James Travis Reeves (August 20, 1923 – July 31, 1964) was an American country and popular music singer-songwriter. With records charting from the 1950s to the 1980s, he became well known as a practitioner of the Nashville Sound. Known as "Gentleman Jim", his songs continued to chart for years after his death in a plane crash. He is a member of both the Country Music and Texas Country Music Halls of Fame.
|Birth name||James Travis Reeves|
|Also known as||Gentleman Jim|
|Born||August 20, 1923|
Galloway, Texas, U.S.
|Died||July 31, 1964 (aged 40)|
Davidson County, Tennessee, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Singer-songwriter, musician, actor|
|Labels||RCA Victor, London, Fabor, Macy, Abbott|
Early life and educationEdit
Reeves was born at home in Galloway, Texas, a small rural community near Carthage. He was the youngest of eight children born to Mary Beulah Adams Reeves (1884-1980) and Thomas Middleton Reeves (1882-1924). He was known as Travis during his childhood years. Winning an athletic scholarship to the University of Texas, he enrolled to study speech and drama but quit after only six weeks to work in the shipyards in Houston. Soon he resumed baseball, playing in the semi-professional leagues before contracting with the St. Louis Cardinals "farm" team during 1944 as a right-handed pitcher. He played for the minor leagues for three years before severing his sciatic nerve while pitching, which ended his athletic career.
Reeves' initial efforts to pursue a baseball career were sporadic, possibly due to his uncertainty as to whether he would be drafted into the military as World War II enveloped the United States. On March 9, 1943, he reported to the Army Induction Center in Tyler, Texas for his preliminary physical examination. However, he failed the exam (probably due to a heart irregularity), and on 4 August 1943 an official letter declared his 4-F draft status. Reeves began to work as a radio announcer and sang live between songs. During the late 1940s, he was contracted with a couple of small Texas-based recording companies, but without success. Reeves at this point was influenced by early country and western swing artists including Jimmie Rodgers and Moon Mullican, as well as popular singers Bing Crosby, Eddy Arnold and Frank Sinatra. In the late 1940s, Reeves joined Moon Mullican's band, and as a solo artist, Reeves recorded Mullican-style songs including "Each Beat of my Heart" and "My Heart's Like a Welcome Mat" in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
During these years, Reeves took a job as an announcer for KWKH-AM in Shreveport, Louisiana, then the home of the popular radio program Louisiana Hayride. According to former Hayride master of ceremonies Frank Page, who had introduced Elvis Presley on the program in 1954, singer Sleepy LaBeef was late for a performance, and Reeves was asked to substitute. (Other accounts—including that of Reeves himself, in an interview on the RCA Victor album Yours Sincerely—name Hank Williams as the absentee.)
Initial success in the 1950sEdit
Jim Reeves was a country music singer who had success early on in his career, first with the song "Mexican Joe" in 1953 for Abbott Records. Other hits followed, such as "I Love You" (a duet with Ginny Wright), and "Bimbo" which reached number one on the U.S. country charts in 1954. In addition to those early hits, Reeves recorded many other songs for Fabor Records and Abbott Records. In 1954, Abbott Records released a 45 single with "Bimbo" on side-A which hit number one and featured Little Joe Hunt of the Arkansas Walk of Fame. Jim Reeves and Little Joe Hunt met at the Louisiana Hayride, which was Louisiana's equivalent to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. After performing at the Hayride in Shreveport, Reeves and Hunt traveled and performed together for several years in the dance halls and clubs of East Texas and rural Arkansas. Reeves became the headliner with Hunt as the backup performer. Due to his growing popularity, Reeves went on to release his first album in November 1955, Jim Reeves Sings (Abbott 5001), which proved to be one of Abbott Records' few album releases. Reeves' star was on the rise because he had already been signed to a 10-year recording contract with RCA Victor by Steve Sholes. Sholes went on to produce some of Reeves' first recordings at RCA Victor. Sholes signed another performer from the Louisiana Hayride that same year (1955), Elvis Presley. Most of the talented performers of the 1950s such as Reeves, Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Ed Brown, Maxine Brown, the Wilburn Brothers, and Little Joe Hunt got their start at the Louisiana Hayride. In addition to the Hayride, Jim Reeves joined the Grand Ole Opry, also in 1955. Reeves also made his first appearance on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee in 1955. He was such a hit with the fans that he was invited to act as fill-in host from May thru July 1958 on the popular program, Ozark Jubilee.
