There is no voice like Jim Reeves, period. Gentleman Jim was born 86 years ago on August 20.
One night Jim Reeves performed a Mitchell Torok song, "Mexican Joe," on the Louisiana Hayride. Encore after encore followed. Six times Reeves went back out. He would have gone out a seventh time, but a Hayride official stopped him and told him that nobody was going to beat Hank Williams' record of seven encores. The song went on to national success, and Jim Reeves was on his way.
Back in those days, Reeves did not sing in his natural baritone. Someone at his first successful record label (Abbott) didn't think people wanted to hear such a deep voice singing country music. (This was not unique to Reeves: another Abbott artist sang higher than his normal voice. That was Jim Ed Brown, the sole male member of the Browns.) Things changed on February 7, 1957, when Jim entered Studio B in Nashville and recorded the song "Four Walls." That song is regarded by many to be the start of what is now known as "the Nashville sound." Reeves never sang in an abnormally higher pitch again -- nor did he ever use fiddles on his songs.
Reeves was a major success, but in many ways he was also a victim of the times. With the advent of rock and roll the sales of country music dropped dramatically. Reeves' success with "Four Walls" caused many to drop straight country music for a hybrid, "crossover" sound. He continued to make country records, but they were released on RCA's subsidiary label RCA Camden. The RCA Victor label turned Reeves into an overproduced country-pop singer with orchestration occasionally so loud it nearly drowned out Reeves' rich, velvety voice.
Jim Reeves lost his life three weeks before his 41st birthday in a plane crash outside of Nashville. In the time that has passed since his death his popularity has not diminished. He left a large collection of demo tapes, many of which were overdubbed and released into the late 1980s as "new" songs. In the early 1990s Bear Family issued everything on a sixteen-CD box set, Welcome to My World.
A book on Reeves by Larry Jordan (Jim Reeves: His Untold Story) is due out shortly, evidence that the world has not forgotten the exceptional talent of Gentleman Jim Reeves.