In the Pantheon of country music greats, Jim Reeves’ voice is one of a kind. Known as “Gentleman Jim”, he looked the part of a sophisticated crooner—tuxedo jackets, a bow tie, and an unbelievably smooth voice.
With the help of producer Chet Atkins, Reeves scored six number one hits on the country charts in the 1950s and early 60s. Reeves died in a plane crash near Brentwood in 1964; he was just 40 years old. Even after his death, five of his songs topped the U.S. charts. But his success also crossed borders and oceans.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, SONG NUMBER ONE…
On Sunday nights in Sri Lanka (9,300 miles from Nashville), Jim Reeves’ music still takes the top spot on Gold FM’s Country Countdown of classic hits. This week – and last, and the week before – it was Love Is No Excuse, Reeves’ duet with Dottie West
Sony Music, which now distributes his records, says Jim Reeves is the best-selling English language artist ever in the island nation. In neighboring India, hundreds turned out in the city of Mangalore in 2009 to mark the 45th anniversary of his death.
Reeves’ voice was inescapable to Bal Kishore Das Loiwal growing up in the Himalayan foothills. “I think we had practically every record that Jim made. My mom just loved him,” he says. Today, Das Loiwal preforms under the name Bobby Cash – The Indian Cowboy. He believes Reeves struck a chord for two reasons. “His diction and the way he sang. He sang slow and easy. You could understand each and every word of his,” he says. English, though an official language in India, is not the first language for many in that country.
Then there’s the cultural intersect with country music themes. “Indian people are sentimental people,” Bobby says. “They’re sentimental about their families, about their parents, their love, their life, their hometown.”
FROM NASHVILLE TO OSLO, JOHANNESBURG, AND BEYOND…
Reeves’ international popularity was no accident. As he racked up a string of hits in the U.S., executives at RCA believed Jim’s voice had a transcendent quality.
“Somewhere in the late 50s or the very early 60s, the British branch of RCA decided to push Jim Reeves’ recording overseas,” says Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum historian Dr. John Rumble. “So, part of it was marketing and disc jockeys had his records available. “
“I don’t think Jim really knew, he never let onto me, that he realized just how big he was,” says Jim’s nephew, John Rex Reeves. At 77, John Rex performs in a tribute act to his late uncle. He last saw Jim a few weeks before his death, after he returned from a tour of Europe and South Africa.
Jim Reeves never set foot India or Sri Lanka, but his popularity endures. Indian musician Bobby Cash sees Jim Reeves as a country pioneer.
“As far as I’m concerned, he was the first truly global country artist,” he says.
Jim Reeves’ European tour included this concert in Oslo, preserved by Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
In South Africa, Jim made a film. Kimberly Jim is a musical set during South Africa’s diamond rush of the 1890s.