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He was Johnny Rodriguez

Country Musings by Robert Loy, November 1998

So, it turns out Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a woman he owned. And Columbus Day is no longer much of a holiday because we've discovered the 1492 guy was a cruel sadist who enslaved the people on the land he "discovered." Heroes just can't stand up to close scrutiny, whether they're statesmen, explorers or country singers.

When I was 15 years old, my hero was Johnny Rodriguez. I stood in front of my mirror for hours, lip-synching "Riding My Thumb to Mexico" and "Pass Me By (If You're Only Passing Through). When I heard he was coming to town to do a concert, I sold my comic book collection to buy a ticket.

There were other artists at this concert Sonny James, Crysstal Gayle and Ronnie Milsap, but I can't tell you anything about their acts.

Johnny Rodriguez, however, was phenomenal. His version of "My Way" gave me chills. Afterwards I went out back to where he was signing autographs. I was the only male in line. All the woman had glossy photos or programs for him to sign. I had nothing but my membership card to Clay's Lounge. (My underage friends and I had obtained these cards through machinations James Bond would have been proud of and nothing short of torture could have induced us to give them up. But if I could get Rodriguez to sign it, I'd have it framed. To heck with Schlitz; this was the chance of a lifetime.)

I have no idea what I said to him. I don't think he could have heard me over the noise of my heart pounding, anyway. He signed my card, shook my hand, and I moved off a little ways to bask in his glory a little more. He kissed each of the women, and as I stood there watching him smooch and scribble, I thought, "Wow, that's Johnny Rodriguez. In real life! Johnny Rodriguez!"

But after a while I realized that yes, he was Johnny Rodriguez, and he was short. He was just a short guy who could sing. I turned and walked back to my dad's car. And I've been wary of heroes ever since.