Johnny Hathcock, songwriter, poet, author, radio station manager, and businessman, was born on June 24, 1919, in Henderson, Texas. He was the son of Allen Sylvester and Annie Mae Houghton. Best-known for his songwriting, Hathcock wrote more than 400 songs throughout his lifetime, 150 of which were recorded, mostly by country and/or crossover pop artists. His most famous song, “Welcome to My World,” co-written with Ray Winkler in 1961, has been recorded by more than sixty artists.
Born Alfred Jason Hathcock, he later changed his name to Alfred John and was known by friends and family as “Johnny.” He was the oldest of eight children in a migrant farming family that traveled throughout East and Central Texas. Hathcock’s family was very musical, and his mother, Mae, often sang old ballads. Johnny also was influenced by early country singers, such as Jimmie Rodgers. Hathcock began writing poetry and music while in high school and graduated from Alvarado High School, just south of Fort Worth, in 1938. Years later, his daughter recalled how he “used to whistle all the time, and sing. He would work out melodies by whistling and singing and occasionally plunking around on the piano.”
Hathcock joined the United States Army Air Corps and served for three years during World War II. He was stationed in Italy for one year and stateside at Clovis Army Airfield in southeastern New Mexico. While in the service, Hathcock wrote romantic poetry to his fiancée Pat Dodson, whom he married in 1943.
After leaving the service, Hathcock moved to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and worked for country music radio station KTNM. In 1947 he relocated to Amarillo, Texas, where he worked for radio station KAMQ. In Amarillo, Hathcock teamed up with Weldon Allard and wrote such songs as “Tears Are Only Rain,” “When Your Love Burns Low,” “What Will I Do Next Monday,” and “Wake Up, Irene.” Hank Thompson recorded these and several other Hathcock-Allard songs on the Capitol label. The most notable of these tunes was “Wake Up, Irene,” written in 1954. Hathcock claimed that he and Allard wrote this song in about ten minutes. “The song was intended as a joke—a parody of the song, ‘Good Night, Irene.’ I was spoiled [then]. I thought it was about the easiest thing I had ever done.” “Wake Up, Irene” was also recorded by the popular band, Maddox Brothers and Rose.
While working for KAMQ, Hathcock became friends with Ray Winkler, co-owner of radio station KZIP, which opened in Amarillo in 1955. A few years later, Hathcock went to work for Winkler as station manager at KZIP. Winkler, who at that time was “becoming more interested in writing songs,” teamed up with Hathcock, who, according to Winkler, was “a terrific lyricist and fine melody writer.”
Together Hathcock and Winkler co-wrote several songs, including the mega-hit “Welcome to My World” in 1961. Country superstar Jim Reeves, a close friend of Winkler’s, recorded the song. At the time, Reeves was working with producer Chet Atkins at RCA Victor in Nashville. Atkins was “forging a new, more pop-oriented country music style that often featured lavish orchestral arrangements.” With Atkins’s highly orchestrated production and Reeves’s smooth vocals, the record became a crossover hit, popular on both the country and pop charts. In 1971 another successful crossover artist, Eddy Arnold, recorded “Welcome to My World” for RCA Victor, and the tune became his theme song. Elvis Presley’s last album, Welcome to My World, also included the title track. Eventually the song was recorded by more than sixty artists, including Dean Martin and Andy Williams.
Hathcock left radio in 1977 and bought a graphics business, Graphics 3, from which he retired in 1990. He also wrote columns for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Record Stockman, and he published his first book of poetry, Sweet and Sour, in 1999.
Throughout his life, Hathcock was a member of several professional organizations, including the Panhandle Broadcasters Association, Broadcast Music, Inc., the Panhandle Professional Writers Group, the High Plains Chapter of the Poetry Society of Texas, and the Southwest Cowboy Poets Association. He was also inducted into the Panhandle Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Johnny Hathcock died in Amarillo on December 26, 2000, at the age of eighty-one. His ashes were interred at Llano Cemetery in Amarillo. He left behind a rich legacy of songs, many of which are still being recorded today. Hathcock and Allard’s “Gotta Walk Alone,” recorded by Bob Wills, was released on a Country Music Hall of Fame Bob Wills compilation CD in 1992. More recently in April 2010, Willie Nelson recorded “Gotta Walk Alone” on his Country Music album.