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Country says farewell to a late-night legend

The passing of 30- year Tonight Show host Johnny Carson inspired fond memories from country stars who regard their appearances on the show as career milestones. Johnny, 79, died on Jan. 23 after suffering complications from emphysema. It was considered a particular honor if Johnny asked a musical performer over to be interviewed after singing. "The first time I was on The Tonight Show, after my performance, Johnny invited me to sit on the couch," recalls Clint Black. "I remember thinking to myself, 'I have just met the President of Show Business.' " But a Tonight Show appearance offered more than prestige-it could also drive record sales. "He helped a lot of talent," notes Ray Price. "Many entertainers owe their income to him." Some country artists became regular Tonight Show guests. Dolly Parton was a favorite of Johnny, racking up 15 appearances. "When a country music artist from my era was a special guest of Johnny Carson," says Crystal Gayle, "then we knew we had made it."

Lee Greenwood appeared seven times. "Being invited on the show in the first place was a true honor," he declares, "but being asked back was the real thrill."

Barbara Mandrell adds, "There are lots of TV hosts who are brilliant, but there wasn't anyone like him.'' And Kenny Rogers reflects on his friend Johnny. "At a time when mainstream music and television considered country music backwards and unacceptable," remembers Kenny, "Johnny Carson thought enough of me to have me on his show several times as a performer, and as I remember, being one of the first host replacements for him. That meant more to me than he or anyone would ever know. We became friends and I enjoyed the tennis matches at my house so very much. . . .He will always be my idol, my mentor, my friend."