Born Johnny Ancil Wilson, 29 November 1935, Riversville, West Virginia Died September 1980

Johnny "Peanuts" Wilson was a small guy. Try to find biographical info on the man and inevitably you will come across the word "diminutive". I don't know if his nickname has anything to do with his size, but his musical achievements surely cannot be dismissed as "peanuts". Wilson was born in West Virginia, but his family moved to Odessa, Texas, whilst he was still an infant. He joined Roy Orbison's group the Teen Kings in January 1956. Apart from Orbison, who sang and played guitar, the members were Billy Pat Ellis (drums), James Morrow (guitar and mandolin) and Jack Kennelly (bass). Wilson played rhythm guitar and can be heard on both versions of "Ooby Dooby" (Je-Wel and Sun), as well as on Orbison's early Sun sessions. The Sun version of "Ooby Dooby" went to # 59 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1956. It would be the biggest hit that Orbison had for four years. Roy and the Teen Kings hit the road as part of a package show headlined by Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

During the rehearsals for "Sweet And Easy To Love" and "Devil Doll" on December 14, 1956, Orbison split with the Teen Kings. "It happened right in the studio", recalled Sam Phillips. "They had some difficulty among themselves, and the band broke up then and there. Really it was nothing more than their being extremely young." The Teen Kings went back to West Texas and formed another group for a few months. Wilson's first solo session took place on May 26, 1957, at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico, and generated two versions of "Cast Iron Arm", plus "You've Got Love", which was Wilson's first attempt at songwriting. Two of the Teen Kings (Kennelly and Ellis) provided the accompaniment and the sax player is either James Morrow or Jimmy Seals. The lead guitarist is possibly Roy Orbison. "Cast Iron Arm" was released on Brunswick 55039 on November 27, 1957, and credited to "Peanuts Wilson", as their was already another recording artist called Johnny Wilson. The disc was also issued in the UK on Coral Q 72302. There were two other recording sessions by Wilson, on November 10, 1957, and September 8, 1958. Four tracks from these sessions, which are not bad at all, finally saw the light of day in 1999, when they were released on the splendid Ace CD "West Texas Bop", which also includes "Cast Iron Arm" and "You've Got Love". Wilson's version of "Paper Boy" predates the Roy Orbison version, which came out on the B-side of Roy's first Monument single in September 1959 (recorded on April 23, 1959). The other three tracks are "I've Had It" (not the Bell Notes hit), "My Heartbeat" and "You've Got Everything". Four takes of "Silly Lilly" remain unissued. "This song has totally inane lyrics but is a superb rocker", according to John Ingman.

Peanuts recorded one more single, "Little Miss Fortune"/"Twi-Light Zone" for the small Odessa-based Coronodo label in the autumn of 1963 before establishing himself as a successful writer of country songs. Among his compositions that made the country Top 10 are "Easy As Pie" by Billy "Crash" Craddock (# 2, 1975), "Roses For Mama" by C.W. McCall (# 2, 1977) and "It's Too Late" by Jeanne Pruett (# 9, 1980). Wilson died of a heart attack in September 1980, just when Kenny Rogers was providing him with his biggest ever hit composition, "Love the World Away" (# 4 country, # 14 pop). Other stars who have recorded his songs include Conway Twitty, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Mickey Gilley, Faron Young, Bobby Vinton and Tommy Overstreet.

Acknowledgements : John Ingman, liner notes for "West Texas Bop" (Ace CDCHD 699).


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