In an era when little boys loved to go to the movies to watch their favorite cowboys gallop into the sunset, he lived with one of the most popular "singing cowboys" around — his dad, Hollywood actor and recording artist Jimmy Wakely.
Though the younger Wakely launched his singing and recording career with his father's band, the Jimmy Wakely Family Show, he created his own piece of fame after moving to Seattle in 1984.
The Johnny Wakely Band became one of the region's best-known country acts, attracting throngs to shows at Elks, Eagles and Moose lodges until he quit the music business around 1995.
Mr. Wakely died last Saturday, Dec. 22, at his Shoreline home after a long struggle with liver disease. He was 57.
"He had the purest voice I ever heard in my life — he sang like an angel," said his wife, Nancy Wakely, whom he married in 1986.
Mr. Wakely grew up near North Hollywood, with neighbors such as Bob Hope, Walt Disney and William Holden. In the mornings, he loved to push his toy cars in the yard outside his home, listening to Doris Day singing in the house next door as she got ready for her day.
Stories and photos documenting those childhood years are in abundance on Mr. Wakely's Web site, www.johnnywakely.com, created for his father, who died in 1982.
"Waking up in the mornings was often interesting in our house as you would come into the living room and find bodies lying everywhere — cowboy hats and boots scattered around and blankets and pillows through the house covering people sleeping on sofas, chairs and on the floors as someone's band came into town last night and stopped to see dad," he wrote on one page.
As a child, Mr. Wakely learned to engineer recording sessions at his father's in-home studio. When he graduated from high school he joined his father's band, singing and playing rhythm guitar. His first performance was at Harrah's in Las Vegas.
He later sang on tour with Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry, and recorded a couple of albums of his own as well.
He married Gail Agricola in 1965. They had two children and divorced after 13 years.
Mr. Wakely's daughter, Wendy Johnson, remembers him as a witty, wise-cracking man who expected perfection from those around him.
"He had a huge heart," she said. "He loved so much, so hard and so strongly that sometimes he got hurt."
Mr. Wakely had long dreamed of living in the Seattle area, which he discovered while touring with his father's band. But when the time came to move, his father became seriously ill with emphysema. He spent six months caring for his dying father, then remained in California 18 more months helping his mother before driving his pickup to Seattle.
During one seven-year stretch, the Johnny Wakely Band worked every weekend without a break, said Bill Garner of Federal Way, who was lead guitarist in the trio.
"Johnny had a phenomenal voice," he said. "He had quite a following — people would go from club to club with us."
When Mr. Wakely pulled away from music, he and his wife bought a travel trailer and spent much of their time at a favorite Pacific Beach camping spot.
He also is survived by his son, Robert Wakely of Johnson City, Tenn.; stepdaughter, Tammy Nelson; sisters Deanna Mayer, Lindalee Wakely and Carol Carowan; and six grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Shoreline Free Methodist Church, 510 N.E. 175th St.
Donations may be made to the Hepatitis Foundation International, 30 Sunrise Terrace, Cedar Grove, NJ 07009. Memories may be posted on the Web site www.evergreen-washelli.com.
Diane Brooks can be reached at 206-464-2567 or email@example.com.