Although they weren’t the only ones with the idea, for a few years in the late Fifties and early Sixties Johnny and The Hurricanes enjoyed a lot of success with an unusual recipe for music. They’d take old, traditional songs and amp them up with a modern sound that was very appealing to the era’s growing legions of rock and roll fans.
The group originally came to life in Toledo as the Orbits, but after a name change they began to hit their stride. Leader Johnny Paris’ honkin’ sax, assisted by the pounding organ of Paul Tesluk and the talents of guitarist Dave Yorko, drummer Tony Kaye, and bassist Butch Mattice, made for a fast and furious instrumental beat that audiences seemed to like.
The guys’ recording career got off to a good start with a minor hit on “Crossfire,” but their formula for success really came to life with their next – and biggest – hit. It was a rockin’ and jivin’ version of an old Western folk song, “Red River Valley,” that was naturally enough called “Red River Rock.”.
It was actually a piece from another Ohio band – Tom King and The Starfires – but Johnny and the boys made it into a big hit. Recognizing a successful strategy for their fledgling musical group, they began doing modern updates of other old songs and spun out a series of lesser hits. Among them were “Reveille Rock,” “Down Yonder,” and “Beatnik Fly,” but even though they sold a lot of records, along the way they began to lose steam.
By 1965 the group had disbanded, but that wasn’t the end of the Hurricanes — or Johnny. WIthin a decade he’d formed a new group and for many years continued to tour and perform. (Video below.) He died in 2006, finally ending the story of Johnny and the Hurricanes.