Huhta Back in the Game

November 9, 2006 - DIANE MONTZ Ironwood, MI Globe Staff Writer
Johnny Jay Huhta has released a new CD, "Back in the Game," his first in more than two decades. The CD, recorded in Nashville in July, includes six new original tunes Huhta wrote and six old country favorites.
         "Back in the Game" features Huhta's brother, Max Lee Huhta of Ironwood, Mich., on guitar, and his nephew Mark Huhta, on steel and dobro. Max's twin, Mike Wesley Huhta, of Arlingtron, Wash., helped with the production. The recording session was a family reunion. "It was just a party," Johnny Jay Huhta said Monday from his home on the banks of the Gull River near Brainerd. "It was just so much fun. It brought back a lot of old memories."
         The Huhta brothers began making music in Duluth in the 1950s. They were called The Shuffle Kings, then The Jaybirds.
         They played the Midwest club circuit, moving to Nashville, Tenn., in 1957.Huhta, 72, once lived in Ironwood, where he met his first wife, Darlene Morris, now deceased. His daughter, Jolene Huhta, lives in Hurley, Wis.
         Johnny Jay Huhta recorded with such great musicians as Hank Garland, Bob Moore, Buddy Harmon, The Jordanaires and others. He worked with Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Tammy Wynette and more.
         He was on the road for 30 years. "I got kind of tired of the grind of the road," he said. "I quit."
         In Minneapolis, he "got a real job for a change," selling concrete and asphalt. He continued to do studio work, writing and demos for other people. "I kind of kept my finger in the business," he said.
         When he retired, he and his wife Patricia bought a home on the river in northern Minnesota, where Johnny Jay fished with a Labrador dog named Kodi. He is a self-taught artist as well.
         Then he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of FameŽ in 2006. And The Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Fame game him a Lifetime Achievement Award. The recognition sent him back to the recording studio. "It kind of got me rejuvenated," he said.
         He wants to do a rockabilly album. He considering a return to the road, for a limited number of select gigs. "I'm a little bit ambivalent about going out too much," he said. "When you get a little older, you just don't take that riding and moteling as good as you used to."

  • "Back in the Game," Johnny Jay Huhta, 2006 Blue Swan Records, $13.99; mastered at Nashville Music Studios, Nashville, Tenn.

  • CD release party Nov. 18, Lost Isle Ballroom, Duluth.

  • Huhta's Web site says his style "although retaining a tinge of his early rock 'n' roll and rockabilly roots, has evolved into more of a traditional country sound." (On the phone, there's more than a hint of Nashville in his voice. On the CD, it's even more evident, the voice a complement to the lyrics of love - whether everlasting, unrequited or betrayed.)

  • Notes at the CD Baby Web Site say, "At times, it's hard to tell the originals from the covers, due to the artist's unique ability to make any song his own."

  • "Back in the Game" has hit No. 60 on Internet charts, which Huhta notes change from moment to moment. "It's making a little noise," he said.

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