--Johnny to Be Inducted in the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame--

Johnny Western's career reads like A-Autry, B-Boone and C-Cash. Johnny signed on with his hero, Gene Autry, on the 4th of July, 1956 as Gene's featured singer and personal guitarist, when Johnny Bond left the show after 17 years.
In 1957, thanks to his job on the Autry show, Johnny started his career as an actor. Johnny has appeared in 37 features and western TV series. After an acting appearance on the CBS-TV series, "Have Gun-Will Travel," Johnny wrote and sang the theme song, "The Ballad of Paladin." He wrote the song as a musical thank you card to star, Richard Boone, for the way Boone helped him on the show in all their scenes together. Johnny Western, Richard Boone and the show's creator,  Sam Rolfe formed a song writing partnership that has lasted for nearly 40 years now. Mrs. Richard  Boone and Mrs. Sam Rolfe continue as Johnny's partners to this day, since the passing of Boone and Rolfe.
Johnny Cash moved to Hollywood in 1958 and signed Western to be a featured performer and MC of his road show. Western also played guitar on 71 singles and 5 albums with Cash when they were both recording for Columbia Records. Johnny western still appears with Cash on selected dates after nearly 40 years on the road with "The Man in Black."
Today, Johnny Western does a daily radio show for Journal Broadcast Group at KFDI in Wichita, KS. Journal Broadcast Group has 15 stations in it's network in 4 states and KFDI is the flagship station. They feature a great deal of cowboy and western music in their regular programming . Western continues to tour and perform at rodeos, film festivals and western music events through out the world.

Johnny Western was born Oct. 28, 1934 in Two Harbors, MN. His love of country music came about at age five when his parents hosted him a birthday party that included attending a movie called "Guns and Guitars," starring Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette. When he was 12, he asked for his Christmas present to be a guitar his father had won in a card game and had left it sitting in a corner of their attic. By the time he was 13, Johnny had sung on the radio with it and in another year or two, had his own radio show six days a week where he sang and picked the guitar.

Autry had always been Johnny's idol and though encouragement came from a number of stars to make an attempt at Hollywood, Johnny's final decision was not made until Autry put the then 20-year old under contract. Prior to that, Johnny had gained much acclaim. As a high school sophomore, he did a full time radio show on KDHL in Northfield, MN that brought him to the attention of Billboard Magazine, which dubbed him the youngest DJ and singer in commercial radio. He was a singing cowboy on KMMT-TV and landed a contract with a small studio at age 16 which led to his first release, "The Violet and the Rose," eventually becoming a country standard. He also sang with the Sons of the Pioneers. It was then that he met Autry who took him under his wing.

When Autry retired in 1957, Johnny was signed by Gene's agent, Mitchell Hamiburg. Through him, Johnny did a pilot called Pony Express, which opened the floodgates. Over the next two years, he was cast in five feature western films and 32 episodes of television westerns. Feature films, including The Dalton Girls with John Russell (later to star in The Lawman TV series), Fort Bowie with Ben Johnson and Gunfight at Dodge City with Joel McCrea and Boots and Saddles, a syndicated show about the adventures of the Fifth Calvary, followed. He appeared in a total of 50-plus movies. He also began writing a monthly column, The Filmland Horsemen, for the Western Horseman Magazine in which he profiled TV and big screen cowboys such as Ben Johnson, Clint Walker, Dale Robertson, Jim Arness, Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Steve McQueen and Chuck Conners, all friends of Johnny's. He wrote and sang "The Ballad of Paladin," the theme song for the Have Gun, Will Travel TV series and recorded for Columbia Records, played on most of Johnny Cash's records from 1959 through 1962 and worked with Cash for nearly six years.

In 1976, he wrote the music for the movie, Rodeo-A Matter of Style and recorded the title song for the TV series, Mr. Rodeo Cowboy. Through his career Johnny was involved with the music for and appeared in the following TV series: Have Gun, Will Travel, Pony Express, Gunsmoke, Boots and Saddles, Wells Fargo and Bat Masterson. In 1986, Johnny signed with Great Empire Broadcasting and does a daily four-hour show over KFDI in Wichita, KS. In 1993, he commenced working on a new album, Johnny Western and the Sons of the Pioneers and Friends. That same year, Have Gun, Will Travel was inducted into the Television Music Archives Hall of Fame.

