Ala. musician who inspired others dies at 68
by Ronnie Thomas
December 10, 2013 11:27 PM | 549 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Johnny Wyker talks about his vision to broadcast music over the Internet from artists that would otherwise be lost in February 2005 in Decatur, Ala. Wyker died Sunday at age 68. <br>The Associated Press
Johnny Wyker talks about his vision to broadcast music over the Internet from artists that would otherwise be lost in February 2005 in Decatur, Ala. Wyker died Sunday at age 68.
The Associated Press
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DECATUR, Ala. — Ella Wyker Martin said she will never forget the late-August day in 1972 when her brother, John D. Wyker III, appeared on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”

“Johnny had an album released by Elektra Records, and Billboard magazine was going to release its status on the charts the same day,” Martin said. “We had a radio playing in one room and the television going in another, and we went from room to room.”

Martin said her brother and the members of his band, Sailcat, came on and played two songs, “Motorcycle Mama” and “Walking Together Backwards.”

“Dick Clark interviewed Johnny between the songs,” Martin said. “One of his questions was ‘Johnny, what got you started writing music in Alabama?’ Johnny replied, ‘Well, there’s not much else to do.’”

For Johnny Wyker, there wasn’t for sure, and those who knew him say his hometown of Decatur, the music scene in Muscle Shoals and music enthusiasts throughout the world are better for it.

Wyker died at his Prospect Drive Southeast home early Sunday morning. He was 68.

Roselawn Funeral Home will announce arrangements for a memorial service.

Martin said the album, titled “Motorcycle Mama,” hit No. 38 on Billboard’s chart, and the title track soared to No. 12 on the singles chart.

“I’ve gotten calls from all over the country and from outside the United States,” Martin said. “Johnny never met a stranger, and he just touched so many lives. People all over the world knew him because of his music. He always had a new vision. He was always working on the next project.”

A Decatur musician friend of Wyker’s, Jonathan Baggs, said there’s only one way for him to figure the singer/songwriter’s “much too soon” departure.

“He must have had a jam session to get to in heaven,” Baggs said. “One thing about Johnny, if he wanted to play, he was going to play.”

Baggs said Wyker, a 1963 graduate of Decatur High School, “was like a shining light. He was just a good-hearted soul, and everyone who played music in this town owes a debt to Johnny.”

Dick Cooper, curator for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, said he spoke to Wyker on Saturday.

“Ricky Fargo, a drummer who lives in Huntsville and a friend of mine and Johnny’s, went to his home Saturday night,” Cooper said. “He said Johnny seemed to be doing fine. We were all worried about him because he had congestive heart failure.”

Cooper, a former reporter for the Florence TimesDaily, spoke highly of Wyker.

“He was without question the most creative and inspirational person I’ve ever met,” Cooper said. “He talked me into getting into the music business. He was very good at convincing people. When I told him I didn’t know anything about the music industry, he told me not to worry, nobody else does either. I have been in the business for 35 years.”

Martin said her brother began writing music when he was 14, and his first band, The Magnificent Seven, played college towns and fraternity parties.

“His next band, called The Rubber Band, produced a song, ‘Let Love Come Between Us,’ that’s been recorded by numerous stars,” she said. “James and Bobby Purify recorded it in 1967, and it reached No. 23 on the R&B charts. He released one more single called ‘Baby Ruth,’ which has also been recorded by numerous musicians.”

Several years ago, Wyker helped initiate an Internet radio station from his home called the Mighty Field of Vision, which connected his music and the music of others to the world.

In an interview with The Daily in 2005, Wyker said he got the name of the station from his friend, the late Eddie Hinton of Tuscaloosa, renowned as a rhythm and blues singer but also a session guitarist on recordings by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding and Elvis Presley.

“I produced an album for Eddie, ‘Letters from Mississippi,’ in December 1984 at Birdland Studios when it was in Owen Brown’s house on Sandlin Road,” Wyker said.

Music writer Ken Shelton of Decatur said he met Wyker in 1984.

“I learned more about the music industry by hanging out with Johnny than anyone else I’ve ever come in contact with,” Shelton said.

Shelton said he met Kris Kristofferson in 2009 and mentioned Wyker’s name.

“Kristofferson beamed and said he and Johnny were friends who shared an apartment in Nashville for a few months during the 1960s,” Shelton said. “Kristofferson told me a lot of people are in awe and impressed with the career he has had, but said, ‘If it wasn’t for Wyker’s intervention and for dragging me by the seat of my pants and keeping encouraging me and just not letting me give up, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Johnny and I were together when I wrote the lyrics to ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’ He was the first one to hear it before I cut the demo.’”



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