From his earliest recordings with RCA Victor, Reeves relied on the loud, East Texas style, which was considered standard for country and western performers of that time, but he developed a new style of singing over the course of his career. He said, "One of these days.....I'm gonna sing like I want to sing!" So, he decreased his volume and used the lower registers of his singing voice, with his lips nearly touching the microphone. Amid protests from RCA, but with the endorsement of his producer Chet Atkins, Reeves used this new style in a 1957 recording, a demonstration song of lost love that had originally been intended for a female voice. It was titled "Four Walls", which not only scored number one on the country music charts, but also scored number 11 on the popular music charts, as well. This recording marked his transition from novelty songs to serious country-pop music, and according to one source, "established Reeves as a country balladeer". "Four Walls" and "He'll Have to Go" (1959) defined Reeves' style.
Reeves was instrumental in creating a new style of country music that used violins and lusher background arrangements that soon became known as the Nashville Sound. This new sound was able to cross genres, which made Reeves even more popular as a recording artist.
Reeves became known as a crooner because of his light yet rich baritone voice. Because of his vocal style, he was also considered a talented artist because of his versatility in crossing the music charts. He appealed to audiences that were not necessarily country/western. His catalog of songs such as "Adios Amigo", "Welcome to My World", and "Am I Losing You?" demonstrated this appeal. Many of his Christmas songs have become perennial favorites, including "C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S", "Blue Christmas", and "An Old Christmas Card". Between 1957 and 1958, Reeves was the host of a radio show on the ABC network; this was also when he began shifting from cowboy outfits to sports jackets.
Reeves is also responsible for popularizing many gospel songs, including "We Thank Thee", "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", "Across the Bridge", and "Where We'll Never Grow Old". He was given the nickname Gentleman Jim, an apt description of his character both on stage and off.
Early 1960s and international fameEdit
Reeves scored his greatest success with the Joe Allison composition "He'll Have to Go", a success on both the popular and country music charts, which earned him a platinum record. Released during late 1959, it scored number one on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart on February 8, 1960, which it scored for 14 consecutive weeks. Country music historian Bill Malone noted that while it was in many ways a conventional country song, its arrangement and the vocal chorus "put this recording in the country-pop vein". In addition, Malone lauded Reeves' vocal styling—lowered to "its natural resonant level" to project the "caressing style that became famous"—as to why "many people refer to him as the singer with the velvet voice." In 1963, he released his Twelve Songs of Christmas album, which had the well-known songs "C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S" and "An Old Christmas Card". During 1975, RCA Victor producer Chet Atkins told interviewer Wayne Forsythe, "Jim wanted to be a tenor, but I wanted him to be a baritone... I was right, of course. After he changed his voice to that smooth, deeper sound, he was immensely popular."
Reeves' international popularity during the 1960s, surpassing his popularity in the United States at times, helped to give country music a worldwide market for the first time. According to Billboard, "Reeves’ star shone equally bright overseas in the United Kingdom, India, Germany, and even South Africa.
During the early 1960s, Reeves was more popular in South Africa than Elvis Presley, and recorded several albums in the Afrikaans language. In 1963, he toured and starred in a South African film, Kimberley Jim. In the film, he sang part of one song in Afrikaans. The film was released with a special prologue and epilogue in South African cinemas after Reeves' death, praising him as a true friend of the country. The film was produced, directed, and written by Emil Nofal. Reeves later said that he enjoyed the film-making experience and would consider devoting more of his career to this medium. The film was released in South Africa (and also in the US) in 1965 after Reeves's death.
Reeves was one of an exclusive trio of performers to have released an album there that played at the little-used 16⅔ rpm speed. This unusual format was more suited to the spoken word and was quickly discontinued for music. The only other artists known to have released such albums in South Africa were Elvis Presley and Slim Whitman.
