By Liam O Raghallaigh
It was the early 1960s, and you could not turn on the radio without being asked, ‘Am I losing You?’, or warned that ‘There’s a blizzard coming on’, so when, early in 1963, it was announced that ‘Gentleman Jim Reeves’ was coming to perform in Ireland, the excitement was mighty, and his schedule eagerly awaited.
I was working in Castlebar at the time, so when it was confirmed that he was to do a ‘gig’ in The Diamond Ballroom in Kiltimagh at 10.30pm on Thursday, June 6th., the day after my birthday, it was the perfect present. The Black Aces, one of our top bands, were to play support, so it promised to be a great night.
In 1963 the showband era was at it’s peak and ballrooms, of sorts, had sprung up all over the country, one of them, in Mayo, famously boasting an appearance by ‘Ould Nick’ himself, complete with hooves. The ‘ballrooms’ were generally just cavity block walls with a roof and very, very basic facilities. The only luxuries were the maple floors and the revolving mirrored spheres overhead.
At that time I had a sweet little deal with a local hackney owner, who played in a local band, that when he himself was on stage, I would drive his cab. The few extra bob came in handy and hackney/taxi drivers got in free to dance halls. I had obtained a licence which entitled me to drive a taxi, or any other vehicle on the road, and I held it for years.
James Travis Reeves was born on 20 August, 1923, in Galloway, Panola County, Texas to Thomas and Mary Reeves, the youngest of eight children; his father died while he was still an infant. After he finished college he played minor league baseball for three years, before an injury ended his sporting career.
In March 1943 he failed the medical for the army and worked as a radio announcer/singer before starting his recording career in 1945. He worked on ‘Louisiana Hayride’ radio show in 1951 and with Moon Mullican’s band over the next few years.
In 1953 he had his first hit with ‘Mexican Joe’, followed by ‘Bimbo’, and launched his first album in 1955. In 1957 his ‘Four Walls’ reached No 1 and he had introduced a new style of Country Music, which came to be known as The Nashville Sound, (violins and lush background arrangements) and with his unfailing courtesy and velvet voice he was soon christened ‘Gentleman Jim’.
Jim’s then manager, Charlie Lamb, recalled that he arrived in Nashville in 1955 wearing the traditional western outfit, and that he got him a sports jacket and other middle of the road clothes, to broaden his image. Reeves also had a receding hairline and for his first appearance at ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ he got himself a toupee, which he wore ever after.
In 1959 his ‘He’ll Have to Go’ was a massive worldwide hit and he toured the US, Scandinavia and South Africa with great success. Hits tumbled over each other – Distant Drums, Billy Bayou, I Love You Because, Welcome to My World, Anna Marie – the list is endless and he had 11 songs in the Irish charts between 1962 and 1967, including 3 No 1s.