Texas born and raised James Travis Reeves was the youngest of eight children born to a family, called by the name of Travis, while growing up. His official birthdate is August 20, 1923. Reeves earned himself an athletic scholarship that enrolled him into the University of Texas, studying speech and drama, but quit just six weeks after he began attendance to work in the shipyards in Houston. He then took up baseball and played in semi-professional leagues before joining the farm team belonging to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944 as a right-handed pitcher. He played in the minor leagues for three years until he sustained a sciatic nerve injury while pitching. While this did put an abrupt end to the potential of becoming a professional baseball player, it did pave the way for Reeves to become one of the most beloved country music stars of all time as a singer and songwriter.
Uncertainties and Discoveries
Before entering the music industry at a professional level, Jim Reeves first had to contend with living in a troubled America that endured the Great Depression, only to find itself in the trenches of World War II. For Reeves, his pursuit of a baseball career was sporadic at best as he also faced the possibility of being drafted into the U.S. military. He did report to the Army Induction Center on March 9, 1943 for his preliminary medical examination but the heart irregularity that was found saved him from having to go. Upon learning this, he began to work as a radio announcer that sang live between songs. As soon as it was established he could not play baseball due to injury, Reeves further pursued his interest in music.
Before the decade of the 1940s was over, he earned himself recording contracts in the Texas area. However, when there wasn’t enough success to show for it, he joined Moon Mullican’s band. He did perform as a solo artist during that time, which did earn him recognition going into the early 1950s. Jim Reeves credited Jimmie Rodgers, Bing Crosby, Eddy Arnold, and Frank Sinatra as his source of musical inspiration that influenced him to trek down this particular career path as an entertainer. Before making it big, Reeves served as an announcer for a radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana, which hosted a popular radio program at the time, Louisiana Hayride. During a radio program that saw its feature singler late to perform, Reeves was asked to serve as a substitute.
Louisiana Hayride was the radio equivalent to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, which served as the key starting point to launch Jim Reeves as a recording artist that saw him become a headlining act, first in East Texas and rural Arkansas before earning himself a ten year recording contract with RCA Victor. Jim Reeves shares the same legacy as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Ed Brown, Maxine Brown, Little Joe Hunt, and the Wilburn Brothers as new talent that each got their first big break through Louisiana Hayride.
When Jim Reeves burst onto the country music scene, he brought along with him what was a new style of country music at the time. It used violins and a lusher background arrangement that Nashville soon adopted as its new brand of traditional country music sounds. At the time, this type of music could easily criss-cross between genres, making many singles at that time major crossover hits. He has also been credited for making many gospel songs popular enough to hit the music charts, something that hadn’t been done so frequently before. In total, Jim Reeves has forty-four studio albums to his credit, as well as fourteen compilation albums, a live album, and seventy-one singles. Although Jim Reeves perished in 1964 due to an airplane ride gone horribly wrong, his musical contribution continued to be published until 2003.
The final recording session Jim Reeves did for RCA Victor was on July 2, 1964. The final song taped there was “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Later in the month, from his own home, he recorded what would be his final song, “I’m a Hit Again.” It was never officially released by RCA Victor as it was not a recording with the label. It was, however, released in 2003 as part of a previously unissued collection of songs that came from Jim Reeves. label. As for the plane crash, Reeves and his business partner, Dean Manuel, left Arkansas for Nashville in a single engine aircraft that had Reeves at the controls. The two were en route to secure a real estate deal. However, it encountered a severe thunderstorm along the way that caused the plane to crash. When it was learned about the crash, a search party that included Marty Robbins and Ernest Tubb, searched the crash site area to learn what became of Martin and Reeves. Their bodies and the wreckage were found approximately two days later in a wooded area that wasn’t far from where Reeves intended to land.
Top Ten Jim Reeves Songs
#10 – Adios Amigo
In 1962, “Adios Amigo” spent nine weeks at the number two spot on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, as well as reaching this same spot on the singles chart belonging to Norway. In a Spanish-style farewell tale told in lyrical form, Jim Reeves delivered a somewhat comedic, yet heartfelt ballad.
#9 – Is It Really Over?
“Is It Really Over?” was a 1965, sorrowful ballad that became the third posthumous release that peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. It also peaked at number seventy-nine on the US Billboard Hot 100, at number ten on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, and at number seventeen hit on the UK Singles Chart. From the album, Distant Drums, “Is It Really Over?” was one of many songs that continued to hit the music charts after the loss of Jim Reeves on July 31, 1964 when the airplane he was flying in was caught up in a thunderstorm and crashed.