Johnny Western has been a member of the legendary KFDI in Wichita, Kansas since 1985. When Johnny relates stories to his listeners about the country stars, he's not reading from some script, he has been there and lived each story he tells. Johnny still does extensive touring, working film festivals and western music shows all across America. As always, he comes home to his radio roots when the shows are completed.

Johnny was inducted into the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame in 2000.

Johnny Western is a true living legend, not only in radio, but television, recordings and the silver screen as well. He is truly the last of the silver screen cowboys. 

In June-2000, Johnny was inducted into the prestigious Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in Nashville and America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame-Avoca, Iowa. In November-2001, Johnny Western received the ultimate honor for a Cowboy Singer and Cowboy Movie/Television Personality. He was inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame, where he joins all his heroes like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and the like. What a tribute for a man who has given over fifty years of his life to the Cowboy Culture in America.

In March, 2003, Johnny will receive "The Cowboy Spirit of the West" award from The National Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The theme in 2003 will be "Balladeers of the West," and Johnny Western is the perfect choice for this great honor.

Johnny is still out there working Country Music shows and Cowboy events all across the USA. Listen to his show for dates and venues. When Johnny relates a story about his country music friends, you can rest assured he has lived it.


Singer and songwriter Johnny Western is one of the last of the singing cowboys. He is probably best known to western fans as the writer of 'The Ballad of Paladin' theme song for television's "Have Gun-Will Travel."

Gilliam and WesternWestern was born Oct. 28, 1934 in Two Harbors, MN. His love of country music came about at age five when his parents threw him a birthday party that included attending a movie called Guns and Guitars, starring Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette.

When he was 12, he asked for his dream Christmas present: a guitar his father had won in a card game but had left sitting in a corner of their attic. By the time he was 13, Johnny had sung on the radio with that guitar and in another year or two he had his own radio show.

In 1956, Johnny signed on with his hero, Gene Autry as a singer and guitarist and when Johnny Cash moved to Hollywood in 1958, he hired Western to be a featured performer and Master of Ceremonies of his road show. Western also played guitar on 71 singles and 5 albums with Cash when they were both recording for Columbia Records. Johnny Western still appears occasionally with Johnny Cash. In November 2001, he was inducted into Western Music Association Hall of Fame.

In addition to song writing and performing, Johnny Western has acted in films such as 1962's Night Rider and in the television show "Have Gun Will Travel."

Western does a daily radio show for Wichita's KFDI, featuring cowboy and western music. He continues to tour and perform at rodeos, film festivals, and western music events. In March 2003, Western will receive the Cowboy Spirit of the West award at the National Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"He has one of the true cowboy voices. He sounds like a cowboy looks."
Waylon Jennings
KFDI's Johnny Western grew up with a keen sense of Cowboys and Outlaws. He was raised in Northfield, Minnesota, the town where the James Gang had their raid on the First National Bank in 1876. Thank goodness, Johnny chose to favor the good guys in the white hats, like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and all the other great stars of the Western Movies. He knew from a very early age what he wanted to do in life. He wanted to be exactly like his Western heroes.

At age 15, while still in High School, Johnny became a deejay and singing cowboy on KDHD in Northfield. 'Billboard Magazine' stated he was the youngest deejay and singer on commercial radio in the United States at that time.

By age 16, he became a singing cowboy on KMMT-TV and got his first recording contract with J.O.C.O. Records, a Minneapolis-St. Paul label. In 1953–1954, Western had his own television show, 'Circle 6 Ranch Time', where he introduced the daily western movie. This helped make it possible for him to open shows for the likes of Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen and others when they performed in the area. In the early 1950s, he began performing on the rodeo circuit with the Sons Of The Pioneers. In 1954, he moved to Hollywood and toured Canada with Gene Autry in 1956, where he met Johnny Cash, the man who would forever change his life.

Western wrote The Ballad Of Paladin, theme song for the TV series 'Have Gun Will Travel' starring Richard Boone, which ran from 1957 – 1963. Western was signed to Columbia Records by Mitch Miller. In 1958, Johnny Cash asked Western to join his show as emcee and singer. At Columbia, both Cash and Western were produced by the legendary Don Law. Johnny was a featured musician on most of Johnny Cash's recordings from August 1959 through April 1963.

