KENNY JOHNSON became semi-professional, playing skiffle, country and rock ‘n’ roll. His first group was formed in 1958 as Sonny Webb and the Country Two, which then became the Country Four.
Johnson took his stage name, Sonny Webb, from the American country stars Sonny James and Webb Pierce. In 1961, following an argument, Johnson regrouped as Sonny Webb And The Cascades. Joe Butler played bass and they were joined by lead guitarist Frank Wan, who had been with Clinton Ford, and Brian ‘Noddy’ Redman, of the Fourmost and Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes.
Country and Beat Music
With having a crossover of country music and beat music, they pioneered country rock before the Byrds made the style famous. Their publicity stated; ‘For that country flavour and the best in pops’.
The Hillsiders were formed on 5th May 1964 and made their debut at Ossie Wade’s country music club in Liverpool. Brian Hilton from Group One joined as lead guitarist when Frank Wan switched to steel. They started playing the type of music they liked – contemporary country and western – and became the top country band in the UK, winning polls and awards all over Europe.
The End of the Line
The Hillsiders career ran until 1999. The lineup was Kenny Johnson on lead singer and rhythm guitar; Joe Butler on bass guitar and vocals; Brian Hilton on lead guitar and vocals; Brian “Noddy” Redman on drums and Frankie Wan on steel guitar.
In December 1964, The Hillsiders said; “Our disc has been released in the States and we believe there is great interest over there regarding it, because people have never heard of a Liverpool Country & Western group before. We even received a phone call from Minnesota and fan letters from the States. One review in the American press said that we were the first British group to feature a pedal steel guitar.”
Due to their growing popularity, The Hillsiders were invited on to the Grand Ole Opry in 1967, when it was held at the famous Ryman Auditorium. Bass guitarist Joe Butler said; “We were invited to appear on the Grand Ol’ Opry. Now this is something that Kenny and I, when we first started, used to dream about, but never believed would ever happen.”
This led to a tour with American country star
Bobby Bare, which was perfect for them. Bobby liked the harmonies that The Hillsiders had. At the end of the tour, they brought him back to do a show at The Grafton in Liverpool. And then after a party, Bare said; “When I get back to the States, I’m gonna see Chet Atkins, and we’re going to do an album together”. Bobby Bare was a man of his word. When he went back to Nashville, he saw Chet Atkins and managed to get The Hillsiders a deal with RCA,
Find out more about Kenny Johnson and The Hillsiders in The Country of Liverpool.