Do you remember the television show “Bonanza?” It was the first one-hour western program filmed in color and ran on American TV from 1959 until 1973, becoming, at times, the number one show in America. The star of “Bonanza” was a Canadian actor named Lorne Greene. He was born Lyon Green (without the extra ‘e’) in Ottawa, Canada in 1915. He worked on the radio during the first part of WWII and one of his jobs was to read the list of soldiers killed in the war. This earned him the nickname of “The Voice of Doom.” But, it did give him voice experience.
During the early Fifties, he worked in various acting jobs. In 1955 he played Ludwig van Beethoven on the show “You Are There.” Those of us who are older certainly remember that program. It was in 1959 that he was awarded the lead role on “Bonanza” and he soon became a household word. He played the patriarch of a family in the old west. The family was the Cartwrights and he was Ben Cartwright or as the rest of the cast called him, “Pa.”
Lorne Greene had had a lot of voice experience who had one of those voices that people instantly recognized. He was chosen to narrate the story of Johnny Ringo, an Old West outlaw, which fit into his role from “Bonanza.” I remember being confused a little when this record came out. 1964 was the year of the Beatles and, at first, I thought he might be singing about Ringo Starr of the group. But, soon it became evident that he was talking about a completely different Ringo.
“Ringo,” the song, was written by Don Robertson and Hal Blair and it is about a real person named John Peters Ringo who lived between 1850 and 1882. He committed his first murder in 1875 and was an outlaw the remainder of his life. On July 14, 1885, Johnny Ringo was found dead lying against a tree in West Turkey Creek Valley, Arizona. His shoes were still hanging on his horse, which implies that he was ambushed and killed before he had a chance to defend himself. No one know exactly who killed Ringo, but there are many stories that try to explain it.
Lorne Greene tells the story of “Ringo,” but there is not much in the song that matches history. Ringo was an outlaw, but that’s about it. Lorne Greene played in “Bonanza” until 1973 and then went to other things, appearing in “Battlestar Galactica” and the miniseries “Roots,” among others. He died on September 11, 1987 at the age of 72 of a heart attack. Lorne Greene was not a singer and that might explain why he never had another hit on the pop charts. A true “one-hit wonder.”
“Ringo” debuted on the pop charts on November 7, 1964 and spent one week at number one.