JOHNNY IS SEM-RETIRED
Johnny occasionally works as a one-man show doing a variety of 50's and country tunes, using a Roland keyboard synth and his guitar.
For more information, contact:
108 Apex St.
Laurens, SC 29360
Newspaper clipping from 1957. - Pictured here is Johnny Meeks, talented singer and guitar player, son of Mrs. Terrell Kesler, Laurens, SC, who recently joined Gene Vincent's band, "The Blue Caps." The band will go to Washington DC before leaving to make a motion picture. During the past year he has appeared on radio and television programs in this area.
BRIEF MUSICIAL HISTORY Taken from the 28-page special self-promotional brochure that Johnny had printed in California in the mid-1980's. Johnny was kind enough to share these photos and words from this brochure with all Gene Vincent & Blue Caps fans world-wide.
Ricky Nelson, Johnny, Lefty Fritzell
Johnny Meeks sang and played his first song on his hometown radio station, 250 watts, WLBG in Laurens, South Carolina. He then joined the very popular Country Earl and The Circle E Ranch Gang of Greenville, South Carolina. They had a live show on WESC radio, a live weekly televison show on Channel 13 in Ashville, North Carolina and played to packed houses wherever they performed. Earl said, Johnny is an asset to any band," so when Gene Vincent called him about a guitar player, he highly recommended Johnny. While with Gene Vincents' Blue Caps, Johnny performed on "The Ozark Jubilee" with "Red" Foley, the Ed Sullivan Show, appeared in the movie "Hot Rod Gang." toured all the major cities of Canada four different times, did a two-week tour of Australia, performed in 45 of the 50 USA states so many times even he can't remember and backed up numerous stars of the time who did not have their own band. He also played the Big "D" Jamboree in Dallas numerous times and the L.A. shows Hometown Jamboree and Town Hall Party.
THE CHAMPS: Dash Crofts, Bob Morris, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Seals and Johnny
After leaving Gene Vincent, Johnny worked night clubs in the Los Angeles area, including the Palomino with his own band "The Tune Toppers." After a couple of months of that, he joined The Champs, famous for their recording of "Tequila." Johnny toured only six months with them, then the US Army decided they needed his talents. Before going into the Army, Johnny did a two week tour with Jimmy Clanton, playing lead guitar. Two days before induction he filmed a band scene in the movie "All the Fine Young Cannibals" with Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Johnny also filmed two songs with Elvis in the movie "Roustabout" ("Little Egypt" and "Big Love, Big Heartache"). Somewhere on this page is a photo of PVT. JOHNNY MEEKS, who just completed his basic training at Ford Ord, California and had been assigned to the Guided Missles Training Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Johnny worked with Michael Nesmith's Band for six months. After the group broke up he went back to doing show and casuals on his own. Johnny then worked with "Mr. Auctioneer" Leroy Van Dyke. Johnny performed at state fairs and rodeos with such stars as Lynn Anderon, David Huston, Bob Luman, Susan Raye, Leona Williams and others. After leaving the Leroy Van Dyke Show he went to work in Las Vegas playing piano with the house band at The Silver Dollar Club. Six months later he received a call to join the great Merle Haggard ... he accepted. While with Merle, Johnny was the frontman for his shows. At the Hollywood Bowl Johnny opened Merle's portion of the show with Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" for which he received a thunderous applause. Also on that show was Marty Robbins and Roger Miller. While with Merle, Johnny did the Leavenworth Prison TV Special with Burt Reynolds, Dinah Shore and Johnathan Winters; played "Harrahs" in Lake Tahoe twice for two weeks at a time: performed at the last live Country Music Awards Show at the Grand Ole Opry building (The Rhyman Auditorium) in Nashville; worked on shows with Barbara Mandrell, The Osborne Bros. and comedian Don Bowman and played on numerous Number 1 hits of Merles'.
The leopard skin jacket...once owned by Gene. Johnny gave Gene his leather jacket in trade.
Before Ricky Nelson passed away, Ricky's band used to come off the road after touring a few weeks for a lay off. But the band wanted to continue to play, so Johnny had them play with him and do LA club dates while Ricky took some time off. There was a time when Johnny played piano in Ricky's band.
