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Jim Reeves

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Gentleman Jim Reeves was born and raised in Galloway, TX, where he was one of nine children. Tragically, his father died when Jim was only ten months old, forcing his mother to farm and raise her family. At the age of five, he was given an old guitar, and shortly afterward, he heard a Jimmie Rodgers record through his older brother. From that moment on, Reeves was entranced by country music and Rodgers in particular. By the time he was 12 years old, he had already appeared on a radio show in Shreveport, LA. Though he was fascinated with music, Reeves also was a talented athlete and during his teens he decided he was going to pursue a career as a baseball player. Winning an athletic scholarship to the University of Texas, Reeves enrolled at the school to study speech and drama, but he dropped out after six weeks to work at the shipyards in Houston. Soon, he had returned to baseball, playing in the semiprofessional leagues before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944. He stayed with the team for three years before seriously injuring his ankle and thereby ruining his chances of a prolonged athletic career.

For the next few years, Reeves went through a number of blue-collar jobs while trying to decide on a profession. During this time he began singing as an amateur, appearing both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Moon Mullican’s band. In 1949, Reeves cut a number of songs for the small independent Macy label, none of which were particularly successful. In the early ’50s, Reeves decided that he would make broadcasting his vocation, initially working for KSIG in Gladewater, TX, before establishing himself at KGRI in Henderson. Over the next few years, Reeves was a disc jockey and newscaster at KGRI, moving to KWKH in Shreveport, LA, in November of 1952, becoming host of the popular Louisiana Hayride. Late in 1952, Hank Williams failed to make an appearance on the show, and Reeves sang in his place. His performance was enthusiastically received, and Abbott Records immediately signed him to a record contract. “Mexican Joe” was Reeves’ debut single for Abbott, and it quickly climbed to number one in the spring of 1953, spending nine weeks at the top of the charts. It was followed by another number one hit, “Bimbo,” later in 1953, establishing that Reeves was not a one-hit wonder; later that same year, he was made a full-time member of the Louisiana Hayride. During 1954 and 1955, he had four other hit singles for Abbott and its parent company, Fabor, before RCA signed him to a long-term deal in 1955; that same year, he joined the Grand Ole Opry. At RCA, Reeves began to develop the distinctively smooth, lush, and pop-oriented style of country that made him a superstar and earned him the nickname Gentleman Jim. Peaking at number four, “Yonder Comes a Sucker” was his first Top Ten hit for RCA in the summer of 1955. It kicked off a remarkable streak of 40 hit singles, most of which charted in the Top Ten. Many of his singles also became pop crossovers, which indicates exactly how much of a pop influence there was on his music. Indeed, Reeves’ vocal style derived from the crooning of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and early in his career he abandoned cowboy outfits for upscale suits. In the process, he brought country music to a new, urban audience.

Throughout the ’50s and early ’60s, Reeves racked up a number of major hits and country classics like “Four Walls” (number one for eight weeks, 1957), “Anna Marie” (1958), “Blue Boy” (number two, 1958), “Billy Bayou” (number one for five weeks, 1959), “He’ll Have to Go” (number one for 14 weeks, 1960), “Adios Amigo” (number two, 1962), “Welcome to My World” (number two, 1964), and “I Guess I’m Crazy” (number one for seven weeks, 1964). “Four Walls” was the turning point in his career, proving to both Reeves himself and his producer, Chet Atkins, that his main source of success would come from ballads. As a result, Reeves became an even bigger star, not only in America but throughout the world. Reeves toured Europe and South Africa, building a strong following in countries that rarely had been open to country music in the past.


Fatal aircraft accident
On July 31, 1964, Reeves and his business partner and manager Dean Manuel (also the pianist of Reeves’ backing group, The Blue Boys) left Batesville, Arkansas en route to Nashville in a single-engine Beechcraft Debonair aircraft, with Reeves at the controls. The two had secured a deal on some real property (Reeves had also unsuccessfully tried to buy property from the LaGrone family in Deadwood, Texas, north of his birthplace of Galloway).

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. It was later believed he was flying the airplane upside down and assumed he was increasing altitude to clear the storm. The plane faded from radar screens at around 5:00 p.m. CDT and radio communication was ended. When the wreckage was found some 42 hours later, it was discovered the airplane’s engine and nose were buried in the ground due to the impact of the crash. The crash site was in a wooded area north-northeast of Brentwood approximately at the junction of Baxter Lane and Franklin Pike Circle, just east of US Interstate 65, and southwest of Nashville International Airport where Reeves planned to land. Coincidentally, both Reeves and Randy Hughes, the pilot of Patsy Cline’s ill-fated airplane, were trained by the same instructor.

On the morning of August 2, 1964, after an intense search by several parties (which included several personal friends of Reeves) the bodies of the singer and Dean Manuel were found in the wreckage of the aircraft and, at 1:00 p.m. 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.



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