Johnny Preston – Running Bear, is a teenage tragedy song written by Jiles Perry Richardson (a.k.a. The Big Bopper) and sung most famously by Johnny Preston in 1959. The 1959 recording featured background vocals by Richardson, George Jones, and the session’s producer Bill Hall, who provided the “Indian chanting” of “uga-uga” during the three verses, as well as the “Indian war cries” at the start and end of the record. It was No. 1 for three weeks in January 1960 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart and New Zealand in 1960. Coincidentally, “Running Bear” was immediately preceded in the Hot 100 No. 1 position by Marty Robbins’ “El Paso”, another song in which the protagonist dies. Billboard ranked “Running Bear” as the No. 4 song of 1960.
Richardson was a friend of Preston and offered “Running Bear” to him after hearing him perform in a club. Preston recorded the song at the Gold Star Studios in Houston, Texas, several months after Richardson’s death in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Preston was signed to Mercury Records, and “Running Bear” was released in August 1959.
Johnny Preston – Running Bear
B-side “My Heart Knows”
Released August 1959
Recorded May 21, 1959
Studio Gold Star Studios, Houston, TX
Songwriter(s) J. P. Richardson
Producer(s) Bill Hall
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Sonny James enjoyed an unprecedented streak of success with his commercially released singles, many of them covers of previous pop hits.