Born in Jacksonville, Florida, on 20 April 1939, Johnny Tillotson was a teenage contributor on Radio W-WPF and on the television show The Toby Dowdy Show, both local stations.
He had mastered the guitar and ukulele by the time he attended the University of Florida and his musical ambitions soon overtook his studies.
In 1958, he was lured to Cadence Records, based in New York, who released his debut single, the double A-sided disc Well I’m Your Man and Dreamy Eyes – which became #87 and #63 US hits respectively.
Through 1959, True True Happiness made the Top 60, likewise, Why Do I Love You So? Following a stab at R&B, Tillotson recorded Poetry In Motion.
The song, born in Nashville and completed in a New York studio, soared to #2 in America during 1960 and reached the top spot in Britain in January 1961, where it stayed for two weeks.
All told, Poetry In Motion sold in excess of 1.5 million copies worldwide.
In March, Jimmy’s Girl was released. It became a Top 30 US hit but reached only #43 in Britain. The follow-up, Without You, bombed but hit #7 across the Atlantic.
Prior to joining the US Army for six months at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Tillotson released his self-penned It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin‘ which re-established him in the American Top 3, selling a million copies on the way.
When he left the Army he instantly embarked upon a promotional American tour to capitalise on his recent success.
Late in 1962, following another international hit – Send Me The Pillow You Dream On – Tillotson re-recorded Hank Williams‘ I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You), which became a British Top 40 hit and reached #21 in the US.
A year later, and after a cameo appearance singing Judy, Judy, Judy in the movie Just For Fun, Tillotson’s British chart run ended with Out Of My Mind. He continued to enjoy American success although he switched record companies.
In November 1963 he recorded his last hit for Cadence Records – Funny How Time Slips Away – a cover of the Willie Nelson original, before joining MGM Records.
A country ballad, Talk Back Trembling Lips, was his first release with MGM. It shot into the US Top 10, and throughout 1964 and 1965 a succession of songs, mostly ballads, kept his chart career alive.
As his career gradually declined, Tillotson adopted a change of image to drop his teen appeal.
After presenting his new, mature act at the Copacabana in New York, he was in demand as a performer in Las Vegas and Miami Beach, and further afield in countries like Germany, Sweden and Japan, where he enjoyed a staunch following.
When Tillotson moved to California in 1968, he joined the acting profession with bit parts in movies and television specials.
A further recording deal in 1970 with Ampex records produced the Tears On My Pillow album, and a later contract with Buddah Records resulted in the Johnny Tillotson album. Both flopped.
Tillotson continues to perform in the US to this day.