They began as the Orbits in Toledo in 1957. Led by saxophonist Johnny Paris (born John Pocisk, 1940, Walbridge, Ohio, died 1 May 2006, Ann Arbor, Michigan), they were school friends who played on a few recordings behind Mack Vickery, a local rockabilly singer.
They signed with Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik of Twirl Records, which led to national engagements in 1959. Johnny and the Hurricanes recorded “Crossfire” in a vacant cinema to provide echo. It became a nationwide U.S. hit, and ranked No. 23 in the U.S. chart in the summer of 1959.
Johnny and the Hurricanes followed with “Red River Rock”, an instrumental version of “Red River Valley“, on Warwick Records, that became a Top Ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic (No. 5 in the U.S., No. 3 in the UK), and sold over a million copies. The musicians in the band then were Paris on saxophone, Paul Tesluk on a Hammond Chord organ, Dave Yorko on guitar, Lionel “Butch” Mattice on bass, and Bill “Little Bo” Savich on drums.
They specialised in versions of old tunes with a rock and roll beat. They chose these songs because they were well recognized and easier to accept with the beat. Tunes were credited to ‘King, Mack’ and usually one other name: King and Mack were in fact pseudonyms for Harry Balk and Irving Micahnik, the band’s managers In 1960, they recorded the United States Army bugle call, “Reveille“, as “Reveille Rock”, and turned “Blue Tail Fly” into “Beatnik Fly”. Both tunes made the Top 40 achieving number 15 and 25 respectively. The band also recorded “Down Yonder” for Big Top Records. In the same year, they recorded “When The Saints Go Marching In” as “Revival”, but it ranked in the charts for just one week, peaking at No. 97. The record was flipped over in the UK, where “Rocking Goose” reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart.
The band developed a following in Europe. In 1962, they played at the Star-Club in Hamburg, where the Beatles, then a little-known band, served as an opening act. Johnny and the Hurricanes cut records until 1965, with “Old Smokie” (their cover of “On Top of Old Smokey”), and an original tune, “Traffic Jam”, both on Big Top Records, being their last releases to chart in America. Johnny Paris, the only constant member of the band, continued to tour with his Hurricanes in Europe and the United States until his death. He had an uncle, a realtor, in Rossford, Ohio, Johnny’s home town, who owned a building on the main street and offered Johnny’s first wife, Sharon Venier-Pocisk, space for an antique shop. When not on the road he helped out with the antique shop and vending machine business as payment for the store front for his first wife.
Johnny Paris and his band toured Europe occasionally until the end of 2005. He died on 1 May 2006 at the University Clinic of Ann Arbour, Michigan, of hospital-borne infections after an operation. Paris’s second wife and widow, the German journalist and novelist Sonja Reuter Paris, took over his business (Atila Records, Sirius 1 Music and Johnny and the Hurricanes Incorporated) and the rights to his songs and trademarks. Paris claimed that over 300 musicians played in the band in its fifty-year existence.
The band inspired the song “Johnny and the Hurricanes” on the album How I Learned to Love the Bootboys, by the band the Auteurs. They were also name checked in the Kinks‘ 1973 song “One of the Survivors”, and in “Bridge in Time” on the 1990 Burton Cummings album Plus Signs.