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Reeves, Jim (actually, James Travis)

Reeves, Jim (actually, James Travis)

Reeves, Jim (actually, James Travis) , American country-music singer, guitarist, andsongwriter; b. Panola County, Tex., Aug. 20, 1923; d. near Nashville, Term., July 31, 1964. One of the most successful country-music performers of the 1950s and 1960s, Reeves was an exponent of the pop-styled Nashville Sound that brought crossover success to country music, notably on such hits as “Four Walls” and “He’ll Have to Go,” though he had begun his recording career with a honky-tonk approach with such hits as “Mexican Joe.” For years after his early death, newly unearthed recordings continued to become country hits.

Reeves was the ninth and last child of Tom Reeves, a farmer, and Mary Beulah Adams Reeves. His father died before his first birthday, and his mother and older siblings did farm work to support the family. He took up the guitar as a child and was performing publicly by his adolescence. His primary interest, however, was baseball, and he briefly attended the Univ. of Tex. at Austin in 1942 on a sports scholarship before quitting to volunteer for the military during World War II. After failing his physical he worked in the defense industry, then became a minor-league ballplayer in the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1944, but by 1947 injuries had ended his sports career. On Sept. 3, 1947, he married Mary Elizabeth White, a schoolteacher.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Reeves worked at several radio stations in Tex. as a disc jockey and newscaster while pursuing music on the side. He first recorded for the small Macy’s record label in Houston in 1949 or 1950. In 1952 he moved to Shreveport, La., where he worked at KWKH, the station that broadcast the country-music show Louisiana Hayride. He was signed to another small label, Abbott Records, and his second release, “Mexican Joe” (music and lyrics by Mitchell Torok), hit #1 in the country charts in May 1953. With that he gave up his radio job and became a full-time performer. His next two singles did not register, but his fifth Abbott record, “Bimbo” (music and lyrics by Rod Morris), topped the country charts in January 1954.

Reeves hit the country Top Ten a second time in 1954 and with two more Abbott singles in the first third of 1955, then switched to the major label RCA Victor Records, continuing his string of hits with his initial RCA single, “Yonder Comes a Sucker” (music and lyrics by Jim Reeves), which reached the country Top Ten in August 1955. With that he was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry radio program, debuting on the show on Oct. 19 and moving to Nashville the same month.

Reeves scored two country Top Ten hits in 1956 and another in March 1957; then his career took a giant leap with the release of “Four Walls” (music and lyrics by Marvin Moore and George Campbell), in which he adopted a lower, more natural singing voice on a slow ballad with a more pop-oriented arrangement that deemphasized country instrumentation and added a prominent vocal chorus. The single topped the country charts in May 1957 and crossed over to the pop Top 40. Its success expanded his touring opportunities and led to a network radio series that ran for 13 weeks beginning in October. He scored a third country Top Ten hit in 1957 and another four in 1958, among them the #1 “Blue Boy” (music and lyrics by Boudleaux Bryant). His three country Top Ten hits of 1959 included the chart-topping “Billy Bayou” and “Home” (both music and lyrics by Roger Miller).

Reeves scored the biggest hit of his career with the million-selling “He’ll Have to Go” (music and lyrics by Joe and Audrey Allison), which reached #1 on the country charts in February 1960, made the pop Top Ten, and earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Vocal Performance, Single or Track, Male. It also was his first record to chart in the U.K., reflecting his deliberate cultivation of an international audience, a rarity among country performers. With four more country Top Ten hits in 1960 (two of which also made the pop Top 40), he was the best-selling country artist of the year.

Reeves scored three country Top Ten hits in 1961 and four in 1962, including the chart-topper “I’m Gonna Change Everything” (music and lyrics by Alex Zanetis). In August 1962 he performed in South Africa, helping to expand his international following; he returned to the country in March 1963 and there starred in a film, Kimberley Jim, released overseas in 1964 and in the U.S. in 1965. He also performed in Europe in 1963 and 1964. He had another two country Top Ten hits in 1963.

In 1964 he had scored two more country Top Ten hits and reached the Top Ten of the country LP charts for the first time with his album Good ’n Country when he crashed a private plane and died at the age of 40 in July. His current single, “I Guess I’m Crazy” (music and lyrics by Werly Fairburn), hit #1 on the country charts in August, and his current album, Moonlight and Roses, topped the country charts, as did a quickly released compilation, The Best of Jim Reeves, which also made the pop Top Ten and went gold; it earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country & Western Album.

