John Lewis (Johnny) Carroll, rockabilly guitarist, composer, and singer, was born in Cleburne, Texas, on October 23, 1937. He grew up in nearby Godley and spent much of his life on the family farm there. His surname was actually spelled Carrell, but the Decca label misspelled it as Carroll, and apparently Johnny used this spelling for the rest of his career. Carroll bought his first guitar at age nine with money he had earned by working as a water boy at a World War II POW camp. His mother, who played the fiddle, taught him basic music skills. By listening to the radio, he learned to play country music. Carroll later was introduced to rhythm and blues when a cousin in the jukebox business gave him some old 78 rpm records. In the early 1950s he performed on KCLE radio in Cleburne.
By 1955 he had formed his own high school band, the Moonlighters. His group sometimes shared the stage with the South's newest singing sensation, Elvis Presley, as they performed on the Big D Jamboree and the Louisiana Hayride circuit. During a performance with Ferlin Husky, Carroll gained the attention of local radio operator Jack "Tiger" Goldman, who helped him get a contract with Decca Records. In 1956 Carroll recorded for Decca in Nashville. During this two-day recording session he was encouraged to sing in a dark and husky voice, a trademark he carried throughout his career. At the session he recorded his own "Crazy, Crazy Lovin'" along with "Hot Rock," written by Goldman. With moderate sales, Carroll embarked on a series of tours.
In 1957 he starred in the motion picture Rock, Baby, Rock It! which was filmed in Dallas in 1956, and he performed several songs with his old high school band. Though panned by critics, the film later achieved cult status for its diverse and historic music performances. After a dispute with Goldman, Carroll left him and rejoined the Louisiana Hayride. He enlisted Ed McLemore, co-producer of Big D Jamboree, as his new manager in 1958 and recorded two singles for Warner Brothers, including his biggest hit, "Bandstand Doll." In 1962 he recorded his last single for more than ten years. Beginning in 1958 until the early 1970s, Carroll was music director for a series of nightclubs known as the Cellar. Originally opened in Fort Worth, the club also opened branches in other Texas cities. On May 6, 1960, Carroll married Sharon, a waitress at the Cellar. They had a son but divorced in 1966. He married Tena Mathews in 1968.
In 1974, after leaving the nightclub business, Carroll returned to performing and recorded "Black Leather Rebel" (also titled "Gene Vincent Rock"), a tribute to singer and friend Gene Vincent. It was the first of several projects that reignited Carroll's career Three years later he re-released three of his Decca singles, the success of which led to several tours across Europe, where he was a rock-and-roll icon. In 1978 Carroll rekindled his 1950s rock-and-roll sound with the release of Texabilly, an album recorded on the Rollin' Rock label in Van Nuys, California, in a twenty-seven-hour marathon session. About this time he also teamed up with model and singer Judy Lindsey, and the two performed in clubs across the United States and in Europe.
The city of Fort Worth proclaimed December 1, 1986, to be "Johnny Carroll Day" in honor of Carroll's success in Europe and his role as an ambassador of good will for the city. By the 1990s he had completed eleven European tours and was a popular draw on the American music festival circuit. He died of liver failure in Dallas on February 18, 1995, and was buried in Godley, Texas. Bear Family Records released Rock Baby Rock It: 1955-1960, a compilation of Carroll's recordings, in 1996.