DID JIM REALLY WRITE 88 SONGS?

 

The quick answer to that, is no he didn’t. His song writing ability, like every other aspect of the man’s musical career, is strewn with story, conjecture and doubt. I have spent a lifetime looking at the recorded & written works of Jim Reeves within the boundaries of the history of country music of the time, generally between the late forties & mid-sixties. It wouldn’t matter which major artists you examined, but I’m betting that at some stage in their careers, their names appear as writer or co-writer on their recorded material. Artists didn’t take long to realise that you didn’t make the big money singing & performing. No, the big bucks were creamed off by writers and the major publishing companies. So they all jumped on the bandwagon, began to write songs and formed their own publishing companies.

But all of this involved gathering other people’s songs as well as writing your own, in order to have a respectable catalogue to pitch to other artists. Soon business ethics and morality dissipated down the drain, and it became unscrupulously commonplace to steal, purchase or bribe one’s way to good songs. Rightly or wrongly, everyone was at it and it didn’t take Jim long to follow suit. He purchased songs, putting his own name on them. We know of 6 recorded songs written by Al Courtney where this happened. He tried to bribe the writer(s) for a share by agreeing to record their song(s), such as Johnny Russell, Dave Burgess & Hank Noble. He recorded public domain songs such as “My Juanita” & “The streets of Laredo”, claiming the arrangements to be his and thus acquiring the 100% writer’s share. ( Mary Reeves learned the art in 1965 when she added her name as arranger to 3 Christmas carols and an inspirational song.)

In writing this piece, I am trying to paint a picture of Jim’s song writing ability with an overview which is both subjective and realistic, but which nevertheless reflects my scepticism, for it is too easy to eulogise over his song writing ability when so much material carried his name. Before I say more, I owe a debt of gratitude, as we all should, to Jim’s former secretary Joyce Jackson who as one of her latter day tasks at the Jim Reeves Enterprises, compiled a listing titled “SONGS WRITTEN SOLELY OR IN PART BY JIM REEVES” . During a recent conversation with her when I was taxing her memory with some question or other, she happened to mention the aforementioned list. I commented how I’d love to have seen it. Alas, she hadn’t a copy. And then, as if by divine intervention, a couple of weeks ago, a member of the inner circle of Jim’s researchers sent me a copy. Apparently it had been in circulation for some considerable time, but had passed me by. The 2 ½ page list will prove invaluable to me.

My second vote of thanks must go to Arie den Dulk who continues to do a magnificent and invaluable job in keeping Jim’s name & music alive via his Fan Club. I’ve been there and know just how difficult & tiring a job it is. And especially so at this time when the whole scene is being torn apart by a book. Arie has very kindly allowed me to write & publish this essay for he knows I write from within with no underhand motives other than an opinion drawn on a wealth of experience & knowledge of Jim’s music over the years. He respects my opinion and I his. I hope others feel as I do, but every fan is different and most have their own agendas.

Joyce’s listing is so full of interest and facts, but it is far from complete. The total of 88 songs is really 87, for the Red Sovine song “I know (and you know)” is the same as “You know (and I know)”. They are listed as two separate titles in BMI, leading one to speculate that Jim might have changed the title to get his 50% writer’s share. Once any additional writer is added to the song’s writer credits, so the speculative scepticism (or sceptical speculation) increases. Of the 87 songs, 50 are credited solely to Jim, though 4 of those are arranger credits. 24 songs have Jim plus another writer, each earning 50%. 7 songs have Jim plus 2, each earning 33 1/3%.

5 songs have one named co-writer, but Jim only collects 25%, indicating he had little or nothing to do with the song. The smallest writer share is a mere 15% which Jim got for recording “(How can I write on paper) what I feel in my heart?” The song’s co-writer George Kent told me a month before he died that “Don Carter & I wrote the song”. He had no idea why Danny Harrison’s name was there. Danny Harrison may, like Jim have agreed to record the song for a share, but at the time Jim beat him to it. Harrison’s version appeared on a 1968 album.

Examining the publishing companies of the 50 songs credited solely to Jim, it is interesting to note the straight down the middle split between his own publishing companies ( 9 songs to Open Road, 11 songs to Tuckahoe, 5 to Acclaim) and the rest from the early part of Jim’s career when he would have reluctantly had to part with his songs to West Coast publishing concerns like (Hill & Range 7 songs, American 14 songs). The remaining 4 songs went to Tree 1 song, Athens 1 song and Ark-la-Tex 2 songs.

It is the last company which is of great importance to the Reeves story. Just why would Jim have placed 2 of his songs “If you love me, don’t leave me” and “Whispering willow” with Ark-la-Tex Music in 1951? The company had been formed in late 1950 as a partnership between Webb Pierce & Horace Logan (of Louisiana Hayride fame). At the same time they created Pacemaker Records which had no distribution as such, but was a means of regional artists having the wherewithal to record material for local radio consumption. Webb Pierce was tied to a contract with 4 Star records of Hollywood at the time, but, not happy, still managed to release singles on Pacemaker with his band, but with Tillman Franks credited with vocal duties on the record label.

