Johnny Russell: Can everybody see me all right?'
LEGEND n Meridian radio personality Carl Fitzgerald, left, interviews country music legend Johnny Russell on April 29, 1995, at an event in Indianola. Russell, 61, was buried Friday following funeral services at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville. Submitted photo.
By Carl Fitzgerald
With that phrase, "Can Everybody See Me All Right," Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell could make an audience come alive on any stage.
If it was on the Opry stage, at a Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival concert, or any stage across the USA, Big John would walk back and forth across the stage, letting every fan know that "Johnny, is here to entertain."
Russell, who hailed from Moorehead in the Mississippi Delta, died Tuesday morning in a Nashville hospital after a long battle with diabetes. He was 61. Funeral services were held Friday in the Grand Ole Opry House, where Big John entertained the opry fans on many Friday and Saturday nights.
His son, John Jr., said, "Daddy loved the Grand Ole Opry."
Johnny Russell was a super entertainer, singer and songwriter. He had his first major cut on one of his songs when he was l9 years of age, when Jim Reeves recorded "In A Mansion Stands My Love." Johnny would tell the audience about the Reeves recording, then he would say after telling them it was a million seller, "You might say you never heard my million seller song. Well, it was on the back side of "He'll Have To Go."
After he sang a little bit of the song … "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone …" the fans would roar and agree totally with Johnny.
Other big songs which the man from the Mississippi Delta wrote or co-authored included "Making Plans," "No Reason Now For Going Home," "All Together Now" (Let's Fall Apart) and his biggest-selling Buck Owens classic, "Act Naturally." This song was also covered by the "Beatles," and the song has sold in excess of 20 million records by all the artists.
Meridian veteran radio personality Noel Adcock said, "You know, Johnny Russell could write a country song, as well as sing a country song, but his RCA charted records were not his songs … they were written by other writers."
Remember two of those songs were "Red Necks, White Sox, and Blue Ribbon Beer" and "The Baptism of Jessie Taylor."
Adcock agrees that Johnny was one of country music's greatest entertainers. It was brought out by some historian this week that it was Chet Atkins who signed Russell to his RCA recording contract, and ironic that Chet Atkins' funeral rites were also conducted this week at the Grand Ole Opry House.
In a special salute/tribute to Johnny Russell on Wednesday night, July 4, WSM Radio's Eddie Stubbs, (Nashville) noted that "Big John's" final appearance on the Grand Ole Opry stage, was Nov. 25, 2000.
A few days following that appearance, he was admitted to the hospital, where the remained a few days over seven months until this death. However, he did get a pass from the hospital in March of this year, when the Opry people staged a special live salute to Johnny Russell. Ralph Emery emceed that special show.
This writer also called Johnny Russell friend. If you ever met him once, you would call him friend, too. Everybody loved "our Johnny."
As WSM's Stubbs related on his Wednesday night special, "Johnny Russell was a super entertainer." He pointed out that Johnny came along at a time in country music when he didn't have to have million selling, chart records to be a star. He was such a prolific songwriter, as Stubbs pointed out.
Johnny Russell was a very giving and kind man. A Johnny Russell Day event was held for several years the last week in April each year up through year 2000. Because of his failing health, the event was not held this year. The project was held as a charitable event, with all the money received from the concert, going to a Johnny Russell Scholarship Fund at the Mississippi Delta Community College. The event was very successful, and quite a number of people from the Meridian area have attended those events. John, Jr., said, Johnny's scholarship fund is still intact and donations will be received as a memorial to his dad. Many of the opry stars, who are all good friends of "Big John," donated their services to this worthwhile project.
This writer attended some of those celebrations in past years. Great show, Johnny.
We miss "Johnny Russell Day." Now, the entire country music world will miss this wonderful and caring human being, Johnny Russell. He was my special friend!
Oh, yes, "Big John," we could "See You All Right." And we like what we saw. I believe strongly, that our Lord liked what He saw in our own Johnny Russell.
Carl Fitzgerald s a radio personality and longtime Meridian resident.