Johnny Western has appeared in over 50 western movies and TV westerns such as 'Have Gun Will Travel', 'Pony Express,' 'Gunsmoke,' 'Boots & Saddles,' 'Wells Fargo,' and 'Bat Masterson'.

It's only fitting that the Western Music Hall Of Fame has honored this life long movie and television cowboy. His contributions to the cowboy culture rates right up there with all the folks he calls his friends and heroes of the silver screen. He will take his rightful place in the Hall Of Fame. Johnny is also a member of the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall Of Fame in Nashville and America's Old Time Country Music Hall Of Fame in Avoca, Iowa. In addition to his constant touring schedule, he holds down his daily radio show on Classic Country AM 1070-KFDI in Wichita, Kansas.

Johnny Western, we salute you my dear friend.


"They played Folsom Prison Blues. I nearly wrecked my car, I got so excited with his voice and that beat!"


Johnny Western worked with Johnny Cash for many years as well as pursuing a successful career in his own right. We are pleased to have an exclusive interview (first published in issue #24 ­ July 2000) in which he talks about his career, working with Johnny Cash and much more.


Could you tell us about your background and how you became involved in music?
As recorded by Johnny Western
Written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone and S. Rolfe
[C] Have gun will travel, reads the [G] card of a [C] man
A knight without armor in a [G] savage [C] land
His [Am] fast gun hire, heeds the [F] calling [C] wind
A [F] soldier of fortune, is a man called --- Pal-a-[C] din
[C] Paladin, Paladin, [F] where do you [C] roam
Paladin, Paladin, [F] far, far from [C] home
[C] He travels on to where-[G] ever he [C] must
A chess knight of silver is his [G] badge of [C] trust
There are [Am] campfire legends that the [F] plainsmen [C] sing
Of the [F] man with the gun, of the man called --- Pal-a-[C] din.
[C] Paladin, Paladin, [F] where do you [C] roam
Paladin, Paladin, [F] far, far from [C] home
[F] Far from [C] home, [F] far from [C] home.

I saw a Gene Autry movie called Guns And Guitars when I was 5 years old. From that time on I wanted to be a singing cowboy like Gene. That was in 1939. Sixteen years later he put me under contract and I worked for him from 1956-1957. I actually started in radio 1949, when I was 14.

You made your first studio recordings in the early fifties, can you tell us some more about these recordings?

They were for a regional label called JOCO Records, in Minnesota. I did a few original things, like The Violet And The Rose and a couple of cover tunes that were hot at the time: Carl Smith’s Let Old Mother Nature Have Her Way and Lefty Frizzell’s Give Me More, More, More.

In the mid-fifties you moved to California. It was there that you mixed with people in the movie industry. Did this lead to more work, and in particular within movies and TV?

When I first moved to California I did shows with Roy Rogers and The Sons Of The Pioneers, Tex Ritter and Rex Allen. None of these shows got me into the movies but did get me some TV work on L.A. based shows like Town Hall Party.

Was it around that time that you met and worked with Gene Autry?

I was asked by western TV star Dick Jones to sing at a private party one nite for ‘a few friends.’ Little did I know that the ‘friends’ would include Mr and Mrs Gene Autry. I had known Gene since the early 1950’s, when he was a guest on my radio show in Minnesota. Johnny Bond was leaving the Autry show after 17 years and when Gene heard me sing and play that night he remembered me and called me 2 weeks later to replace Bond on his shows. Dick Jones would later play Billy Joe in The Night Rider with John and myself. When Gene retired in 1957 he put me with his movie and TV agent, Mitchell Hamilburg. The prestige of being with Gene for 2 years got me the chance at my first movie and TV roles.

You turned your attention to movies and television? Can you tell us about some of the movies and tv series you were involved in?

I did such shows as Gunsmoke, Tales Of Wells Fargo, Boots And Saddles as well as feature films with Ben Johnson, John Russell and Joel McCrea. These films led to an acting job on Have Gun-Will Travel. It was while working on that show, with Richard Boone, that I got the idea for the theme song The Ballad Of Paladin, which I wrote in 20 minutes on March 14, 1958.

You recorded the song Ballad Of Paladin. What did it feel like to see your name displayed at the end of every episode?

