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James Travis "Jim" Reeves (August 20, 1923 – July 31, 1964) was an American country and popular music singer-songwriter. A progenitor of the smooth “Nashville sound,” Jim is the only artist in the history of recorded music to have scored 34 charted hits after his death, including 17 top tens, (six of which went No. 1).
Reeves was born on a farm near the small east Texas community of Galloway, to an impoverished family of sharecroppers. His father, Thomas, died when Jim was only ten months old, and his mother, Beulah, raised her brood of eight children by herself. Even at an early age, Jim showed a musical bent, and traded a bushel of pears for a beat-up guitar he saw laying in a neighbor’s yard. A black woman working in the nearby fields picking cotton heard “Travis” sing, and said “that boy’s done been to heaven and stolen the voice of an angel. Pretty soon he’ll be in ‘Shreesport’ singin’ on the radio.” By age 9, he was. As a star pitcher for the Carthage High School Bulldogs, Jim won an athletic scholarship to the University of Texas in 1942, but did not attend. He also procrastinated until early 1944 before accepting an offer to play semi-professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals’ “farm team” in the minor leagues. As a right-handed pitcher he was either very good or very bad on the mound, and was traded to a succession of teams before a leg injury in 1947 ended his baseball career.
Having gotten married to a girl named Mary White in September 1947, Jim needed to find work. So he auditioned for a job as an announcer at the small, upstart station KGRI in Henderson, Texas, where he remained for five years. Besides playing other people’s records, Jim would sing on a 15-minute daily show with a couple of his station colleagues, among them Al Courtney — with whom Reeves co-wrote songs. Finally, in 1949, Jim spent his life savings to finance some recordings which were released on the small Macy’s label, based in Houston. His first single — “My Heart’s Like A Welcome Mat” — was a Reeves/Courtney composition.
By early 1952, Jim Reeves decided he wanted to sing full time, so accepted an offer to lead the 10-piece “house band” at the famed Reo Palm Isle, a big nightclub near Longview, Texas. Reeves sang a mix of pop, country, Big Band and even jazz numbers, and honed his polished stage persona. While there, he was heard by a man from Hollywood, Fabor Robison, who signed him to the small Abbott Records based in California. Around the same time — upon his third audition — Reeves won a spot as a staff announcer on the 50,000-watt powerhouse station KWKH, in Shreveport, Louisiana, home of the “Louisiana Hayride.” Initially, the show’s producer, Horace Logan, wouldn’t let Jim sing, disparaging his abilities. But then one night — according to Reeves’ oft-repeated account — Hank Williams didn’t show up, so Jim was asked to fill his spot. Though some have tried to debunk this story, Jim’s arrival at KWKH did coincide with the return of Williams in the Fall of 1952, and Hank did indeed fail to appear on some nights he had been scheduled to perform while Jim was emceeing.
With 1953’s “Mexican Joe,” a jaunty, happy tune that became “song of the year,” Reeves hedged his bets and took a leave of absence from KWKH before hitting the road with a caravan of other Abbott stars like Ginny Wright, Jim Ed and Maxine Brown, Shirley Bates and Tom Tall.
As Larry Jordan revealed in his book, “Jim Reeves: His Untold Story,” in 1954 Jim Reeves met a woman named Bea Terry, a Hollywood publicist who became a mentor and romantic interest. She got him booked on his first USO tour to Europe over the holidays in late 1954/early 1955, along with actor Forest Tucker and Kathryn Grant (the future Mrs. Bing Crosby). Ms. Terry also helped Reeves get signed by Steve Sholes to a contract with RCA Victor, and become a member of the Grand Ole Opry in late ’55, after which he moved to Nashville. Jim and his band, initially called the Wagonmasters, made extensive tours of the U.S. and Canada, traveling by car with a rooftop rack and towing a trailer.
