JOHNNY HODGES has spent a lifetime playing piano in theme parks and pizza parlors, churches and cathouses, nightclubs and bars, accompanying silent movies, and in movies and TV shows. Johnny began his musical career on a high note when, at the age of 10, he performed Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” on piano on KNBC radio in Los Angeles – his first professional gig. Fascinated by Jo Ann Castle’s pianistics on the Lawrence Welk show, he began arranging tunes in the ragtime style. He expanded his knowledge and understanding of blues, jazz and honky-tonk by soaking up everything from the piano playing at Shakey’s pizza parlors to the Dixieland of Disneyland’s Firehouse Five plus Two. In the mid-’60s, while studying theater and music at Cal State Fullerton and Fullerton College, he landed a piano-playing job at Smilin’ Sam’s pizza parlor on nearby State College Blvd.
In the service during the next couple of years, Johnny was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, and regularly played ragtime and Stride piano at two famed nightclubs, Storyville and Cave 54. Once back at home in the U.S., Johnny bought a camper and lived the life of an itinerant ragtime pianist – constantly on the move and bringing great American piano music to every corner of the U.S. The ’70s brought a steady stream of piano-playing work for Hollywood’s movie and TV industries. In 1981, while visiting with pianist friend Judy Carmichael at Disneyland, Johnny was invited by Judy to play the piano. He wound up being hired and playing there for 25 years, earning the nickname Hot Fingers. He’s been retired since 2006 but remains a constant advocate of music education, encouraging young pianists to play for audiences. After playing at various OCRS musicales throughout this past year, he’s happy to be making his RagFest debut.