Johnny currently works out of Lauren, South Carolina, doing one-man shows on weekends, busy almost every weekend. He is booked for the big Western Film Fair in Charlotte, North Carolina, July 10, 11, 12, 1997, on the bill with Will "Sugarfoot" Hutchins, Johnny Western and Jame Adams. I spoke with Johnny recently via the phone. He is very appreciative of all the support the fans have (and continue to give) The Blue Caps. He receives some fan mail and a few Christmas cards from fans in the UK. Johnny says he might retire a bit from the music scene down the road, but will "remain with The Blue Caps until I'm a hundred years old!" In recalling the days spent with Gene on stage he says, "Gene was very unpredictible. We never had a set sheet and never knew what song he was gonna do next. He'd say to me 'Give me an A' or 'Give me a G' and off we'd go. But we knew him well enough to catch up after the first word or two." I hope to contact Johnny again soon, so he can provide more insight on himself, Gene and The Blue Caps. -Bob Timmers, March 27, 1997
Johnny can be reached via s-mail:
108 Apex St.
Laurens, SC 29360
MORE ON JOHNNY MEEKS. The follwing is courtesy Britt Hagarty from the book The Day the World Turned Blue.
After Cliff left, the Blue Caps needed a lead guitarist, so Paul Peek suggested they go to his home town of Greenville, South Carolina, where he'd played with Country Earl and the Circle E Ranch Boys. Country Earl was a local deejay and a popular singer around Greenville, and had a guitarist named Johnny Meeks. Gene and Paul drove down to one of Earl's gigs and auditioned Meeks, who at the time was a country musician though he liked rock 'n roll. Johnny recalls: "Yeah I liked rock. I'd heard Elvis' Sun records and I'd seen him in Spartanburg. At the time I'd thought 'My God, that son-of-bitch gets into it! He ain't country! What's he doin' up there!' I didn't know what to think."
Johnny quit the Circle E Ranch Boys and joined the Blue Caps right away, though the Caps weren't then working. Gene and Paul recruited another young man from Greenville, Bill Mack, who played electric bass rather than acoustic. Johnny comments, "Gene liked it better than the ol' doghouse bass, probably 'cause of the volume, and also 'cause of the space." Dickie and Bubba each stayed with their parents in Portsmouth, and Johhny Meeks, Paul Peek and Bill Mack moved into the house on Leckie Street with Gene, his parents and his three sisters. They practiced a lot and very loud.
Johnny had changed from a country picker to a rocker, but a much different one than Cliff Gallup. When Johnny first joined the Caps, Gene played his records for him and Johnny said, "I don't know if I can play that way." Gene replied, "I don't want you to." So Johnny was given a free hand to develop his own style. Johnny's first gigs was a ten-day tour of Ohio with Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Sanford Clark. Johnny remembers: "We'd be on the road for two ot three months, then back for a week. Sometimes there'd be thousands of screaming kids, and Gene liked it that way. The guitar was very much a part of Gene's sound. He was a pretty easy going guy, nothin' really bothered him, he wasn't that hard of a boss. He might have appeared to be screwy, but he was all right. Nobody was a real business head, a Colonel Tom Parker or anything. Our manager Tacker took care of business. He was there to oversee Gene and keep him on his allowance. We just wanted to rock 'n' roll. They'd give us the bookings and we'd do 'em. I don't know what ever happened to all the money. I don't think Gene ever saw much of it. I must have bought him a million cheeseburgers. We'd go to get something to eat and he'd say, 'Man, I got no money! Hey Thacker, give me some money!' And Thacker'd say, 'You've already had it this week.' Money just had a way of disappearing around Gene! Gene was a very generous person. He'd give you anything he had. He'd give you the shirt right off his back." Johnny first recording session with the Blue Caps took place Wednesday, June 19th, 1957, at the Capitol Tower Studio in Hollywood. The first cut was "I Got It." Posted 3/97.
WEB SITE EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: I could ramble on here with pages of words describing how the sound and style of Johnny Meeks influenced me. I know my three sons (who all play guitar) heard his name mentioned all-to-often as I sat down with a pile of Vincent records and tried to get his licks down and slip them into the solos of the songs that our local rock band played. I still do it and it's 40 years later. I thought Cliff was fantastic, but I never got a chance to see him perform live with the Blue Caps. However, I did see Johnny three times with The Caps and once with The Champs. Man, that was heaven...to watch my idol and actually see him play those biting, bluesy, earthy licks. I'm still trying to remember that D7 intro he used to bring Gene on stage. When I was 17, I went down to the local music store and tried to order a blond Fender strat and Fender Twin amp, just like Johnny's, but my parents nixed the deal. The rumor that was going around my high school at the time was that Cliff had to quit the Blue Caps because his wife didn't want him on the road. So then Cliff supposedly trained Johnny intensively for six months so he could step into the Blue Caps...and I believed that for years. I think "Red Eye" by The Champs is my all time favorite Johnny Meeks cut. If Johnny ever sees this, I just want to tell him that he's the one who inspired my passion for blues and rock music. He's the greatest, and I love him for it. Don't ever stop doing whatcha do, John. --Bob Timmers
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