It was a terrific thrill to see my name on those weekly credits. The show was #1 in the world in the late ‘50’s and CBS executives told me I was being heard by 350 million people around the world each week. We were in 78 foreign countries as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

Did this lead to more TV work?

It did musically. I landed a Columbia recording contract with Mitch Miller and then John asked me to work on the songs Johnny Yuma-The Rebel and Bonanza with him, for the TV shows and recordings.

Can you remember the first time you heard Johnny Cash’s music?

Oh yes! I was driving down the Hollywood Freeway listening to KXLA Radio when they played Folsom Prison Blues. I nearly wrecked my car, I got so excited with his voice and that beat! The beat was nothing I had ever heard before. Boom-Chicka-Boom!

And when did you first meet John ­ was it during the making of Night Rider?

Oh no! The Night Rider was made in 1963. I met John at the Casino Theatre in Toronto, Canada in the late summer of 1956. I was appearing with Gene Autry at the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto. I saw 3 of his shows and met him briefly there. He was quite ill the whole time he was there but he made all the shows.

Am I right in thinking it was Gordon Terry who introduced you?

Gordon re-introduced us in the summer of 1958 at John’s office in Hollywood. John was thinking of putting a package show together and said he might call me for a few dates if I was interested. In the meantime my song went on the Have Gun... TV show and John called me to play 3 dates in California with him the first week in November, 1958. Those 3 days turned out to be 39 years of shows with him, on the road, with our last one in 1997

Can you tell us more about the sessions you worked on with John?

The first sessions I did with John were some transcriptions for radio stations, sponsored by the U.S. Military Services. Then we went to Nashville and did Johnny Yuma-The Rebel, Lorena, The Ballad Of Boot Hill, etc. On that same session we did the Christmas song - The Little Drummer Boy. I love working with him because he rarely took over 2 or 3 takes to get a perfect record!

You often recorded material for John to overdub his vocal at a later date. Can you remember any of the songs that were recorded this way?

Yes. When John began having throat and health problems I was called on to sing on the sessions and later he would come in and replace my voice. Some of the songs were Bonanza, Forty Shades Of Green and The Big Battle.

You then became part of the Johnny Cash Show. What was life on the road like?

Actually I was part of the Johnny Cash Show, on the road, before recording with him. We had the greatest crowds in the history of country music with John. Every night was Saturday night! There were never any empty seats for years and years. We played the greatest concert halls in the world, including Carnegie Hall in New York City and a month later had 20,000 people in the Hollywood Bowl in California. He was a great guy to be on the road with and was always then, and is still today, a great friend.

After you stopped working for John what did you do?

Played Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe a lot.

You are a DJ on KFDI in Wichita, Kansas. Do you still get the chance to perform and record?

My contract with KFDI has always provided time for me to tour each year. These days I do a great many western film and music festivals, such as the Gene Autry Festival in Gene Country, Oklahoma; The Roy Rogers Festival in Portsmouth, Ohio and Rex Allen Days in Willcox, Arizona. Last year I appeared at the Big Music Festival in Vienna, Austria and in 2001 I will be in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for a series of Festivals.

I hear that congratulations are due as you have recently been inducted into the Country DJ Hall Of Fame. That must have been a great honour?

Thank you! On June 22nd, 2000 I was inducted in Nashville. My wife, Jo and one of our 5 daughters, Brandi, were there for the awards. It is the ‘Academy Award’ of Country Music Radio, so I was greatly honoured to receive this award after 51 years in show business.

Do you have a favourite Johnny Cash single and album?

Yes! The Johnny Cash EP ­ Johnny Yuma-The Rebel. I played John’s famous red Gibson guitar on all those sides. The one that says ‘Johnny Cash’ on the neck. That made it a double thrill for me.

What is your fondest memory of John?

In 1976 I was nearly killed in a bad car crash in Wyoming. I was in the hospital for several weeks and in intensive care for several days, right after the wreck. When he found out about it he called the hospital and told me to “just get well; the bills would be all taken care of by him!” He said to me, “you can’t get well if you are worried about the bills!” It turned out I had an insurance policy which paid the more than $17,000 in bills, but I’ve never gotten over his immediate, generous offer! He was always there for me and I know he is to this day!

Thanks Johnny for taking the time to talk to us .