Though Jim had long complained about being forced by Fabor Robison to sing in a higher key than was comfortable for his basso-profundo voice, even after moving to RCA, Reeves continued to sing high-pitched, fast-paced novelty numbers. When his first Victor singles faltered, Bea Terry sat him down one day in early 1956 and told him his singing was all wrong. Instead of singing so forcefully, she urged him to sing in the studio the way he sang to her — softly and intimately, in order to bring out the natural resonance of his rich baritone voice. Reeves had recently written a song for Bea called “Am I Losing You,” so as a favor to Terry, he recorded the song her way — closer to the microphone and in a crooning style. It was a hit, and Reeves confided to friends that Bea “taught me how to sing on records.” This new style was further exemplified by 1957’s big hit, “Four Walls.” Released while Reeves was on another European tour, it sold 300,000 copies in its first week, went to No. 1 on the U.S. country charts and crossed over to the pop charts, hitting No. 11. Later that year, Bea Terry got Jim signed to host a daily, one-hour pop music radio show on the ABN network, which included the Anita Kerr Singers and a 22-piece orchestra lead by Owen Bradley. The program made its debut in October ’57 on 334 stations and lasted for 6 months. Afterward, Reeves guested on the TV shows of Patti Page, Georgia Gibbs, and Lawrence Welk, and even subbed as the summer replacement for Red Foley on “Ozark Jubilee” in 1958.
Jim Reeves became one of RCA’s best-selling artists, not only in the U.S. but abroad. He had a career total of over 80 charted songs and released numerous successful albums.
Reeves scored his biggest hit with the Joe and Audrey Allison composition, "He'll Have to Go,” which hit No. 1 in February 1960, where it remained for 14 weeks, selling 3 million copies. By then Jim had renamed his band the Blue Boys, bought a bus, and increased his. His wife, Mary, helped run the couple’s business interests, which included song publishing companies and KGRI, which Reeves had by then bought.
In August 1962, Jim and his band flew to South Africa, where Reeves’ records had become more popular than those of Elvis Presley. Accompanied by Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer, Reeves was mobbed by fans at the Johannesburg airport. At the hotel, a crowd of thousands tore Jim’s clothing in a scene so frenzied the singer feared for his life. In ten days, he played to over 60,000 people. In advance of his trip, Jim had recorded some songs in the Afrikaans language, and when he sang them on stage — as he did one cold night in a soccer stadium as barrels blazed to keep the fans warm — the crowd went wild. Mary Reeves recalled that Jim “almost caused an international incident” when he insisted on singing to black as well as white audiences in the midst of that country’s apartheid.
That October, largely as a result of requests from South African fans, Jim recorded an album of Christmas favorites. Released in that country yet that year, it was not available in the U.S. until Christmas 1963. “Twelve Songs of Christmas” has remained a perennial favorite.
In March 1963, Jim Reeves left with his band for South Africa, where he starred in a movie called “Kimberley Jim.” Directed and written by Emil Nofal, upon its debut it grossed more money than “Ben Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” combined, in some parts of the world.
In May of 1963, Jim and the Blue Boys flew to Europe for a three-week tour of Ireland, interrupted by five days in England playing U.S. military bases (June 10-15). As Larry Jordan reports, before his departure Reeves had secured contractual assurances from British promoter Philip Solomon that an in-tune piano would be furnished at all venues, and the singer would not be responsible for any transportation snafus. As it turned out, however, the tour was problem-plagued from the start. The singer had been booked at three venues a night — often many miles apart — creating a logistical nightmare. Some shows didn’t get underway until the wee hours of the morning, by which time overflow crowds were intoxicated and unruly. Pianos were often unplayable. Reeves soldiered on, and earned mostly rave reviews in the Irish press for his superb vocalizing, but in a handful of instances he was forced to cut his shows short or cancel . As for his appearance at St. Mary’s Hall at Portadown on June 17, 1963, the Portadown Times observed, “Jim Reeves, currently billed as the world’s number one country and western singer, certainly lived up to this extravagant tag by a sparkling performance. Before a capacity audience, Reeves and his group, the Blue Boys, turned in a show that for sheer expertise, vivacity and professionalism created a niche in entertainment history.”
Jim’s wife, Mary, accompanied him on the trip to Ireland and they kissed the Blarney Stone and dined at Bunratty Castle, County Clare.