#8 – Blue Side of Lonesome
“Blue Side of Lonesome” was first recorded by Leon Payne in 1960, then covered by Jim Reeves for his 1962 album, The Country Side of Jim Reeves. Of all the posthumous songs released after Jim Reeves perished in a plane accident on July 31, 1964, it was among the best known singles released in the artist’s name. “Blue Side of Lonesome topped the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, as well as ranking as high as number fifteen on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This heartbreaking ballad became a bittersweet favorite among fans that found themselves relating to this song that much more so after the untimely passing of an artist whose life was cut too short due to tragedy.
#7 – Four Walls
“Four Walls” was Jim Reeves’ first number one hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1957. It was his first song after adopting to a lower volume style of his singing voice, despite objections from RCA. Up to this point, the style of music Reeves began with was a loud, East Texas style, which was a standard among country and western music performers at the time.
This song of lost love saw Reeves record nearly have his lips touch the microphone as the lowered register of his voice carried the song through as a smokier delivery than traditional country classics. This is what caused “Four Walls” to shift from standard novelty music into a serious mix of country and pop sounds that was refreshingly unique at the time. This song cemented Jim Reeves as a country ballad genius, firmly establishing him as an artist with his own style that easily won over a solid roster of loyal fans and music critics.
#6 – I Love You Because
The 1963 recording of “I Love You Because” by Jim Reeves was the most popular among the music charts belonging to Ireland and Norway as it peaked as high as number one on both of their official singles charts. In the UK, it climbed as high as number five. On the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart it reached number fifty-four. The record it came from, Gentleman Jim, was his sixteenth release.
His cover version of “I Love You Because’ came from Leon Payne’s 1949 original recording, which had also been covered many times over by other artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Al Martino. While Johnny Cash, Martino, and Elvis Presley had their versions seem more popular on North American soil, Reeves reached an international audience that seemed to take to his deep baritone of this love ballad better.
#5 – Welcome to My World
The popular music standard, “Welcome to My World” was recorded by many artists over the years that owes its inspiration to the Holy Bible’s Matthew 7:7-8 scripture, “Knock and the door will open; seek and you will find; ask and you’ll be given … .” In 1962, Jim Reeves released this single from his album, A Touch of Velvet, and it became a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. This served as one of his biggest hits before the July 31, 1964 plane crash that claimed his life. As a love song, the baritone delivery from the vocals of Jim Reeves was every bit as heartwarming as the words that were beautifully sung out.
#4 – I Guess I’m Crazy
First recorded in 1955 by Tommy Collins, “I Guess I’m Crazy” was covered by Jim Reeves and released in 1964. It served as the first of his six posthumous number one hits on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with his version, spending a total of seven weeks there. It was also number one in Canada and peaked as high as number eighteen on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. This ballad best illustrated the reality that sometimes being in love may not seem like a recipe for sanity, but as far as the heart is concerned, it has other cares on its plate.
#3 – Billy Bayou
“Billy Bayou” was a comedic song performance by Jim Reeves as he sang about an adventurous character that enjoyed a larger than life existence during the American 1800s. In 1958, this single peaked at number one on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, staying there for five weeks. It was also an international hit, peaking at number nine on Italy’s official singles chart. This song was originally written by Roger Miller, another one of country music’s greatest singer-songwriters that helped shape the Nashville Sound.
#2 – Mexican Joe (featuring Circle O Ranch boys)
In 1953, “Mexican Joe” by Jim Reeves served as his debut single on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and peaked as high as number one on it, staying there for six weeks. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it also climbed as high as number twenty-three. This rollick, Western swing featured a bandito and drifter that engaged in carousing, gambling, and womanizing. Unlike the collection of smooth, baritone-style ballads, “Mexican Joe” served as a novelty hit that paved the way for Jim Reeves to achieve superstardom in the competitive world called the music industry.
#1 – He’ll Have to Go
The rich baritone vocals performed by Jm Reeves deservedly earned him a loyal fan following. “He’ll Have to Go” was a 1959 release that became an international hit, topping the US Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the Canadian Country Tracks chart, Australia’s official singles chart, and Norway’s official singles chart. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number two. “He’ll Have to Go” owed its inspiration by a telephone conversation that was shared between the husband and wife songwriting team, Joe and Audrey Allison.
Audrey’s voice was so soft that it’s barely audible on the phone unless she was directly talking into the receiver, much like how Jim Reeves’ lips tend to touch the microphone. The velvet-like performance of a song designed with sweet romance made “He’ll Have to Go” an easy favorite, both nationally and internationally. With the RIAA, this single earned Jim Reeves his first certified platinum record.
Feature Photo: Creative Commons
Top 10 Jim Reeves Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
Classicrockhistory.com claims ownership of all its original content and Intellectual property under United States Copyright laws and those of all other foreign countries. No one person, business or any organizations is allowed to re-publish any of our original content anywhere on the web or in print without our permission. All photos used are either public domain creative commons photos or licensed officially from Shutterstock under license with ClassicRockHistory.com. All photo credits have been placed at end of article.