The D.J. who brought the stars to Picayune.
Lee Greenwood, Pirates of the Mississippi, Restless Heart, they're just a bunch of Johnny-Come-Latelys for those who can remember the early days of country music when Picayune was a major stop for many country music stars.
Picayune? Yep. Picayune; it had one of only about 80 country music stations in the nation back in the early 1950's, and it also had one of the original country music disc jockeys, B. J. Johnson.
In the 1950's, country music was trying to take over from the big band era that was beginning to wane, only to be waylaid by rock 'n' roll. Today, the big band sound is only a memory except for a few dance clubs. Country music is king and shares the air waves with rock 'n' roll in its many guises, blues and a resurgent jazz growing out of rock 'n' roll just as it has part of it's roots in country. Elvis Presley and friends in case you've forgotten.
Today, Picayune still has B. J. Johnson and country music stars are beginning to come around again. The new stars may not know Johnson, but they should be thankful that when their predecessors came knocking on WRJW's door, Johnson was there to greet them, interview them on the air, and play their records. Otherwise, there might not be anyone around to listen to their music.
Johnson and WRJW were charter members of the Country Music Association. He was selected as Mr. D. J. USA on USM in Nashville, Aug. 16, 1956 and was the featured disc jockey that day on the radio station most closely identified with country music.
Among the greats of country music that have visited with Johnson in Picayune are nine Country Music Hall of Fame members: Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter, Kitty Wells, Little Jimmy Dickens, Grandpa Jones, Ernest Tubb, ad Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, not to mention "Whisperin Bill" Anderson, whom Johnson greatly resembles in some of his early photographs, and the recently deceased King of Country Music, Roy Acuff.
Possible future Hall of Famers Jimmy C. Newman, Porter Waggoner and Norma Jean and Grandpa Jones also came by. There were also the Everly Brothers, the Wilburn Brothers, Jim and Jessie, Johnny and Jack and many, many others.
Yep, folks, they have all passed this way, sharing time and memories with Johnson. Johnson also used to book them into various auditoriums and places around this part of the country to play their music. The Louisiana Hayride wasnt the only hayride back then. Picayune had the Pearl River County Hayride and there was the Ponchatoula Hayride, one in Bogalusa and so on.
Loretta Lynn left Mooney sitting in the car, "It was an old Mercury, not a Ford like they had in the fild (Coal Miner's Daughter), "while she came in to talk live on the air with Johnson and personally give him one of her records to play. On hearing Mooney was waiting in the car, Johnson put on a long playing (can you believe) non-country album ("I didn't have any country albums back then, just singles") while he went outside to talk with Mooney. In his travels and through the shows he's promoted around the south, he also has been associated with Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and George Jones (See, they're not all old-timers).
For 15 years, Johnson was the master of ceremonies for the Jimmie Rodgers Festival in Meridian and remembers when Willie Nelson made an unannounced and unscheduled stop just to play some music. Most of the scheduled acts voluntarily shaved their stage time by 10 to 15 minutes to make time for a legend. Johnson is no slouch as a country music singer himself. At one time he had some songs out that did well on the charts. He had his own band and a recording studio.
Everyone knows that all those folks that visited him appeared on the Grand Old Opry. Guess what, so has B. J. Johnson. Remember "Time," "Searching," "Unfortunate Stranger," "More Than A Dream," and "Going on Alone."
Johnson got his start in Country music radio as a direct result of having a band and being a country music singer or actually a bluegrass singer when he started out in 1950.
He and his band began playing 15-minute weekend sessions live on the radio (where else but WRJW) and Johnson just naturally evolved into a disc jockey, at first doing weekend stints. Over his more than 40 years in radio, Johnson became much more than a disc jockey to WRJW, so much so that there virtually isn't anything done at the station he can't do or hasn't dome at one time or another. A D.J. of all trades, you might say. Johnson even had one song written sort-of about him by another disc jockey. "B.J. the D.J." written by Hugh X. Lewis, was a major hit for Stonewall Jackson (the singer, not the Civil War general).
Lewis called Johnson when he had written this song, acknowledging that Johnson and his wild fast driving had inspired the song. In the song, the fictional "BJ the DJ" is killed in an automotive wreck on the way to work one morning. Fortunately, Picayune's B.J. the D.J. is still around. Next weekend, WRJW hopes to pay back some of the loyalty that Johnson has shown it over the past 42 years, through several changes of ownership. Johnson recently suffered a major heart attack and is too old to be considered a candidate for a heart transplant, for which he would be a prime candidate if he were younger.
The station is sponsoring a dance and auction at 7 p.m. Saturday at Friendship Park. And the auction items aren't just small potatoes. Station owner, John Pigott, has been soliciting memorabilia from country music stars young and old. The proceeds will go towards helping Johnson defray medical expenses associated with his heart condition.
And who knows, some of the old-timers that remember him just might come knocking on the door at Friendship Park like they did at WRJW when they needed him to play their songs.
More information on the dance is available at the radio station at 798-4835.