John Blankenship (‘Johnny B’)

>>Lead Vocals • Guitar • Banjo<<

Johnny B at the Readyville Mill, Photo Courtesy of Ben Blankenship

Anyone who has known me prior to 1973 knows me as Johnny or Johnny B. All my immediate and extended family still refers to me this way as do all of my high school classmates. That’s just my name to all of my old friends and family. Even in college at MTSU, which I attended on a football scholarship, I was “Johnny.” Yep, the old game programs I saved list me as Johnny, not John. I didn’t become “John” until I entered law school at the University of Tennessee. I guess I thought it was time to get dignified or something equally stupid. But I have always remained Johnny at heart.

My younger brother, David, and I were inspired and encouraged to sing by my grandmother (who adamantly refused to call me John even when I was a” real lawyer”—as she liked to say. She was the piano teacher and voice teacher in little Mt. Olive, Mississippi where I spent much of my summers as a boy. My mother and father were always proud supporters as well. It was not until 1967, however, that I ventured into actively singing in public, often with my brother. We had that tight harmony and timing that is unique to family, and it was my brother that brought the harmony. In 1967 I made my first ever visit to the Grand Ole Opry, albeit unplanned. After the unexpected and early conclusion to a blind date, I found myself driving up Fifth Avenue in Nashville. I saw Opry patrons coming in and out of the Ryman Auditorium and the ones coming in didn’t seem to have to have a ticket. So I parked and walked in myself (at that time you could go in without charge about half way through the second—9:30 p.m.—show). At 11:30 p.m. the curtains opened I got my first glimpse, listen and awareness of Marty Robbins. I was so blown away by his singing and showmanship that I woke up my brother when I got home around 1 a.m. After that we began a weekly ritual of going to the Opry for the 11:30 p.m. show and watching Marty Robbins. It also began my lifelong “ritual” of buying Marty Robbins’ albums and going to sleep with my stereo headphones on listening to Marty’s beautifully nuanced and versatile voice. I still have all my Marty Robbins vinyl!

Soon I had saved up to buy a Kay guitar and I starting playing and singing. I wrote my first song when I was 17 years old after one of my first “steady” girlfriends broke up with me. It’s called Hate—a song I still sing on occasion. My brother and I did a lot of “gigs” over the years, but sports, school, careers and family responsibilities caused significant detours from musical pursuits. We were pretty darn good together, and more than once I have had a “what if” thought. I did continue to write a few songs over the years and perform at all kinds of functions. I met my wife, Pat, at a law school party where I was entertaining with Marty Robbins’ songs. I wrote the song, It’s As Right As Wrong Could Ever Be that is on our Music At The Mill CD when I was in law school after a law school classmate came up with the title and challenged me to write a song to it. But it is only in the last few years that I have had the freedom to really “work” my music. Just a few years ago I put a poem I wrote in the fourth grade to music. Talking about weird—I was on my porch with the guitar working on some new songs when the poem popped into my head that I had written in 1961. So, today I am writing and singing away.

Johnny B., Photo courtesy of Ben Blankenship

Today, I feel very blessed to be making up for lost time as I am doing my best to become a prolific songwriter. I am grateful to my grandmother, my mother and father, my brother especially who died suddenly in February 2012 and left a hole in my heart, my family for being “fans,” Marty Robbins, the Balladeers—my colleagues and dear friends, Tomm Brady for our gig at The Readyville Mill, and all of the many friends and supporters of my music. And hey, it’s good to be Johnny B again.