By the end of 1950, Jim must have been well disenchanted with his recording career. His 2 Macy’s singles had taken him nowhere. By no means was he giving up the fight and sometime early 1951 determined to record demos of his own compositions at the Jim Beck studio in Dallas. Mary Reeves told me there were 5 in total. From details in the Library of Congress, it seems certain that “If you love me, don’t leave me” & “Whispering willow”, copyrighted on April 11th 1951, were 2 of those 5 recordings.

Despite one expert refusing to accept the fact that Jim made a “Louisiana Hayride” appearance in July 1951, historians reckon there is proof enough this happened. At that time, Horace Logan was still involved with Ark-la-Tex Music & Pacemaker Records, but the Hayride management soon became increasingly sick of a conflict of interest issue, and Horace was given the ultimatum (rather like Jim Denny with the Grand Ole Opry) to choose - his Hayride position or the music publishing. He chose the former and sold his share of Ark-la-Tex back to Webb Pierce who by this time had moved to Nashville. Pierce later sold a half share in Ark-la-Tex to the Aberbach brothers of Hill & Range and the new joint venture was incorporated on 10th November 1952.

Knowing now the jiggery-pokery that was prevalent in the music business at the time, who is to say that Jim’s sweetener of 2 of his songs to Horace Logan , wasn’t to glean a single release on Pacemaker Records or even that first July appearance on the Hayride? But in any instance, it was all to no avail. Pacemaker folded after 18 releases and Jim’s performance must have been below par, for he wasn’t asked back to the show. No mention has ever been made of this, either by experts or Horace Logan in his book. These facts remained undiscovered because the 2 songs were always credited on disc to Hill & Range Songs. Thank you Joyce for helping to reveal some more hidden gems.

But, you may be asking “What about the missing songs?” Certainly I’ve found more titles, some of which she (or Mary) should have known about, and again this makes for interesting research. “El rancho del Rio”, an Abbott recording written by Rex King, Jim & Tom Perryman who readily admits he had nothing to do with writing the song which was published by Sylvester Cross & his American Music in 1953. “Ichabod Crane” was a 4 Star published song when Jim recorded it in 1955. In 1960 it became a Tuckahoe song with his name on it, despite the original writers being Dusty Rose & T. Texas Tyler - another obvious purchase.

“Look behind you (I’ll be there)” was a Harlan Howard song Jim recorded twice in 1956 & 57. Harlan was just beginning his song writing career, so it would have been easy for Jim to cajole his way in as a co-writer. It is also interesting to note that “Once upon a time”, in the list and credited 100% to Jim, was in fact copyrighted as a joint effort again with Al Courtney in 1947. Joyce also omitted the 4 Macy songs which were copyrighted in 1950. “Chicken hearted”, “I’ve never been so blue”, “My heart’s like a welcome mat” & “Teardrops of regret”. They were written jointly by Jim & Al Courtney whose names appear on the record label. The Peer sheet music for the song includes the additional name of Macy Lela Henry who must have thought she deserved a bite of the cherry for giving Jim the chance to record on her label.

But the bulk of the missing songs are those which appear on the Voicemasters label released between 2003 & 2008. 22 published songs from Joyce’s list were used on the 6 cd’s, either in their original demo form or as new tasteful overdub recordings. But of most significance were the 9 previously unheard demos of Jim’s songs acquired by the label. 5 had been written solely by Jim - “You’re standing in my way” (BMI registered, copyright as a published song 1957), “Subconscious mind” (re-titled “Subconscious heart” on Voicemasters) (copyright as a published song 1967), “There’s a light shinin’ thru’ ”, “Something to rock about” and “Language of love”. The remaining 4 songs were written with co-writers. “The broken heart parade” with Mildred Burk, “How many tears from now?” with Al Courtney, “Shepherd of love” (copyright as a published song 1960) & “I call her heartache” with Nellie Smith & Leona Buttrum.

These beautifully produced discs are covered extensively on both sleeve & liner notes with excellent pictures & text. However, one thing is missing on them all; that is any reference to the publishers of the songs. Joyce’s list makes it clear that they are all published songs belonging to specific publishers. So why do Voicemasters choose to ignore that fact? Most cd’s have an on-sleeve reference to a licensing body or a mechanical protection organisation like GEMA, MCPS or BMI. There may be a perfectly valid answer to this, or maybe I’m in sceptical speculation mode again?

My maths isn’t too good, but my total is now 103 songs which Jim wanted us to remember as his own. But does it all really matter? After all, he wasn’t too bothered about his exact birth date, so what’s a few wrong numbers among friends? It only matters to sad, old, pernickety individuals like me who, seeing a wonderful song listing, feel the need to rewrite history. Thank you again Joyce.

It made my day!

DAVID BUSSEY

Library of Congress data courtesy - Kurt Rokitta

“PURE TRUTH, LIKE PURE GOLD, HAS BEEN FOUND UNFIT FOR CIRCULATION, BECAUSE MEN HAVE DISCOVERED THAT IT IS FAR MORE CONVENIENT TO ADULTERATE THE TRUTH THAN TO REFINE THEMSELVES.”

Charles Caleb Colton - English cleric 1780-1832