The single "Welcome to My World" b/w "Juanita" was released by RCA Victor during June 1963 and earned Jim a No. 1 record while he was there. Reeves had 11 songs on the Irish charts in a five year period, and was one of the most popular artists in that country.
Throughout 1963, Mr. Reeves continued to score hits on music charts worldwide, and released an album called “The International Jim Reeves.” By the end of the year, however, Jim and RCA had reached an impasse. The singer was justifiably unhappy about a lack of promotion from the label. After wrapping up recording in December 1963 for what later became the “Moonlight and Roses” LP, Reeves boycotted sessions for the next five months, refusing to return to the studio until his demands were met. This panicked the label because by that point, Jim Reeves was one of its biggest stars. While U.S. sales were in decline among artists, Jim was doing something his label mates weren’t: selling records around the world. Finally, Jim signed a new, five-year contract and went back into the studio to cut some new singles and work on an album that was tentatively titled “This Is It,” based on a song by Cindy Walker.
In April 1964, Jim made his last trip to Europe, accompanied by Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare and the Anita Kerr Singers. For three weeks, the stars played concerts in Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Belgium.
One highlight of the trip is when Jim and the other Americans did two shows at the sports arena Njårdhallen, in Oslo on April 16, 1964 . The second of these was taped by the Norwegian TV network and displays the handsome Mr. Reeves at his best. The audience — who dressed up for the occasion — gazed in rapt attention as Jim caressed the microphone with his velvet tones. A videotape of this concert has been replayed on Norwegian television over the years, but by far the best commercial release of it (along with a documentary), appears on “The Jim Reeves Anthology” DVD (H&H/VoiceMasters), which features 22 live video performances by Jim.
Reeves’s first success in Norway, "He'll Have to Go", reached No. 1 and stayed on the chart for 29 weeks. "I Love You Because" was his biggest hit in Norway, scoring No. 1 during 1964 and remaining on the chart for 39 weeks. His albums spent 696 weeks in the Norwegian Top 20 chart.
Back home in Nashville, Jim resolved to take things easier. He was weary of the road and wanted to semi-retire to a ranch in Texas.
In June 1964 Jim cut some demos of songs he had bought for $500 from his east Texas buddy, Al Courtney, who was down on his luck. Among these were “Deep Dark Water,” “Crying Is My Favorite Mood,” and “He Will.”
The last time Jim entered the RCA studio was on July 2, 1964. With a full complement of strings, and even a trombone, Reeves’ voice never sounded better. Like a fine wine, he had improved with age. When songwriter Hank Cochran dropped by with a long face, and Reeves found out Hank had gotten divorced that day, he decided to cheer up his friend by cutting an impromptu version of Hank’s song, “Make the World Go Away.” Anita Kerr sat down and wrote out an on-the-spot arrangement for the strings, and Jim stepped up to the microphone and nailed the song on the first “take.” His incomparably thick, rich baritone, perfect pitch and careful phrasing make his the definitive version of this country classic. Jim also cut the eerily prophetic, self-penned “Is It Really Over?”
After a few hours’ rest, Reeves returned to the studio to master what turned out to be his final songs. Among them were Cindy Walker’s “In The Misty Moonlight” and another Walker selection — the last he ever mastered — the hauntingly beautiful “Maureen,” for his Irish fans.
Sometime that summer Jim also did a demo on an autobiographical song called “I’m A Hit Again,” singing to the accompaniment of his own guitar in his home studio. This tape was lost for years before being discovered by Larry Jordan, who overdubbed and released it on his VoiceMasters label.
