Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Jody Reynolds died this past week of liver cancer in Palm Desert, California. He was 75. His most famous record, and sole Top 10 hit, "Endless Sleep," not only added a strange evocative sound to the typical Rockabilly rave-up of the day -- Reynolds differentiated himself from many of the era’s rockabilly artists with his disquieting, haunting melodies -- but was a forerunner in the long line of melodramatic teen hit records and a genre sometimes known as “teardrop rock."
Born in Denver on Dec. 3, 1932 as Ralph Joseph Reynolds, his family soon moved to Oklahoma, where he grew up listening to country music and Western swing acts such as Eddy Arnold and Bob Wills, eventually picking up the guitar as a teenager. In 1956 while performing in Yuma, Arizona, Reynolds wrote the song “Endless Sleep” after listening to Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" five times in a row on a jukebox. Two years later Reynolds met a music publisher named Herb Montei who forwarded the demo version to the Los Angeles based label Demon Records. Demon liked the demo but executives insisted on Reynolds tacking on a more uplifting end to the song; the revised finale has the suicidal girl saved from drowning by her guilt ridden beau. Another peculiar bit of history about “Endless Sleep” -- writing credits for the song went to Jody Reynolds and Dolores Nance, but according to Reynolds, Nance was a fictitious person created by the Demon Records to make it appear that there was songwriting team.
By the summer of 1958 “Endless Sleep” became a huge national and international hit, peaking at No. 5 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart, no doubt opening the door for several other doomed tales of love-death tinged million selling pop hits including Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel," Ray Peterson's "Tell Laura I Love Her," Dickey Lee's "Patches" and the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," to name but a few. Reynolds' next single was not as successful. “Fire of Love” peaked at number 66 on the Billboard charts. It would be his last charting single. Still, he continued to record and tour into the 1970’s for several labels including Smash, Brent and Pulsar Records. His typically anomalous 1963 recording, and excellent single, on Titan Records, "Stranger in the Mirror" / "Requiem for Love" featured a very young Bobbie Gentry (“Ode to Billie Joe”) in her debut. Eventually Reynolds opened a music store in Palm Springs and worked as a real estate agent. He was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1999.His songs have been covered by artists as varied as Marty Wilde (who had a huge hit in England with “Endless Sleep”), Hank Williams, Jr., John Fogerty, Marc Bolan, Billy Idol, The Nomads, The Judds, MC5, Southern Culture on the Skids, and the Gun Club.
Jody Reynolds is survived by his wife of 47 years, Judy, and two children, one grandchild and one great-grandchild.