Country Music's 'Gentleman Jim' Was a 'Combination of Good and Bad,' Says Larry Jordan
It could be said that Jim Reeves was one country artist who was more popular in death than in life. First charting in 1953 with "Mexican Joe," the singer's death in a Nashville plane crash in July of 1964 did not slow down his success with fans. For two decades after his passing, Reeves continued to place many singles on the Billboard Country Singles Charts, and in 2009 - some 45 years after his death at age 40 - the singer was represented in the UK Top Ten Albums chart.
The life and music of Jim Reeves is chronicled in a brand new book titled "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story." Larry Jordan, author of the book, recalls becoming a fan of the singer at a young age, and becoming a friend to Jim's widow, Mary.
"I had known Mary Reeves for thirty-three years from the first time I wrote a letter to her in 1966 when I was thirteen," Jordan recalls. "I would go down there on several weekends, and spend time with her. She would tell me many stories about Jim on a personal and professional level. I brought along a tape recorder, and taped them. I was fascinated by all of these different stories."
"I Love You Because"
"He'll Have to Go"
A 1998 Reeves bio did the singer no favors, and Jordan felt an obligation to paint a more balanced picture of the man behind such hits as "He'll Have To Go" and "Welcome To My World."
Jordan thought "Why should this be the last word? So, I thought about it a little bit, and talked to Leo Jackson (who was in Jim's band, the Blue Boys.) I thought 'Maybe I'm in a unique position to do this. I knew Mary. I had the tapes. I had a writing background, and the means to get a book into print."
Though the author is a Reeves fan, he didn't put the singer on a pedestal. "I've said that the only obligation I have felt was to the truth. Some of the things I discovered about Jim disturbed me, and offended my own moral sensitivities," he told Billboard. "But, this was the way he was - a combination of good and bad as we all are. I wanted the full picture, and that's what I think I ended up with."
The book is a balanced account of Reeves' life and career, his marriage to Mary Davis, and his penchant for the opposite sex that might not have meshed with his "Gentleman Jim" persona. However, Jordan spends a lot of time discussing what made Reeves fans all over the world - the music.
"He really was a visionary when you think about it. Jim was using pop instruments like oboe and flute on his country recordings. He was very experimental, and tried new things all the time."
One element of Reeves that might come as a surprise to those who didn't know him was his insecurities in the studio. "He was never satisfied with his records no matter how close to perfection he came," relates Jordan.
When asked about the reasons for those insecurities, Jordan said "That's a complex question to answer. I think it dates all the way back to his early years. He was the only member of his family to graduate from high school. It was very important to him how the world perceived him. He came from a very impoverished background. Even when he was booked at country clubs or Vegas, he wasn't comfortable in those surroundings. Of course, he wore the tuxedos, and presented the 'Gentleman Jim' image, but he didn't feel like he was worthy. He would comment to his band, the Blue Boys, 'What is it about me that people like? I can't sing.' Leo Jackson was flabbergasted by that, and couldn't believe it."
Jordan also thinks that Reeves is owed a debt of gratitude for taking country to a new audience long before anyone else, with his cross-over recordings, as well as his success overseas in countries such as Africa, India, and Germany. "I think that a number of acts like Vince Gill have credited Jim Reeves with opening doors," he says. "This was an artist who achieved international stardom in a period before satellite communication. How did he get to be so popular? He did it on the strength of his unique voice, and did it in places around the world that can't even speak English or understand what he is singing about. That is phenomenal, and he hasn't gotten the credit he deserves."