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    Remembering Jim Reeves ..

     

    Bonjour, Marie-Agnès, Janice et Jean-Claude –


    Hello again!  🙂   Ca va? – How are you all?  We must have exchanged hundreds of messages in the last few years by email – and are now getting to know each other really well – so it seems astonishing that it’s over 12 months since our last Letter from Scotland!

    Cindy Walker
    I recall mentioning several times the name of Cindy Walker (1918-2006), the hugely talented songwriter from Texas, USA, responsible for so many of the ‘hit’ records of Jim Reeves (1923-64).  I tried also not to forget that this year would see the fiftieth anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of this enormously popular singer.

    Jim Reeves

    “Jim Reeves was born to sing,” wrote Cindy Walker (on the sleeve of one of his many LP’s), “born to use that wonderful, warm voice to give pleasure and happiness to others .. .. as sure as the sun was born to shine.  Keep this album – and any other Reeves albums you may have – for your children, as you would a treasure, for treasures they will be .. .. ”   Cindy Walker never married, but was unusually close to her mother.  The two women worked each day at the piano, crafting tunes and lyrics, and it has often been said that Mrs Walker’s contribution to this happy task may have been considerable.  Who knows?  🙂

     

    Jim Reeves Distant Drums Blue Boy 30 th Anniversary Edition

    You won’t be surprised to hear that Jim Reeves’ greatest ‘hit’ here in Britain, Distant Drums, was a Cindy Walker song!  Released in 1966 – at a time when a generation of young men were being called to face death and danger in Vietnam – it had huge emotional power.  The disc shot straight to the top of the ‘charts’, remaining there for five weeks and selling steadily for months on end.

    “So Mary, marry me – let’s not wait –
    Let’s share all the time we can, before it’s too late;
    Love me now, for now is all the time there may be –
    If you love me, Mary  –  Mary, marry me!”

    (Mary was, of course, the name of Jim’s wife. She had been just 18 at the time of their wedding.)

    Panola County East Texas US road  sign

    But let’s go back. The story begins at Galloway, near Carthage in Panola County, East Texas, where Jim was born on August 20, 1923, the ninth child of a family of poor farmers. His father died before Jim was a year old.  A more difficult start in life could hardly be imagined.

    Jim Reeves Golden Memories

     

    I’ll quote a little now from the concisely-written notes of Ralph Harvey, supplied with the LP set  ‘Jim Reeves – Golden Memories’  published by the World Record Club.
    “Jim first heard the sound of a record when he was five years old .. .. this made (him) want to play the guitar. Two years later, he was able to trade a bushel of pears for a broken-down instrument which a Texas oil-man helped him fix.
    “The same good friend taught him a few basic chords, so that by the age of nine he was able to do his first broadcast from Station KRMD in Shreveport, Louisiana.  At 10, he had a regular weekly singing spot which earned him 15 dollars – not bad for a kid at the height of the Great Depression.
    “When Jim entered Junior High School .. .. he was much more interested in sport than in music.  Baseball was his game.”   In time, he played for the St. Louis Cardinals .. .. “but his baseball career came to an abrupt halt when he sustained a leg injury on a wet and muddy field as he was sliding dramatically to first base.”
    Jim had a most pleasant speaking voice and had studied – as he said, in his own words – ‘pronunciation, enunciation and those things’  (we might say ‘elocution’). (Jim narrates the story of his life on the disc from 1967 – Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves – RCA Victor RD7906. )

     

    Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves - RCA Victor RD7906

    Soon he was newsreader and DJ at Station KGRI in Henderson, Texas. He worked there for five years, becoming Programme Director.   Later, he bought the station for himself!

    “In 1947, Jim Reeves had married Mary White, a young teacher from Marchall, Texas. They moved to Shreveport .. .. where Jim joined Station KWKH which owned the Louisiana Hayride Show (very important in the broadcasting of ‘Country’ music). His job was to be Master of Ceremonies – to present each show – and to fill in with a song of his own if the need arose.

    Source: Jim Reeves Photos  http://www.jimreevesfanclub.com/fotoO2.htm

    “One Saturday evening in 1952 his big chance came, when Hank Williams failed to arrive. Jim sang in his place and was offered his first recording contract.”  This produced 36 tracks .. .. and earned Jim Reeves two Gold Discs (for the songs Mexican Joe and Bimbo).

    Ralph Harvey continues:  “In 1954 Jim came to Europe for the first of two tours he made, singing to American forces. On his return to the United States, he found that recording executives from major companies were anxious to secure his services. He did not rush into anything, but in character signed with Steve Sholes of the Victor company – long-established, reliable, conservative.”  (I’m not sure when the link with RCA was made, but the Victor company had a long and proud history, having been founded in 1901 as the Victor Talking Machine Company at Camden, New Jersey – the most celebrated address in recorded music in N America.)