On July 31, 1964, Reeves and his piano player Dean Manuel, were en route home to Nashville from a business trip to Batesville, Arkansas with Jim at the controls of a Beechcraft Debonair single-engine aircraft. Over the years, much unfounded speculation and misinformation has been circulated about the events of that day, but author Larry Jordan has established through meticulous research what actually happened. As a tape of a conversation by radio between the Nashville control tower and pilot Reeves demonstrated, he had been informed of a small area of precipitation several miles ahead and in his flight path. The controller had further advised Jim that a right turn would keep him clear of the rain area. Jim said he could see the rain but thought his present heading would take him to the right of it. As he flew in a northeasterly direction and crossed Franklin Road (a north/south artery) near Nashville, the rain intensified. Reeves notified the tower that he had lost his visual references and could not proceed under visual flight rules. The controller told him he should be clear of the rain in about a mile. When the tower checked with the singer about 30 seconds later to inquire if he had cleared the rain area, Reeves responded “nega…” and then all contact was lost. Apparently, instead of making a right turn, Jim turned left — presumably to regain sight of Franklin Road and attempt to follow it to the airport. But in so doing, he flew even further into the storm.
Jordan writes that according to the long-lost tower tape and accident report, Reeves ran into the heavy rain at 4:51 p.m. and crashed only a minute later, at 4:52 p.m. Contrary to reports he was flying upside down and didn’t know it, Jordan cites ground witnesses who refute this, and forensics evidence that does as well.
Despite the fact that the Nashville airport knew from radar precisely where the plane went down, ground searchers were inexplicably misdirected to an area across Franklin Road, in the area of Radnor Lake. It took over 2000 ground searchers (including from the country music fraternity), and 12 aircraft from Friday afternoon, July 31, 1964 until Sunday noon, August 2, 1964 to locate the wreckage. It was found in a small woods just south of a big high voltage power grid and exactly where airport officials had said it was all along.
After funeral services in Nashville, the Governor of Tennessee dispatched a National Guard plane to transport Reeves’ remains to his home area of Panola County, Texas, where the singer was buried in a two-acre rural setting. Later, Mary Reeves erected a life-sized marble statute of Jim holding his guitar. Over the years, tens of thousands of Reeves fans from around the world have made the pilgrimage to Jim’s final resting place. Inscribed on the monument were some words that Jim had written out longhand only a few days before his death:
“If I, a lowly singer, dry one tear
Or soothe one human heart in pain
Then my homely verse to God is dear,
And not one stanza has been sung in vain.”
Shortly after Jim’s passing, his widow Mary flew to New York and met with RCA executives and convinced them to follow the game plan that the fatalistic Jim Reeves himself had laid out in the event of his death, which was to continue to ration his unissued tracks as if he was still alive, rather than flood the market. Older tunes were also re-released with new accompaniment to give them fresh appeal. The formula kept Jim Reeves on the charts for another 20 years.
In 1966, Jim’s “Distant Drums” went to No. 1 on the British singles chart and stayed there for five weeks, besting competition from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Jim’s song — which he recorded as a demo solely for its composer, Cindy Walker, but which RCA had overdubbed — remained on the UK charts for 45 weeks and was even named Song of the Year in the UK. Reeves became the first American artist to receive this accolade.
In 1967, Jim was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1980, Mary Reeves approached Patsy Cline’s producer, Owen Bradley, with the idea of taking tracks that both Patsy and Jim had recorded separately, and combining them to form posthumous “duets.” As a result, Cline and Reeves shared two Top Ten hits with “Have You Ever Been Lonely” and “I Fall To Pieces.”
In December 1980, Mary Reeves unveiled plans to establish the Jim Reeves Museum in a Nashville mansion built in 1794 during George Washington’s time. Located on 15 acres, it housed Jim’s personal artifacts, record awards, photos, touring bus and the equipment he had used at KGRI.
Unfortunately, by 1996, Mary fell ill and her second husband got power of attorney to sell the Reeves assets to a carnival operator who turned out to be a convicted bank fraud felon who, along with his wife, had received Presidential pardons from Bill Clinton. Mary died in 1999 and money from her and Jim’s estates is still the subject of litigation.
Reeves' “Definitive Collection” scored No. 21 in the UK album charts during July 2003, and “Memories are Made of This” hit No. 35 during July 2004.
Since 2003, the U.S.-based VoiceMasters has issued more than 80 previously unreleased Reeves recordings, including new songs as well as newly overdubbed material.
A compilation CD by Sony, “The Very Best of Jim Reeves,” scored No. 7 in the UK during late June 2009.
