One of the most unappreciated rockabilly artists of the 1950s was Johnny Carroll, a talented and magnetic performer who was in many ways reminiscent of his friend, the much more successful Gene Vincent. In fact, Carroll’s surge of popularity later in his career was partly due to his appreciation for Vincent’s music, along with his own determination. And even though he never enjoyed a major hit, many of his records became favorites for knowledgeable fans world-wide and he ended up in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Born in rural Texas as John Lewis Carrell (later changed to Carroll because of a record label misprint), he began performing on local radio as a child, and by age fifteen was leading his own band. He was still in his teens in the mid-1950s when his growing radio success led to a record contract with Decca. Some of his early records, including “Crazy Crazy Loving” and “Wild Wild Women” were solid, as was “Hot Rock” (his band was named the Hot Rocks). Also, his on-screen performance in an otherwise forgettable teen-rock movie showcased his music — and his moves — but Decca didn’t renew his contract.
Carroll was then at Sun Records in Memphis for a while, bumping into guys like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, but still didn’t find much success in record sales. As the 1950s wound down he moved back to Dallas and signed with a new agent, the same one used by Gene Vincent, who was a little older than Carroll and had already enjoyed a hit record with his classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” It would mark a turning point for Carroll, who soon came out with what would be his most successful record, “The Swing,” which had echoes of Vincent’s style (along with some of the same musicians in the studio).
Even though he retained some popularity in Europe, Carroll’s career was pretty much stalled by the 1960s, but he remained friends with Vincent until the latter’s death in 1971. Even more significantly, the loss of his friend inspired him to later generate a new record on a tribute song, which somewhat revitalized Carroll’s career. He was able to find a lot of success in subsequent years by performing the same style of music, and at one point in the late 1970s also recorded a brand new album that he called Texabilly. He was just 57 when he died of liver failure in 1995.