Britain and IrelandEdit
Reeves toured Britain and Ireland during 1963, between his tours of South Africa and Europe. Reeves and the Blue Boys were in Ireland from May 30 to June 19, 1963, with a tour of US military bases from June 10 to 15, when they returned to Ireland. They performed in most counties in Ireland, though Reeves occasionally abbreviated performances because he was unhappy with the available pianos at concert venues. In a June 6, 1963 interview with Spotlight magazine, Reeves expressed his concerns about the tour schedule and the condition of the pianos, but said he was pleased with the audiences.
A press reception for him at the Shannon Shamrock Inn was organized by Tom Monaghan of Bunratty Castle, County Clare. Showband singers Maisie McDaniel and Dermot O'Brien welcomed him on May 29, 1963. A photograph appeared in the Limerick Leader on June 1, 1963. Press coverage continued from May until Reeves' arrival with a photograph of the press reception in The Irish Press. Billboard magazine in the US also reported the tour before and after. The single "Welcome to My World" with the B/W side "Juanita" was released by RCA Victor during June 1963 and bought by the distributors Irish Records Factors Ltd. This scored the record number one while Reeves was there during June.
A number of accounts of his dances were given in the local newspapers, with a good one in The Kilkenny People of his dance in the Mayfair Ballroom, where 1,700 people were present. A photograph in The Donegal Democrat had Reeves' singing in the Pavesi Ball Room on June 7, 1963, and an account of his nonappearance on stage in The Diamond, Kiltimagh, County Mayo in The Western People representing how the tour went in different areas.
He planned to record an album of popular Irish songs, and had three number-one songs in Ireland during 1963 and 1964: "Welcome to My World", "I Love You Because", and "I Won't Forget You". The last two are estimated to have sold 860,000 and 750,000, respectively, in Britain alone, excluding Ireland. Reeves had 11 songs in the Irish charts from 1962 to 1967. He recorded two Irish ballads, "Danny Boy" and "Maureen". "He'll Have to Go" was his most popular song there and was at number one and on the charts for months. He was one of the most popular recording artists in Ireland, in the first 10 after the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Cliff Richard.
He was permitted to perform in Ireland by the Irish Federation of Musicians on the condition that he share the bill with Irish show bands, becoming popular by 1963. The British Musicians' Union would not permit him to perform there, because no agreement existed for British show bands to travel to America, in exchange for the Blue Boys playing in Britain. Reeves did, however, perform for British radio and TV programmes.
Reeves played at the sports arena Njårdhallen, Oslo, on April 16, 1964, with Bobby Bare, Chet Atkins, the Blue Boys, and the Anita Kerr Singers. They performed two concerts; the second was televised and recorded by Norwegian network NRK (Norsk Rikskringkasting, the only one in Norway at the time). The complete concert, however, was not recorded, including some of Reeves' last songs. He reportedly performed "You're the Only Good Thing (That's Happened to Me)" in this section. The program has been repeated on NRK several times over the years.
His first success in Norway, "He'll Have to Go", scored number one in the top 10 and scored the chart for 29 weeks. "I Love You Because" was his greatest success in Norway, scoring number one during 1964 and on the list for 39 weeks. His albums spent 696 weeks in the Norwegian top-20 chart, making him one of the most popular music artists in the history of Norway.
Last recording sessionEdit
Reeves' last two recording sessions for RCA Victor were held July 2, 1964; they produced the songs "Make the World Go Away", "Missing You", and "Is It Really Over?" When the session ended with some time remaining on the schedule, Reeves suggested that he should record one more song. He taped "I Can't Stop Loving You", in what was to be his final RCA recording.
Reeves made one later recording, however, at the little studio in his home. In late July 1964, a few days before his death, Reeves recorded "I'm a Hit Again", using just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment. That recording was never officially released by RCA Victor (because it was a home recording not owned by the label), but appeared during 2003 as part of a collection of previously unissued Reeves songs released on the VoiceMasters label.
