CATCHING UP WITH ... JOHNNY RODRIGUEZ

Hot Rodder

In 1971, 19-year-old Texan Johnny Rodriguez hit Nashville with $14 in his pocket and a beat-up guitar in his hand. "I couldn't even afford a guitar case," recalls Johnny. "So I carried it wrapped in a plastic bag."

A year later, Johnny could buy a truckload of cases. His debut, "Pass Me By (If You're Only Passing Through)," reached Top 10. The next three singles -- "You Always Come Back (To Hurting Me)," "Ridin' My Thumb To Mexico" and "That's The Way Love Goes" -- all went No. 1, rocketing the handsome Mexican-American to instant stardom.

Now, 30 years after his first hit, Johnny has a new CD, Hot Rodriguez, coming out this summer. Johnny cut the album's first single, "I Don't Know How To Love You," in both English and Spanish.

"My producer brought me the song, which is from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar [where it was called "I Don't Know How To Love Him"], and asked if I could translate it. It took me a little while," he says with a laugh, "but I finally got it down. It's really a beautiful song."

Johnny is singing happier tunes these days, three years after "the toughest period in my life." Johnny was accused of murdering a man he said was burglarizing his mother's home in Texas, but the singer was acquitted in an October 1999 trial.

"That really put a strain on me," Johnny says after a heavy sigh. "The stress affected my health -- I didn't feel like working or getting out. But I had a lot of encouragement from fans and friends."

Now, at 50, he's working more than ever. "I do a lot of rodeos and fairs," he notes. "I play the clubs in Austin -- I love that music scene there."

He also keeps his writing chops in shape. Johnny wrote several songs on the new CD, including one called "I Don't Wanna Talk About Me."

"I wrote that about four years ago," he laughs, "so it's not an answer to the Toby Keith song [I Wanna Talk About Me]. That sure is a funny twist, though."

And Johnny's having fun again, enjoying life in San Antonio with wife Debbie and daughter Aubry Rae. "It's great having a family and a new record coming out," he says. "I'm really excited about everything."

-- Bob Paxman

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