The Academy of Country Music (ACM) still bestows the Jim Reeves International Award. Recent winners include Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, and Alan Jackson
Reeves has many fans in both India and Sri Lanka, and is probably the all-time most popular English language singer in there. Thailand is inexplicably a big market for Reeves, as are Australia/New Zealand and South Africa, where he remains a national idol.
During the course of my research for my book ‘The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro’, I came across Larry Jordan who was in the middle of writing the definitive story of the singer Jim Reeves. Over the years I am happy to say I’ve become a friend and I have to say his work on the new book on Jim’s life is amazing. It is similar to mine in that it is full of detail, photos and eye-opening stories, some which have mystified many people over the years. This is an eye-opener and for anyone that is a fan of the greatly missed performer, it is a must.
Larry Jordan survived a volley of hate mail, death threats and daily harassment from people determined to put a stop to the book, worrying that it would tarnish the memory of their beloved idol but the author stayed determined to finish the project. Since its release those same people have changed their tune and commended the author in bringing so many new facts to the table.
Velvet-voiced Jim Reeves was not only one of the world's most popular (and enduring) recording stars, he was one of the most fascinating. Now, in this truly intimate and scrupulously well-researched biography, called “Jim Reeves: His Untold Story,” author Larry Jordan sets the record straight, dispelling rumors and misinformation that have swirled around Reeves for decades. More than 13 years in the writing, this riveting, 672-page book is based on hundreds of interviews with the people who knew Jim best, as well as his personal diaries and private correspondence. Jordan’s brisk, though richly detailed narrative style tells an engrossing story, taking you virtually day by day through Jim’s life. There are many intriguing — even explosive — revelations here, in a portrait that is honest, though sometimes painful; poignant, yet full of good humor. More than 150 rare photos depict the private as well as public side of the unforgettable “Gentleman Jim.”
Country Music People magazine in the UK says “rarely can a book have been as eagerly awaited as Larry Jordan’s ‘Jim Reeves: His Untold Story...’” Billboard reports “Though the author is a Reeves fan, he didn’t put the singer on a pedestal... The book is a balanced account of Reeves’ life and career...” The chairman of the Nashville-based Belmont Award, says “I believe this book could be in the major leagues with [Pulitzer Prize winners]. It is an excellent biography...” Jordan is the winner of a prestigious Hollywood Book Award, and an Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC).
(There is an unconfirmed anecdote from a band member who claims Matt Monro stopped by a concert being done by Jim Reeves during the latter’s tour of military bases in England in the spring of 1963. It is said that the two enjoyed meeting each other, and both singers were known to have stayed at the Milverton Lodge around the same time.)
“Jim Reeves: The New Recordings,” is a new 2-CD (144-minute) documentary (produced in 2012) that is based on Larry Jordan’s award-winning book (“Jim Reeves: His Untold Story.”) It features more than 42 songs by Jim, including 20 NEW overdubs of RCA masters fans have not heard before, 11 overdubs of NEW songs and alternate versions that made their debut on Jordan’s indie VoiceMasters label in recent years (but are now hard to get and/or of print), revealing NEW interviews with Mr. Reeves that are making their debut here, NEW in-concert performances by Jim that have never been previously available, NEW material from Reeves’ long-lost network radio show, and even excerpts from an audio diary Jim recorded on his bus. The documentary tells the compelling story of Jim Reeves’ evolution from east Texas farm boy to international singing star, and is narrated by the mellifluous Dan Hurst, with insightful commentary by author Larry Jordan. The highlight of this set is that some of Jim’s best RCA studio tracks have been stripped down to the bare essentials, his voice digitally remastered for stunning clarity, and then combined with tasteful new instrumentation — consistent with his own preferences — using some of the most talented singers and musicians in the U.S. and Europe, to give them a sound as “current” as today. You won’t believe your ears. This is not just some repackaging of the same old tracks. This is beautiful new music! A total of 86 tracks.
The book is $29.95 US; the 2-CD set only $24.95; or the COMBO (book and CD set) $49.95 and can be ordered using credit card or PayPal at: http://www.jimreevesbook.com