Johnny Preston Dead at 71

Cradle of LoveJohnny Preston, who scored top ten hits with Running Bear and Cradle of Love, passed away Friday at the Baptist Beaumont Hospital in Beaumont, TX at the age of 71. The singer had undergone bypass surgery late in 2010 and had ongoing health problems since.

Preston's son, Scott, told Beaumont CBS affiliate KFDM "He was my best friend in the world. We were just friends. He was a great family man. He was the moral compass for the whole bunch of us. His persona was always pretty cool. That was him in real life, too. He never got rattled."

He was born John Preston Courville on August 18, 1939 in Port Arthur. While in high school, he formed the group The Shades who played at a number of local establishments.

DJ J.P. Richardson, aka The Big Bopper, saw them one night and offered Preston a chance to record that he had written called Running Bear.  They went to Gold Star Studios in Houston and recorded the song with Richardson and George Jones adding the now famous Indian chant and war cries in the background.  The record wasn't released until August 1959 on Mercury, seven months after Richardson's death, and it took a two months before it even charted and another two to reach the top of the U.S. charts in January 1960.  It also topped the U.K. charts in March of the same year.

Preston followed up with Cradle of Love, a flat out Rockabilly song, which went to number 7 in the U.S. and number 2 in the U.K.  One more record, Feels So Fine, would reach 14 later in the year and that would be the end of Preston's big success although his 1961 minor hit, Leave My Kitten Alone, would go on to be recorded by the Beatles.

Preston will be buried on Tuesday in Port Arthur, TX, where he lived for the vast majority of his life.  He is survived by his wife Sharon, two sons and two daughters and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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