Aired on Treasure Island OldiesJun 04, 2023

Have you ever wondered what defines “honky-tonk” music?

A honky-tonk is both a bar that provides country music for the entertainment of its patrons and the style of music played in such establishments. It can also refer to the type of piano (tack piano) used to play this brand of music.

One of the great country music legends got his start performing honky-tonk                         …


Per Ken Burns’ documentary on the country music, it was during World War II that a new sound sprang up in the darkened taverns and barrooms around the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma, spread to California and then the industrial cities of the North. The beer halls were too noisy for acoustic instruments and too small for the big dance bands that played Western swing.

Christened “honky-tonk,” the music featured songs that dealt openly with cheating and drinking, and, in addition to a piano being “pounded to death,” its sound included a piercing electric guitar, a driving drumbeat, and a voice that delivered lyrics about both good times and heartbreak with emotional urgency.

It was this music genre that paved the way for our featured artist to  crossover from country to pop radio formats in the late 50s and early 60s with his story-telling songs. Much of his up-tempo material did not appeal to the traditionalists but somebody once wrote that “he was ten years older than most of the honky-tonkers and rockabillies – but with his cowboy hat hiding a receding hairline, he more or less looked the part.”

He is most remembered for his 1959/1960 crossover hits – “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Sink The Bismarck,” and “North To Alaska.”

However, Johnny Horton first made it onto the country charts back in 1956 with “Honky-Tonk Man” (#9). A newer version of that song made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962 – two years after his death in an automobile accident at the age of 35.

In 1957, while immersed in the honky-tonk genre, he covered a 1951 song by Jess Willard. The song epitomizes the rural music of the time and Johnny Horton was right at home singing about the “Honky-Tonk Hardwood Floor,” this week’s Tom Locke moment in time.

YouTube video of this song:

This “Moments In Time” story is yet another example of a “golden oldie” or forgotten favorite that earned its place in the evolution of Rock & Roll.