    Grand Ole Opry Nashville

    Elvis Presley also signed with Victor records that year (1955), and – on the recommendation of Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb, two of the biggest names in Country music – Jim Reeves was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, the mecca of Country and Western entertainments.  Janice, Marie-Agnès, Jean-Claude – this is not exactly Grand Opera, but something rather more down-to earth!  Traditionally, ‘Country and Western’ has been regarded as the music of poor white folks in the US – it arose from the people themselves. (To me, there are clear signs of the influence – especially in the fiddle tunes – of the music of Scottish and Irish immigrants to the States.)

    Jim Reeves Publicity photo 3 mai 1963

    But Jim Reeves was about to leave his Country roots behind, and take a fresh direction that would set him on the road to international fame. He resolved to experiment with a new technique, moving closer to the microphone and singing much more gently. The slow-paced songs that he now favoured allowed us to appreciate to the full the beautiful timbre of his voice as he sang in this more intimate, personal style. In dress, he abandoned ‘cowboy’ attire in favour of a necktie and a smartly-cut jacket. Gentleman Jim was born!

    “Jim possessed a warm, rich baritone voice with a ’roundness’ about it which many a singer of the recital room might envy,” wrote Ralph Harvey. “In the lower register there was often a firmness and resonance seldom found in popular singers. His diction was impeccable.”

    Four Walls – released in February 1957 – marked this powerful change in Jim’s style.

    Jim Reeves Four Walls 1957 picture sleeve 1-2

     

    “Out where the bright lights are glowing,
    You’re drawn like a moth to a flame,
    You laugh as the wine’s overflowing,
    While I sit and whisper your name;
    Four walls to hear me, four walls to see –
    Four walls to hear me, closing in on me .. “

    “Naturally, the Country die-hards were critical, foreseeing corruption and disaster, but Jim Reeves and his friends pointed out that music had to change in order to grow.”   The public took Four Walls to their hearts. This splendid song (by Marvin Moore and George Campbell) became Jim’s third million-selling disc.  His all-time best seller He’ll Have To Go – by Joe and Audrey Allison – was released two years later (1959).

    Jim Reeves He'll have to Go

    “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone,
    Let’s pretend that we’re together, all alone;
    I’ll tell the man to turn the juke-box ‘way down low,
    And you can tell your friend there with you –
    He’ll have to go .. “

     

    I’ll quote again from Ralph Harvey: “From 1960 until his untimely death Jim Reeves spent much of his time in travel. In 1962 he made his first tour of the Republic of South Africa with Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer. American Country music had always been as popular in South Africa as in the United States. Jim found that the people knew their Country music extremely well – back to the days of Frank Crumit, Carson Robinson and Hank Williams .. ..”  Jim Reeves was outstandingly popular in South Africa, his photograph even appearing on boxes of breakfast cereal!

    “Jim returned in 1963 to make his one and only film, Kimberley Jim, set in the days of the diamond discoveries. In it, he played a charming confidence trickster with an eye for the ladies and a song on his lips.  Early in 1964 Jim Reeves made his most successful European tour, singing to servicemen and civilians alike.”  He gave several concerts in the Republic of Ireland and in the
    UK did a couple of TV shows to promote Leon Payne’s beautiful song, I Love You Because.

    Jim Reeves I Love You Because RCA 1976

    “I love you because my heart is lighter,
    Every time you’re walking by my side;
    I love you because the future’s brighter,
    The door to happiness you open wide .. “
    What a happy, optimistic mood this song generates!

     

    “For the best part of 10 years Jim had been making a very good living and taking care of his money with sound investments in land and property. It was towards the end of July 1964 that he and his manager, Dean Manuel, flew their single-engined Beechcraft Debonair aircraft from Nashville to Arkansas on property business. (Jim had held his pilot’s licence for less than 18 months.) Returning to Nashville (on July 31) they ran into a heavy rainstorm over the Tennessee Hills just a few miles from home. As the plane was due to make its final approach, airport officials noticed that it had disappeared from their radar screens.

    “Twelve aircraft and two helicopters were enlisted for the search,” wrote Ralph Harvey.  “On the ground, some 400 people searched thick woodland for the wreckage. The search continued all through the next day, and it was not until August 2 that the wreck was found, together with the bodies of the two men. Jim was taken for burial to Carthage. At the service on August 4, the world of Country music paid its tribute .. “

    And so ended the earthly life of Jim Reeves.  Shortly after his death, Harlan Howard’s lovely but sad song I Won’t Forget You was released in Britain as a ‘single’, selling very nearly a million copies in this country alone.

    Jim Reeves I won't forget you
    “I know that I won’t forget you,
    For I’ve loved you too much for too long .. “
    Precious memories!  🙂
    A Bientôt.
    Iain.

    PS: Click here to read more ‘Letters From Scotland’.

     

     

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