights, but no one would know it by his cheerfulness.

On Saturdays, he arrives at the music hall hours before the 5 p.m. rehearsal, as high-spirited as the show's mascot, a tiny white Maltese dog, Sammy, that prances along the building's hallways behind him.

High says he wants to keep working for as long as he is able, and he has never felt more optimistic, more enthusiastic, about the show's future.

As a teenager in the 1940s, he thought anyone who owned a Cadillac was rich. He often introduced himself to people who drove the luxury sedans and asked them for a moment of their time. He wanted to know what made them successful. What he learned — the importance of persistence and determination — finally is paying off in his own life.

"The worm," High said, "is starting to turn."

This fall, High's country show is being telecast nationally on RFD, a 24-hour satellite and cable network. He also is partnering with longtime friend Burk Collins, a commercial real-estate developer and country-music fan. Collins is planning a $30 million project that includes remodeling the downtown music hall and enlarging the stage to accommodate Symphony Arlington. A Babe's Chicken Dinner House restaurant will open next door and is expected to help attract showgoers.

"I'm really proud for him," said Ashley, who one day will assume High's role and host the show that, she says, will continue to bear her grandfather's name.

On this evening, as 7:30 neared, the master of ceremonies changed shirts and slipped into a white sports coat.

He headed down a flight of stairs, past a row of autographed photos of Rimes.

On one, the Grammy-winning star had written, "You will forever hold a special place in my heart!"

The band members were seated, the technicians and singers in place.

"Are we ready?" he asked backstage.

Parting a red velvet curtain, High and his granddaughter stepped into the circular spotlight, all smiles.

Ashley gazed admiringly at her "Pa-Paw" as he turned on his charm and primed the audience, telling the folks, "Y'all please be enthusiastic tonight, 'cause that's what we thrive on!"

If you go

Johnnie High 's Country Music Revue

224 N. Center St., Arlington

817-226-4400 or 888-544-2686

Tickets $13-$16, $8 for children 11 and younger

Christmas show tickets $20 for adults, $10 for children 11 and younger

Memorable performances

Joey Floyd — "He was about 5 years old. His grandpa brought him in for an audition. I asked to hear something, and he started singing, 'This old highway she's hotter'n nine kinds of hell ...' I stopped him and told him he can't use that word on our show. We're like church. He said, 'What's wrong with hail? It's just ice.' He thought 'hell' was 'hail.'

"Joey later played Willie Nelson's son in Honeysuckle Rose. Now he's a guitar player and backup singer for Toby Keith."

Merle Travis — "Merle had a stroke. They said he'd never play again. I said, 'Merle, make me a promise. When you think you can do it, and I know you're going to, I want to be the first one to book you.' We were at Tarrant County Convention Center theater that night. It was incredible to see him perform again. He died later of a heart attack."

Danny Cooksey — "A guy from Oklahoma I knew and trusted called me and said there's a boy he wanted to have sing on the show. I asked how old he was. He said 4. I said, 'You gotta be kidding?' He was a little red-headed turkey. I've been doing this 34 years, and no one has gotten the ovation Danny Cooksey did that night. He sang Old Chunk of Coal. The audience just exploded. Next thing you know he was making commercials and got the part of Sam on the TV show Diff'rent Strokes."

LeAnn Rimes — "To me, on a scale of 1 to 10, she was an 8 1/2. I didn't realize how good she was until she'd been on four or five times. I realized then the kid had something special. When she was 7 or 8 we lined up in the lobby to greet people after the show. A little old lady patted LeAnn on the head and said, 'Honey, what you want be when you grow up?' LeAnn looked shocked. She said, 'I'm gonna be a star.' She knew it from dadgum day one. That's the attitude you've got to have."

Boxcar Willie — "His name was Lecil Martin. I first met him in Nashville. He said he lived in Grand Prairie. I told him we had a show in Grapevine. I told him I only could pay him $30. He said, 'I don't care, I just want to sing.' He did train songs. I had him on pretty regularly. I got him a gig singing and playing in England for 30 days, making $100 a night. He was an immediate success. Later he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and bought his own theater in Branson [Missouri]. So I guess I had a little bit to do with his success."

Shoji Tabuchi — "He's a Japanese fiddler. Shoji had a pickup with a camper. He would pull up behind our building and ask, 'Johnnie, can I plug in?' I told him, 'No, you come and sleep at my house.' He had $500 in his pocket and was living off hot dogs. We had him on and he was incredible. Absolutely magic. To give you an idea of where he stands today, he's doing 100 Christmas shows in Branson. Every one is sold out, at $47 a ticket. He's by far the biggest success there."

Johnnie High 's advice for young performers

1. "If you really want to do it, don't listen to anybody else. You're going to get put down, maybe by your own parents, I'm sorry to say. You've got to have tunnel vision, like a racehorse with blinders on. That's LeAnn Rimes exactly. She never gave up."

2. "Practice. Say you're a banjo player. While you're practicing an hour a day, remember there's someone in Kansas practicing two hours a day. You've got to consider that. This ain't a little circle here. It's the whole country. You've got to get better than they are. Nothing comes easily."

3. "If you're hired to sing some place, whether you're paid or not, ask some questions first. No. 1, who are the people I'm singing for? What age are they? What percentage are women? What percentage are men? If they're all over 50, you can't go wrong singing Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, people like that. It's very, very important to know your audience."


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Subject: RE: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 18 Mar 10 - 11:18 PM

I'll refresh this now because after I found that 2007 interview article you can really take the measure of this down-home performer and entrepreneur. Like I say, I never went went to his theater, that isn't the style of music that interests me, but I certainly appreciate the role he played in shaping the musical careers of many young performers.

SRS


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Subject: RE: Obit: N. TX showman Johnnie High, 80, 3/17/10
From: Uncle Phil
Date: 19 Mar 10 - 08:29 PM

There are several regualarly scheduled Country and Gospel Revue shows in the DFW area. The Grapevine Opry, Garland Opry, Mesquite Opry, Wiley Opry, Farmerville Main Street Music Hall, and Mesquite's Rodeo City Music Hall spring to mind. I'll bet there are others.

I haven't been to one in years, but remember them a inexpensive family fun. The format varied, but often was a series of singers performing with a house band. The quality of the performances varied, but the best of the performances were very good. I wonder how common this kind of a country music revue show is in other parts of the country.
- Phil


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