Jim Reeves had several key musical influences. One of the biggest was Buddy Clark. In my book "Jim Reeves: His Untold Story," I cite the eery similarities between the two singers, even the fact that they both died in freak plane crashes. Jim knew what it was like to be the fan of an artist whose life and career were cut short by a tragic accident.
Here is a very rare clip of Buddy singing with the great Ray Nobel orchestra.
Another influence was one of RCA's best-selling singers, Vaughn Monroe. As I reveal, Jim and Vaughn were among the select artists whom the label dispatched on a ten-day train tour from New York to the Midwest and back again, to raise money and public awareness for the March of Dimes fight against polio. Jim got a chance to observe Vaughn close-up and the two critiqued each other, as did the other artists on the tour. Shortly after making the trip with him, in January 1956, Reeves started changing his singing style. The tuxedoed Monroe was a very elegant man in manner and dress, and around the time of their meeting Jim started to change his attire as well.
For the last album Reeves ever recorded, he chose three songs that had been big hits for Vaughn. (Can you guess which ones these are?)
Here is a film of Vaughn in concert with his orchestra. Listen to his lung power when he sings a long phrase near the end of the song without a breath. Jim could do the same thing.
Jim Reeves always said that his favorite male country singer was Marty Robbins (even though they were not always friendly rivals). It is indisputably true that Jim and Marty were the two best singers in Nashville at the time. On stage Robbins was a total ham, a much more animated performer than the very reserved Mr. Reeves. But offstage, Marty tended to be withdrawn and even sullen while Jim — though a quiet man — was more gregarious.
Here's my all-time favorite song by Mr. Robbins, which I have heard him sing in person several times. (I talk about my experiences with Marty in Diane Diekman's new book, "Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins.") Look closely and you'll see the drummer is an ex-member of Jim Reeves' band, Louie Dunn.
Jim frequently commented in interviews that his favorite female country singer was Dottie West. He meant it. Reeves is the one who got her a contract to record for RCA Victor. I explore Jim and Dottie's relationship in my book and the details may surprise you. Dottie also recorded demos for Jim at Starday, as well as attended some of his demo sessions to encourage him (such as when he cut "The Writings On the Wall," which you can hear — along with studio chatter — on my VoiceMasters "I Call Her Heartache" CD). I met Dottie years ago and taped an interview with her in which we discussed Jim. (I have quotes in my book). And the night Dottie passed away in September 1991, I shared my recollections of her on WSM radio in Nashville. Here is a wonderful clip from a TV show on which West appeared just 3 years after Reeves was gone. Notice the guy playing the bass is Junior Huskey, who also played on a lot of Jim Reeves' sessions:
Without a doubt, the one male pop singer in the 1960s who most appealed to Jim Reeves' taste in music was Andy Williams. Reeves even cut one of Andy's biggest hits, "Moon River." I deliberately selected the following video even though it doesn't show Williams performing, because I wanted you to hear this particular song. As I report in my book, on Jim's next-to-last recording session on the afternoon of July 2, 1964, he called his secretary, Joyce, from RCA and asked her for the name of the song she had wanted him to record. Unfortunately, Joyce drew a blank and could not remember the tune on the spur of the moment. It is to her everlasting regret, because Jim Reeves might otherwise have cut "Lonely Street." Can you just imagine how Jim would have sounded doing it? This certainly would have been a good selection for Reeves, as it was written by Carl Belew, who also penned Jim's "Am I That Easy To Forget?" and "That's When I See the Blues In Your Pretty Brown Eyes."
In an interview published in Charlie Lamb's Music Reporter magazine in July 1964, Jim Reeves specifically mentioned how much he liked Mantovani's "soft" (his word) instrumentals. Annunzio Paolo Mantovani was a popular conductor who became famous for his light orchestra style and his cascading strings musical signature. I don't know why, but I personally find this music very sad. It seems to arouse some sort of melancholy in me about people lost, and places left behind. Maybe Jim had the same reaction. What do you think?
This next one will surprise you. Jim LOVED jazz violinist Joe Vanuti and would go to see him in clubs if he was anywhere close. I write about a night when Reeves took his band and pilot to a Vanuti concert in the Pacific Northwest. Here is a wonderful video of Joe appearing on the Dick Cavett show. Dick also tells some very interesting facts about the famous musician and points out that Bing Crosby was also a fan. In my book I quote Jim extensively in analyzing various musical idioms and as fate would have it he wrote some articles about music just before he died.
It is no secret around Nashville that Mary Reeves did not get along with Debra Allen, the young singer whom she hired (at the behest of her lover, Bud Logan) to sing on some overdubs of Jim's old tracks, thus creating some "electronic duets." A Reeves family member even told me she overheard Mary in an argument on the phone one day with Ms. Allen. The "duets" reached the Top 10, but as a fan I was disappointed that someone who sounded like a poor imitation of Dolly Parton had been pared with the exquisite voice of Mr. Velvet. So I suggested to Mary that if she ever did any more "duets," she use a friend of mine instead, Ralna English. The first time I ever heard Ralna sing, on the "Lawrence Welk" TV show, I was hooked. I met her in August 1970, and Ralna is a true friend to this day, who came to my aid and helped me at a critical point in my life. I sent Mary a tape of Ralna singing and she told me that even before I had suggested Ms. English, she had gone to a concert in Nashville when the Welk stars came to town because she specifically wanted to see and hear Ralna sing in person! I found this to be a striking coincidence that Mary Reeves had independently come to the same conclusion I had, that Ralna English would make a great "duet" partner for Jim. A fellow Texan, Ms. English has a smooth, rich voice, and perfect pitch — qualities that are up to the Jim Reeves standard. I have heard her natural voice many times when she has sung around me and there are not enough superlatives to describe how fabulous she is. (Those who heard Jim Reeves in person say the same thing about him). People who can sing this well really are special human beings. I can tell you that Ralna's voice and Jim's blend beautifully. A few years ago when Ralna was riding with me in my car (at the time I had a Bose sound system that included 13 speakers), she sang along to Jim's "I Love You Because" as I played it on my car stereo. Ralna's harmonizing with Reeves was so good I wish I could have shared this experience with other fans. You would have loved it. Just listen to Ralna sing this country classic, and imagine what she'd sound like doing a duet with Jim Reeves! (Important note: The volume on this video is too low, so be sure to turn up your computer speakers and also click the little speaker button under the video to move the slider up all the way).