On July 31, 1964, Reeves and his business partner and manager Dean Manuel (also the pianist of Reeves's backing group, the Blue Boys) left Batesville, Arkansas, en route to Nashville in a single-engine Beechcraft Debonair aircraft, N8972M, with Reeves at the controls. The two had secured a deal on some real estate.
While flying over Brentwood, Tennessee, they encountered a violent thunderstorm. A subsequent investigation showed that the small airplane had become caught in the storm, and Reeves suffered spatial disorientation. The singer's widow, Mary Reeves (1929–1999), probably unwittingly started the rumor that he was flying the airplane upside down and assumed he was increasing altitude to clear the storm. However, according to Larry Jordan, author of the 2011 biography, Jim Reeves: His Untold Story, this scenario is rebutted by eyewitnesses known to crash investigators, who saw the plane overhead immediately before the mishap and confirmed that Reeves was not upside down.
Reeves' friend, musician Marty Robbins, recalled hearing the wreck happen and alerting authorities to which direction he heard the impact. Jordan writes extensively about forensic evidence (including from the long-elusive tower tape and accident report), which suggests that instead of making a right turn to avoid the storm (as he had been advised by the approach controller to do), Reeves turned left in an attempt to follow Franklin Road to the airport. In so doing, he flew further into the rain. While preoccupied with trying to re-establish his ground references, Reeves let his airspeed get too low and stalled the aircraft. Relying on his instincts more than his training, evidence suggests he applied full power and pulled back on the yoke before leveling his wings—a fatal, but not uncommon, mistake that induced a stall/spin from which he was too low to recover. Jordan writes that according to the tower tape, Reeves ran into the heavy rain at 4:51 pm and crashed only a minute later.
When the wreckage was found some 42 hours later, the airplane's engine and nose was discovered buried in the ground due to the impact of the crash. The crash site was in wooded area north-northeast of Brentwood, roughly at the junction of Baxter Lane and Franklin Pike Circle, just east of Interstate 65, and southwest of Nashville International Airport where Reeves planned to land.
On the morning of August 2, 1964, after an intense search by several parties (which included several personal friends of Reeves', including Ernest Tubb and Marty Robbins), the bodies of the singer and Dean Manuel were found in the wreckage of the aircraft, and at 1:00 pm local time, radio stations across the United States began to announce Reeves' death formally. Thousands of people traveled to pay their last respects at his funeral two days later. The coffin, draped in flowers from fans, was driven through the streets of Nashville and then to Reeves' final resting place near Carthage, Texas.
Reeves was elected posthumously to the Country Music Hall of Fame during 1967, which honored him by saying, "The velvet style of 'Gentleman Jim Reeves' was an international influence. His rich voice brought millions of new fans to country music from every corner of the world. Although the crash of his private airplane took his life, posterity will keep his name alive because they will remember him as one of the most important performers in Country music."
In 1998 Reeves was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage, Texas, where the Jim Reeves Memorial is located. The inscription on the memorial reads, "If I, a lowly singer, dry one tear, or soothe one humble human heart in pain, then my homely verse to God is dear, and not one stanza has been sung in vain."
Each year, the Academy of Country Music awards the Jim Reeves International Award to an artist who has made an "outstanding contributions to the acceptance of country music throughout the world.done the most to promote the genre worldwide".
Reeves' records continued to sell well, both earlier and new albums issued after his death. According to Billboard magazine, "Reeves' career continued to thrive with hit records on the Billboard charts throughout the next two decades". The last Reeves song on the chart was "The Image Of Me", in 1984.
His widow, Mary, was instrumental in the ongoing success of the songs. She combined unreleased tracks with previous releases (placing updated instrumentals alongside Reeves' original vocals) to produce a regular series of "new" albums after her husband's death. She also operated the Jim Reeves Museum in Nashville from the mid-1970s until 1996. On the 15th anniversary of Reeves death, Mary told a country music magazine interviewer, "Jim Reeves my husband is gone; Jim Reeves the artist lives on."
