Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnny Tillotson enjoyed his greatest success in the early 1960s, when he scored 9 top-ten hits on the pop, country and adult contemporary billboard charts including "Poetry In Motion" and "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'."
He began to perform at local functions as a child, and at Palatka Senior High School developed a reputation as a talented singer. He became a regular on the Toby Dowdy regional TV show in Jacksonville, and then had his own TV show on WDGA-TV. In 1957, while studying at the University of Florida, a local disc jockey, Bob Norris sent a tape of Johnny's singing to the Pet Milk talent contest, where he was chosen as one of the six National finalists.
He performed in Nashville, Tennessee at the Grand Old Opry, which led him to a three-year recording contract with Cadence Records. Cadence issued his first single, "Dreamy Eyes" / "Well I'm Your Man" in September 1958. Both songs had been written by Tillotson, and both made the Billboard Hot 100, "Dreamy Eyes" peaking at # 63.
After graduating from college in 1959 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and Communications, Tillotson moved to New York City to pursue his music career.
From late 1959, a succession of singles - "True True Happiness," "Why Do I Love You So," and a double-sided single covering the R&B hits "Earth Angel" and "Pledging My Love" - all reached the bottom half of the Hot 100. His biggest success came with his sixth single, the up-tempo "Poetry in Motion," recorded in Nashville with session musicians including saxophonist Boots Randolph and pianist Floyd Cramer. Released in September 1960, it went to # 2 on the Hot 100 in the US, and # 1 on the UK Singles Chart in January 1961.
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Besides recording, Tilotson also appeared on television and began to be featured as a teen idol in magazines. His follow-up record, "Jimmy's Girl," reached # 25 in the US charts and # 43 in the UK; after that, "Without You" returned him to the US Top Ten. He also toured widely as part of Dick Clark's Cavalcade Of Stars.
Early in 1962, Tillotson recorded a song he had written himself, "It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin'," inspired by the terminal illness of his father. It became one of his biggest hits, reaching # 3 in the US pop chart and becoming the first of his records to make the country music charts, where it peaked at # 4. It earned him his first Grammy nomination, for Best Country & Western Recording, and was later recorded by over 100 performers including Elvis Presley and Billy Joe Royal.
Tillotson then recorded an album, It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin', on which he covered several country standards including Hank Locklin's "Send Me the Pillow You Dream On" and Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love with You)," which also became hit singles.
He continued to record both country-flavored and pop songs in 1963, and "You Can Never Stop Me Loving You" and its follow-up, the Willie Nelson song "Funny How Time Slips Away," both made the Hot 100. He also appeared in the 1963 movie Just for Fun.
With the demise of the Cadence label, he formed his own production company and moved to MGM Records, starting with his version of the recent country hit "Talk Back Trembling Lips," which reached # 7 in January 1964 on Billboard's Hot 100.
He earned his second Grammy nomination for "Heartaches by the Number," nominated for Best Vocal Performance of 1965, which reached #4 on the Adult Contemporary Charts. He also sang the theme song for the 1965 Sally Field television comedy Gidget.
While his recording success waned in the late 1960s, he continued to record, moving to California in 1968. Besides concert and recording he also appeared in several films including the 1966 camp comedy The Fat Spy starring Jayne Mansfield - which was featured in the 2004 documentary The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (#46). He also appeared in Just For Fun a British music film, the Japanese movie Namida Kun Sayonara after his number 1 Japanese hit of the same name and the Made for TV "The Call of the Wild."
In the 1970s, he recorded for the Amos, Buddah, Columbia and United Artists labels. He also performed concerts, at State Fairs and in Las Vegas and elsewhere. In the early 1980's he charted briefly with "Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone" on Reward Records. His popularity in South East Asia had him appearing in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand on a regular basis along with tours in Japan and Hong Kong. In 1990 he signed with Atlantic records where he again charted briefly with "Bim Bam Boom."
In the 1990s, Johnny recorded several Christmas songs with Freddy Cannon and Brian Hyland for the Children's Miracle network, produced by Michael Lloyd. "Come On A Sleigh Ride With Me" written by Michael is a new Christmas favorite. He also recorded "We Can Make It" with Tommy Roe and Brian Hyland, again for Michael Lloyd for Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer The Movie in 1998.
In 2006 he was honored by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications with the Alumni of Distinction award. In 2010 Johnny released a single "Not Enough" which is a tribute to the Military, Police, Fire and all uniformed personnel of the United States. It reached # 1 on the Indie country chart and the top 25 on the New Music weekly charts and was also a breakout single on the Music Row chart in Nashville.
On March 23rd, 2011 Johnny Tillotson was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.