Billie Jean Jones – A Country Tragedy
Not many folks of national entertainment prominence emerged from Bossier City – There was Sherry Lynn Boucher who appeared in a few rather obscure films and had a couple television parts (she was “Sherry Lynne” in the 1973 picture “White Lightning” which starred Burt Reynolds). The writer of “Sister Act II” was from Bossier – Judi Ann Mason. Judi also wrote some episodes for “Good Times”, “Sanford and Son” and “The Guiding LIght”.
And then there was Billie Jean Jones.
Billie Jean will be remembered more for who she married perhaps than what she contributed to country music. Her first husband was Harrison Eshliman and after a quick divorce, she would meet country artist Faron Young becoming his girlfriend for a brief period. Still just 19 years old. Faron would introduce Billie Jean to her next husband – a artist of some renown – Hank Williams. This was October of 1952.
It was a short-lived romance, with Hank passing away on January 1st, 1953 from heart failure at the age of 29.
My friend, Texas-born country guitar player and long-time Denver resident, Gene Harrell, would meet Billie Jean in the 1950’s one day in Texas when he became acquainted with her new and third husband, Johnny Horton. Gene was invited to play a local gig with Horton (this before “The Battle of New Orleans”). It was at that time before performing, that he first saw the beautiful young lady – asleep in the back of Horton’s pick-up truck.
He would learn that she was indeed the former Mrs. Hank Williams, and the current Mrs. Johnny Horton.
Tragedy occurred a second time for Billie Jean in 1960 when Horton was involved in a fatal car crash outside of Austin, Texas. The accident also injured two of his band members, Tommy Tomlinson and Tillman Franks. Tillman composed or co-wrote Horton hits “When It’s Springtime in Alaska”, “Honky Tonk Man”, “Sink the Bismark”. Tomlinson lost his leg as a result of the accident. Tommy worked with many country stars including David Houston, Claude King and recorded with Jerry Kennedy calling themselves “Tom and Jerry” (if a collector you probably have run across their LP’s).
Ironically, both Williams and Horton made their final appearances at The Skyline Club in Austin.
Following the death of Horton, Billie Jean would become involved in a brief romance with one of Johnny Horton’s closest friends, Johnny Cash.
After Horton’s death, Billie Jean would take a stab at country music, first recording “Angel Hands” b/w “I’d Give The World to Have You Back Again” in January of 1961 and then “Ocean of Tears” which was released in the summer of 1961. The song made a favorable impression with the country crowd and managed a respectable number 29 on the C&W charts.
The flip side of “Ocean of Tears” was composed by Tillman Franks, survivor of the Horton fatal crash. (She may have been co-composer on her two Atlantic releases – listed as “Jones – Osborn”.)
Billie Jean would take one stab at song writing, teaming up with country singer Johnny Mathis (yes there were two Johnny Mathis’s) on a song titled “Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do” in late 1962.
But that would be the final moment of charting fame for Billie Jean. She recorded at least seven singles with her final effort coming out in the summer of 1964 on the Atlantic label. Not sure where Billie Jean’s journeys would take her from that point on but she lives on today and has benefited from the legacy and estates for Hank and Johnny.
Billie Jean Horton Discography
20th Fox 238 – Angel Hands b/w I’d Give The World (To Have You Back Again) – January, 1961
20th Fox 266 – Ocean of Tears b/w Don’t Take His Love – January, 1961 – Charted Country Number 29
20th Fox 291 – Octopus b/w Devoted To You – October, 1961
ABC-Paramount 45-10332 – Tell Him I Can’t See Him Anymore b/w I’d Rather You Didn’t Love Me – May, 1962
Jamie 1231 – Come Back To Wichita b/w I Should Have Been the Bride – August, 1962
Custom 45-103 – Here Comes Trouble b/w Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do – December, 1962
Atlantic 45-2249 – Johnny Come Lately b/w I Know I’ll Never See Him Again – August, 1964