During 1966, Reeves' record "Distant Drums" hit number one on the UK Singles Chart and remained there for five weeks, beating competition from the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine"/"Eleanor Rigby" (a double-sided "A" release), and the Small Faces' song, "All Or Nothing". The song stayed in the UK chart for 25 weeks, and took number one on the US country music chart. Originally, "Distant Drums" had been recorded merely as a "demo" for its composer, Cindy Walker, believing it was for her personal use and had been deemed "unsuitable" for general release by Chet Atkins and RCA Victor. During 1966, however, RCA determined a market for the song existed because of the war in Vietnam. It was named Song of the Year in the UK during 1966 by the BBC, and Reeves became the first American artist to receive the accolade. That same year, singer Del Reeves (no relation) recorded an album paying tribute to him.
In 1980, Reeves had another two top-10 posthumous duet hits along with the late country star Patsy Cline, who featured on "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" and "I Fall to Pieces". Although the two had never recorded together during their tragically short lives, producers Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley lifted their isolated vocal performances off their original three-track stereo master session tapes, resynchronized them, and re-recorded new digital backing tracks. The duets first appeared on the Remembering Patsy Cline & Jim Reeves LP.
Reeves' compilation albums containing well-known standards continue to sell well. The Definitive Collection scored number 21 in the UK album charts during July 2003, and Memories are Made of This reached number 35 during July 2004.
Since 2003, US-based VoiceMasters has issued more than 80 previously unreleased Reeves recordings, including new songs, as well as newly overdubbed material. Among them was "I'm a Hit Again", the last song he recorded in his basement studio just a few days before his death. VoiceMasters overdubbed this track in the same studio in Reeves' former home (now owned by a Nashville record producer). The song was released in 2008 by H&H Music (UK) and became number one in a survey of radio stations in the UK. Reeves' fans repeatedly urged RCA or Bear Family to re-release some of the songs overdubbed during the years after his death which have never appeared on CD.
A compilation CD, The Very Best of Jim Reeves, scored number eight on initial release in the UK Albums Chart during May 2009, to later score its maximum of number seven during late June, his first top-10 album in the UK since 1992. In 1994, the German Bear Family Records label released a 16-CD compilation titled Welcome to my World, including more than 75 unissued titles, and many demo recordings.
In 2014, a set of eight CDs was released by Intermusic S.A., titled The Great Jim Reeves, containing 170 tracks, remastered and remixed.
Tributes to Reeves were composed in the British Isles after his death. The song "A Tribute to Jim Reeves" was written by Eddie Masterson, and recorded by Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons; during January 1965, it scored on the UK charts and top 10 in Ireland. It scored the UK charts on December 10, 1964, and was there for 11 weeks and sold 250,000 copies. The Dixielanders Show Band also recorded "Tribute to Jim Reeves" written by Steve Lynch and recorded during September 1964; it scored on the Northern Ireland charts during September 1964. The Masterson song was translated later into Dutch and recorded.
In the UK, "We'll Remember You" was written by Geoff Goddard, but not released until 2008 on the Now & Then: From Joe Meek to New Zealand double album by Houston Wells.
Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, a Canadian alternative rock band whose musical style blends elements of surf music, gospel music, rockabilly, garage, and punk, released the song entitled "Jimmy Reeves" on their 1992 album Don't Mind If I Do
Reeves remains a popular artist in Ireland, and many Irish singers have recorded tribute albums. A play by author Dermot Devitt, Put Your Sweet Lips, was based on Reeves' appearance in Ireland at the Pavesi Ballroom in Donegal town on June 7, 1963, and reminiscences of people who attended.
Blind R&B and blues music artist Robert Bradley (of the band Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise) paid tribute to Reeves in the album description of his release, Out of the Wilderness. He said, "This record brings me back to the time when I started out wanting to be a singer-songwriter, where the music did not need the New York Philharmonic to make it real...I wanted to do a record and just be Robert and sing straight like Jim Reeves on 'Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone'."
In the United States, Del Reeves (no relation) recorded and released a 1966 album entitled Del Reeves Sings Jim Reeves.
Reeves' nephew, John Rex Reeves, appears occasionally on RFD-TV's Midwest Country, singing Reeves' songs, as well as other popular country songs.
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