Johnny Russell

Induction Year: 2001

Birth Name: John Bright Russell

Birth Date: 01-23-1940

Place of Birth: Moorhead, Mississippi

Death Date: 07-03-2001

Place of Death: Nashville, Tennessee

Johnny Russell's unique humor and perspective made him an ever-affable star of the Grand Ole Opry, and it aided him in penning hit songs that found down-and-out protagonists smiling through pain.

"Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox," he wrote in George Strait's #1 hit "Let's Fall to Pieces Together." In his best-known song, the multi-genre, transcontinental favorite "Act Naturally," he wrote of a man who will soon star in a movie feature: "We'll make a film about a man that's sad and lonely," sang Buck Owens, the Beatles and many others. "And all I gotta do is act naturally."

Born in Mississippi, Russell moved with his family to California when he was 12. A fan of honky-tonkers Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb, he signed an independent recording contract in the late 1950s, and Chet Atkins heard his song, "In a Mansion Stands My Love." Atkins brought that song to Jim Reeves, and "Mansion" became the B-side of Reeves' monster hit, "He'll Have to Go," in 1959.

In 1963, Buck Owens' sparkling version of Russell's "Act Naturally" topped country charts for a month, giving Owens and Russell their first #1. Russell moved to Nashville, signed with the Wilburn Brothers' publishing company and wrote songs recorded by the Wilburns, Patti Page and others. His biggest-earning credit, though, wasn't even a hit single: The Beatles recorded "Act Naturally" for their Help! album, with drummer Ringo Starr singing lead, and "Act Naturally" became the flip side of multi-million selling single "Yesterday."

Russell sought stardom as a solo recording artist in the 1970s, focusing on songs written by others. In 1973, he notched his two biggest solo hits, "Catfish John" and "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer," for RCA Records. Other artists continued to look to his catalog of original songs, though: Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton's version of the wry-but-heartbreaking "Making Plans" was a #2 hit in 1980, the Statler Brothers had a 1982 hit with "You'll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)," and Strait topped the country charts in 1984 with "Let's Fall to Pieces Together." Russell joined the Opry cast in 1985 and became one of the show's most beloved entertainers. He died of complications from diabetes at age 61 in 2001, the year he was elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"Act Naturally"

(written with Voni Morrison)

Buck Owens1963 #1 country
Loretta Lynn1964 
Kitty Wells1964 
The Beatles1965 #47 pop
Charley Pride1967 
The Cowsills1969 
The Youngbloods1971 
Buck Owens & Ringo Starr1989 #27 country
Dwight Yoakam2007 

"Ain't You Even Gonna Cry"

Connie Smith2011 

"Beautiful, Unhappy Home"

(written with Teddy Wilburn)

Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn1967 

"Don't Pretend"

(written with Bobby Edwards)

Bobby Edwards1963 #23 country

"Got No Reason Now for Goin' Home"

Gene Watson1985 #7 country

"Hurt Her Once for Me"

(written with Vincent Finneran)

Wilburn Brothers1967 #3 country

"In a Mansion Stands My Love"

Johnny Russell1958 
Jim Reeves1959 
Del Reeves1966 

"Let's Fall to Pieces Together"

(written with Dickey Lee, Tommy Rocco)

George Strait1984 #1 country

"Making Plans"

(written with Voni Morrison)

Osborne Brothers1965 
The Browns1966 
Dave Dudley1967 
Charlie Louvin1966 
Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton1980 #2 country
Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt1988 
Ricky Van Shelton1997 

"That's What I Tell Them"

Patti Page1965 

"You'll Be Back (Every Night in My Dreams)"

(written with Wayland Holyfield)

Johnny Russell1978 #24 country
The Statler Brothers1982 #3 country

Johnny Russell

Induction Year: 2001