Johnny Preston (August 18, 1939 – March 4, 2011) was an American pop singer, who was best known for his international number one hit in 1960, "Running Bear".
Born as John Preston Courville in Port Arthur, Texas, of Cajun ancestry, Preston sang in high school choral contests throughout the state of Texas. After he finished high school he went on to Lamar State College in Beaumont where he formed his first band The Shades in 1957, playing all kinds of music at local dances. They were seen performing at a local club by J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
Richardson offered Preston the chance to record a teenage tragedy song he had written, "Running Bear", which they did in Houston, Texas, in 1958. The "Indian" sounds on the record were performed by Richardson and George Jones. The record was released after the Big Bopper's death in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. It entered the U.S. Hot 100 in October 1959, reaching number one in January 1960 and remaining there for three weeks. It was a transatlantic chart-topper, reaching #1 in the United Kingdom in March 1960. The sales of the record exceeded one million copies, earning Preston his first gold disc.
Johnny was signed to Mercury records and he left the Shades to go solo. He quickly followed up with another hit called "Cradle of Love," (Billboard #7, UK # 2) and made several other records during the early 1960s that met with modest success. "Cradle of Love" was a hit in both the UK Singles Chart and in Athens, Greece. Preston's "I'm Starting to Go Steady", a song on the flip side of "Feel So Fine", (Billboard #14), was released in June 1960. Preston made appearances on American Bandstand (ABC-TV) and The Milt Grant Show and also The Buddy Deane Show (East Coast, United States). With these hit records Johnny made his first of many visits to England in 1960 on a package show with Conway Twitty and Freddy Cannon.
He went on to record many songs for Mercury which included Charming Billy, Leave My Kitten Alone, I Want a Rock and Roll Guitar, Chief Heartbreak, Feel So Fine, Hearts Of Stone and many more. After Mercury, Preston went on to record for Imperial, ABC, Hallway, and Kapp where his dream came true to record with the great Bob Wills.
Preston's pioneering contribution to the genre was recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He also performed at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri. In 2009 and 2010, Preston performed with the Lamar State College (LSCPA)Touring Band at Lamar State College- Port Arthur, in his hometown.
Preston had coronary artery bypass surgery in 2010. He died of heart failure in Beaumont, Texas, on Friday 4 March 2011, at the age of 71, after years of heart-related illnesses. A tribute concert was performed on November 5, 2011, and featured guest artists Gene Bourgeois, Johnny Tillotson, Dickey Lee and Chris Montez along with LSCPS's Touring Band, under the direction of Aaron Horne.(Info edited fom Wikipedia & Rockabilly Hall of Fame)
Here’s Johnny performing Running Bear on the Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show. December 12, 1959