At his death, Reeves left behind a collection of finished, unreleased master recordings as well as numerous demos and live recordings. His estate and RCA carefully issued these tracks, sometimes with elaborate overdubbing to give them a more complete and contemporary sound, over a lengthy period of time and successfully maintained his status as a top-selling country artist. In 1965 he had three Top Ten country hits, including the chart-toppers “This Is It” (music and lyrics by Cindy Walker) and “Is It Really Over?” (music and lyrics by Jim Reeves), the latter earning Grammy nominations for Best Country & Western Single and Best Country & Western Vocal Performance, Male. He also placed three albums in the country Top Ten, including The Jim Reeves Way, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country & Western Album, and Up through the Years, which hit #1. All three of his 1966 singles, “Snow Flake” (music and lyrics by Ned Miller), ”Distant Drums” (music and lyrics by Cindy Walker), and “Blue Side of Lonesome” (music and lyrics by Leon Payne), topped the country charts, while three LPs hit reached the country Top Ten, including the Distant Drums album, which hit #1 and went gold. The “Distant Drums” single earned Reeves three Grammy nominations: Best Vocal Performance, Male; Best Country & Western Vocal Performance, Male; and Best Country & Western Recording.

RCA again released three new Reeves singles in 1967, and two made the country Top Ten, including the #1 hit “I Won’t Come in While He’s There” (music and lyrics by Gene Davis); a Blue Side of Lonesome LP also made the country Top Ten. There were two country Top Ten singles in 1968, along with two country Top Ten LPs, another two country Top Ten singles in 1969, and one each in 1970, 1972, and 1973; also, country Top Ten LPs in 1972 and 1973.

By the mid-1970s the stream of previously unre-leased Reeves recordings had slowed, but in 1979, RCA electronically added the voice of country singer Deborah Allen to some of his performances, resulting in three country Top Ten hits, the most successful of which was “Oh, How I Miss You Tonight” (music and lyrics by Benny Davis, Joe Burke, and Mark Fisher). In 1981 the gimmick was repeated with Patsy Cline, resulting in the country Top Ten hit “Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)” (music and lyrics by Peter DeRose and George Brown) and a Greatest Hits album featuring separate songs by Reeves and Cline plus the duet that hit the country Top Ten. Meanwhile, Reeves’s vintage recordings continued to sell well, a fact confirmed in April 1998 when the 1976 compilation The Unforgettable Jim Reeves, consisting of RCA material licensed by Reader’s Digest, became his first album to be certified platinum.


Jim Reeves Sings (1956); Singing Down the Lane (1956); Bimbo (1957); Jim Reeves (1957); Girls I Have Known (1958); God Be With You (1958); Songs to Warm the Heart (1959); He’ll Have to Go (1960); According to My Heart (1960); The Intimate Jim Reeves (1960); Talking to Your Heart (1961); Tall Tales and Short Tempers (1961); Bimbo (1963); The Country Side of Jim Reeves (1962); A Touch of Velvet (1962); We Thank Thee (1962); Good ’N’ Country (1963); Diamonds in the Sand (1963); Gentleman Jim (1963); The International Jim Reeves (1963); Twelve Songs of Christmas (1963); Moonlight and Roses (1964); Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (1964); Kimberley Jim (1964); The Jim Reeves Way (1965); Distant Drums (1966); Yours Sincerely, Jim Reeves (1966); Blue Side of Lonesome (1967); My Cathedral (1967); A Touch of Sadness (1968); Jim Reeves on Stage (1968); Jim ReevesAnd Some Friends (1969); The Unforgettable Jim Reeves (1969); Jim Reeves Writes You a Record (1971); Something Special (1971); Young and Country (1971); My Friend (1972); Missing You (1972); Something Special (1972); Am I That Easy to Forget (1973); Great Moments With Jim Reeves (1973); I’d Fight the World (1974); Songs of Love (1975); I Love You Because (1976); It’s Nothin’ to Me (1977); Jim Reeves: Nashville 18 (1978); The Velvet Memories of Jim Reeves: Golden (1978); The Best of Jim Reeves, Vol. 4 (1979); There’s Always Me (1980). At the Grand Ole Opry (1987); Dear Hearts & Gentle People (1992); Jim Reews (1995). Deborah Allen: Don’t Let Me Cross Over (1979). PATSY CLINE: Greatest Hits (1981).


P. Cook, The Saga of j. R.: Country and Western Singer and Musician (Los Angeles, 1977); M. Streissguth, Like a Moth to a Flame: The Jim Reeves Story (Nashville, 1998).

—William Ruhlmann

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