Jim Reeves - Biography
By J Poet
Jim Reeves, with the help of producer Chet Atkins, helped create The Nashville Sound and became one of country music’s first crossover artists, one of the first country artists to appear on American Bandstand. He only recorded briefly – from 1949 to 1964 – before dying in a plane crash, but his smooth baritone and easy-going manner, had a lasting impact on fans around the world. He sold millions of records in Europe, Asia and Africa and King Sunny Adé added the pedal steel guitar to his band because he fell in love with the instrument when he heard it on Reeves’ early records. Reeves sold more albums and singles since his death than he did when he was alive, and his best tunes have been endlessly repackaged keeping him on the country charts until 1984. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998.
Reeves was born in Texas in 1923, one of nine children and raised by his mother after his father’s early death. Reeves started playing guitar and singing while in grammar school and got his first professional gig at 12, when he joined a band that got regular work on KRMD a station in Shreveport, Louisiana. He entertained his friends at Carthage High School, but baseball was his first love. He won a baseball scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin where me majored in Speech. The Saint Louis Cardinals signed him after graduation and sent him to a farm team, where a leg injury put and end to his sports career.
With his deep baritone, he was a natural for radio, and landed a job as a DJ at KGRI in Henderson, Texas. He began singing locally, joined the backing band of Moon Mullican and got signed by Macy Records where he made a couple of unsuccessful singles. He moved to another DJ gig at KWKH Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the Louisiana hayride. According to legend, one night a famous singer failed to show up, some say it was hank Williams – and Reeves went on to fill the space. His impromptu gig went over so well he was made a regular on the program. Fabor Robison, head of Abbott Records, was also in the audience and signed Reeves to a contract. His second single for Abbott, “Mexican Joe,” hit #1 on the country charts and went gold. He followed it with “Bimbo,” another #1 gold hit, “I Love You” a duet with Ginny Wright that landed at #3 and “Drinking Tequila” another Top 10 hit. These tunes were collected on one of his first RCA albums Bimbo (1957 RCA).
In 1955, RCA signed Reeves to a ten-year deal, and with the muscle of a major label behind him, his career took off. His early records were honky tonk style songs, including “Yonder Comes a Sucker”, his first big hit for RCA. Early albums like Singing Down the Lane (1956 RCA) and Jim Reeves (1957 RCA) blended country and pop tunes, but when “Four Walls” went gold and hit #11 on the pop charts after scoring a #1 country hit, Reeves and RCA went after the crossover audience with a series of lushly produced albums that were as pop as country. Girls I Have Known (1956 RCA), Songs to Warm Your Heart (1959 RCA), He’ll Have to Go (1960 RCA), which included the pop and country chart topping title tune which went gold, The Intimate Jim Reeves (1960 RCA) with the self penned tearjerker “I’m Getting’ Better” all sound as good today as when they were cut.
Reeves toured constantly in the US, Europe and Africa. He was a superstar in South Africa and made a film there, Kimberly Jim (1962), the story of two American con artists who go to South Africa to swindle diamond miners out of their heard earned baubles. He started dressing in sports coats and tuxedos to court the pop market, appeared on American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Steve Allen Show and The Jimmy Dean Show. He had his own variety show on WSM, home of the Opry, which ABC picked up for national distribution.
In the early 60s, reeves turned out dozens of quality albums including Tall Tales and Short Tempers (1961 RCA) an album of country standards and folk songs, The Country Side of Jim Reeves (1962 RCA, 1982 RCA) which includes “Blue Side of Lonesome” one of his best broken hearted ballads, Gentleman Jim (1963 RCA), Good ‘n’ Country (1963 RCA, 1996 RCA), Moonlight and Roses (1964 RCA) and Have I Told You Lately (1964 RCA). On July 31, 1964, Reeves, an amateur pilot was flying back to Nashville, when his plane vanished from the radar screen. The wreckage of the aircraft was found two days later, Reeves and his manager Dean Manuel were dead.
His death didn’t slow down his recording career or his sales, however. His widow, Mary Reeves, supervised the release of the hundreds of recordings he’d left behind. Some of his vocals were dubbed over more contemporary backing tracks. In 1966 “Distant Drums” went to #1 on the British charts and stayed there for five weeks, beating out the Beatles and the Stones. Posthumous collections include The Blue Side of Lonesome (1967 RCA) a collection of his most poignant songs of heartache, A Touch of Sadness (1968 RCA), Am I That Easy to Forget (1973 RCA) and Don’t Let Me Cross Over (1979 RCA). There are endless Best of collections, many featuring the same songs, so check carefully before buying.