If you’re a fan of early rock and roll you might remember the guy who had a Top Ten hit in 1960 with “Mission Bell.” You might also recall that the name he used on the record was Donnie Brooks, and that’s pretty much who he was from then on, but it wasn’t his real name. Before that he’d also been known as Dick Bush, Johnny Jordan, Johnny Faire, and Johnny Fairecloth — but again, none of those was his name at birth.
Born in Dallas but raised in Southern California, John Dee Abohosh became Johnny Fairecloth when his stepfather adopted him, and when he began pursuing a musical career in the mid-1950s he simplified it to Johnny Faire. After scuffling around for a couple of years in area clubs and fairs he managed to cut a record or two, but didn’t create much of a stir until he decided to help a friend.
Faire had become buddies with Dorsey and Johnny Burnette, who were a little older and more experienced than him. The brothers were going through some ups and downs of their own, and Dorsey was caught up in the middle of a dispute over a contract concerning a studio recording he’d made of a catchy tune named “Bertha Lou.” A deal was struck, and Faire’s vocal was inserted into the recording in the place of Burnette’s. His name also appeared on the record itself, and even though it wasn’t it huge hit at the time, the 1958 platter has remained a favorite of rockabilly fans ever since.
But it was just the beginning for the singer. Over the next couple of years he hopped from one record company to another before ending up at Era, along the way making records as Johnny Jordan and Dick Bush before finally settling on Donnie Brooks. He also softened his sound with songs like “White Orchid” and the one that would be his biggest, “Mission Bell.” (Another discarded Burnette song.)
Earning a gold record certainly helped make Donnie Brooks a familiar name to pop music fans of the era, and subsequent records like “Doll House” and others also did well but didn’t reach the Top Ten. By the mid-1960s he’d pretty much left the spotlight behind, but for many years continued to find some success in live shows. Eventually he also embraced the oldies movement as both a performer and producer, before his health caused him to retire in 2003. He died at age 71 in 2007.
Johnny Faire – “Bertha Lou”