Fame is a fickle mistress, and Johnny Bond’s career in country music is evidence of just how much that is true. Bond was an amazingly versatile talent, as many performers of his age had to be. He was a singer-songwriter, comedian, film sidekick, session player (listen to a Gene Autry record and you’ll hear Bond’s guitar skills), radio bandleader, and TV host. He was also a music publisher, scriptwriter, biographer (of Tex Ritter) and autobiographer.
Yet these days, Bond is perhaps best remembered for a couple of novelty tunes — a cover of “Hot Rod Lincoln” that became a crossover smash in 1963, and his own “Ten Little Bottles”, a drinking song originally cut in 1951, which became his biggest hit ever in 1964.
Country And Western doesn’t attempt to cover all the territory in Bond’s wide-ranging career, but concentrates solely on recordings he made for radio in the mid-1940s. Among the 31 tracks are many originals, including the hillbilly boogie “Out On The Open Range”, the proto-honky-tonk “Tomorrow Never Comes”, and the dreamy cowboy serenade “Stars Of The Midnight Range”.
To fit the demands of radio programming, the transcriptions also featured a fair number of traditional numbers, including “Goodbye Old Paint”, “Birmingham Jail” and “Red River Valley”. Bond also tried out some then-current chart numbers, ranging from Perry Como’s pop hit “Have I Stayed Away Too Long” to Woody Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills” (at the time a hit for Guthrie’s cousin Jack). The results are never less than pleasing.
Bond’s carefully phrased baritone vocals stand on their own just fine, but when he’s joined by longtime cohorts Jimmy Wakely and Dick Reinhart, the effect of their entwined voices is often sublime. Country And Western isn’t an essential collection of Bond’s material; even at this late date, such a set has yet to emerge. Still, it’s a valuable (and at 31 cuts, generous) snapshot of a fine and sometimes overlooked figure in country music history.