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100 Greatest Men: #30. Jim Reeves

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Gentleman Jim Reeves started off as a hardcore country singer, but his smooth crossover stylings would become synonymous with the Nashville Sound, combining with tragedy to grant him country music immortality only a dozen years into his career.

Growing up in Texas, Reeves picked up the guitar at an early age, mimicking the Jimmie Rodgers records that he discovered through his older brother.   A prodigious talent, Reeves was already singing on local radio shows before he entered his teens.

He was also a great athlete, and he played in a semi-professional league, followed by three years in the big leagues with the Saint Louis Cardinals.  But an ankle injury sidelined him, and he returned his attention to music.

He worked in radio while recording independent singles, eventually raising his profile with a series of hits on Abbott Records.  After three years of scoring big hits with them, he once again joined the big leagues, this time in the form of major record label RCA Victor.

Reeves was a consistent hitmaker throughout the fifties, but didn’t truly break through to superstardom until he softened his country sound with the pop stylings of the time.  “He’ll Have to Go”, released in 1959, became his signature hit, reaching the pop top ten while it topped the country charts for fourteen weeks.

His singles regularly charted

country and pop from that point on, though he was far more successful in his home format.  Tragedy struck when Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964, but much like Patsy Cline before him, his notoriety only grew in the shadow of his untimely death.

In fact, Reeves would have his most significant run of hits in the years after his death, having an astonishing sixteen top ten singles over the course of seventeen years.  Some of those hits, like “Distant Drums” and “Blue Side of Lonesome”, are as beloved as the biggest ones released while he was still alive.

Reeves was one of the earliest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame, joining those hallowed ranks in 1967.  “He’ll Have to Go” cemented its classic status with its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.   To this day, unreleased recordings continue to surface, and he remains one of the top-selling country artists of the Nashville Sound era.

Essential Singles:

  • Mexican Joe, 1953
  • Bimbo, 1953
  • Four Walls, 1957
  • Billy Bayou, 1958
  • He’ll Have to Go, 1959
  • Adios Amigo, 1962
  • I Guess I’m Crazy, 1964
  • Distant Drums, 1976

Essential Albums:

  • Jim Reeves Sings, 1956
  • Bimbo, 1957
  • Girls I Have Known, 1958
  • The Country Side of Jim Reeves, 1962
  • Distant Drums, 1966
  • The Blue Side of Lonesome, 1967

Next: #29. Alabama

Previous: #31. Randy Travis

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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100 Greatest Men: #43. Roger Miller

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

He became widely hailed for his lightning-fast wit and charming novelty songs, but Roger Miller’s talents ran far deeper than just the moments of comedic brilliance that made him a legend.

Miller took a long and winding route to country stardom.  His brother-in-law, Sheb Wooley, encouraged his fiddle playing as a boy, and he sang and played guitar, but he was more interested in working as a ranch hand.  But after a stint in the army led to a chance meeting with industry insiders, he made the jump and moved to Nashville.

An audition for Chet Atkins at RCA went poorly, but Miller persevered, focusing on his songwriting.  He wrote the classic Ray Price hit “Invitation to the Blues”, along with hits for Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, and Faron Young.   He also co-wrote with George Jones, and although it wasn’t a hit at the time, their collaboration “Tall, Tall Trees” would become a #1 hit for Alan Jackson three decades later.

Miller’s success as a writer garnered him new attention from Nashville labels, and he had a handful of minor hits on RCA during a short stint on the label.   While he was known as a hardcore country singer up until this point, he tried a new approach, moving to California and appearing on network variety shows as a more comedic country singer.

The new image was a big success, and when he began releasing singles and albums on the Smash Records label, he became a superstar.   Over the course of just three years, he released several major hits, won eleven Grammy awards, and earned several gold albums, along with the million-selling single, “King of the Road.”

After those peak years, he continued to chart, and often brought attention to material from newer songwriters like Bobby Russell (“Little Green Apples”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Me and Bobby McGee”).   His own songwriting led to additional hits for other artists, most notably Eddy Arnold, who had a #2 hit with “The Last Word in Lonesome is Me.”

Miller’s storytelling skills led him to pen several songs for the Disney animated film Robin Hood in 1973, which foreshadowed his next and final major signature success.  In 1985, he became the toast of Broadway for his score to the show Big River, which won him two Tony awards.   Though Miller continued to work after this incredible achievement, he was soon sidelined by throat cancer, which claimed his life in 1991.

Essential Singles:

  • Dang Me, 1964
  • Chug-a-Lug, 1964
  • Do-Wacka-Do, 1964
  • King of the Road, 1965
  • England Swings, 1965
  • Husbands and Wives, 1966
  • Little Green Apples, 1968
  • Me and Bobby McGee, 1969

Essential Albums:

  • Roger and Out, 1964
  • The Return of Roger Miller, 1965
  • Third Time Around, 1965
  • Words and Music,  1966
  • Walkin’ in the Sunshine, 1967
  • A Tender Look at Love, 1968

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#42. Porter Wagoner

Previous: #44. Glen Campbell

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Grammy Flashback: Best Male Country Vocal Performance

Updated for 2009

While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.

In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.

As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’s Best Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!

jamey-johnson-lonesome2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
  • Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
  • George Strait, “Troubadour”

As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.

First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist.  Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.

Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.

But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.

However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already.  We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.

2008

  • Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
  • Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”

The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.

2007

  • Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
  • George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”

Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.

2006

  • George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
  • Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
  • Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”

Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.

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Grammy Flashback: Best Country Album

A look back at the previous winners and nominees of the Best Country Album Grammy, updated to include the 2009 contenders.

The Grammys have been doing better in the country categories since they reintroduced the Best Country Album category in 1995, which had only been in existence for two years in the 1960s. Prior to 1995, albums and singles were both eligible in the vocalist categories, so full albums would compete against single tracks in Best Male Country Vocal Performance,  for example.

Looking over the history of this fairly young category, you can see trends emerge, with certain acts clearly being favorites of NARAS. You see the same trend with the CMAs, just with different people. What is clear with the Grammys is that radio and retail success will only carry you so far. For awards that are supposed to be based on artistic merit, that’s how it should be.

As with the CMA flashbacks, we’ll begin with a look at this year’s nominees, then discuss previous year’s in reverse chronological order. Winners are in bold.

Be sure to drop by My Kind of Country and vote in their Best Country Album poll. Let your preference be known!

trisha12009

  • Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song
  • Patty Loveless, Sleepless Nights
  • George Strait, Troubadour
  • Randy Travis, Around the Bend
  • Trisha Yearwood, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love

Four veterans and one newcomer vie for this year’s Best Country Album, and it’s a wide-open race with no obvious favorite. The critically acclaimed breakthrough album of Jamey Johnson could earn him his first Grammy. The legendary George Strait would like to start a Grammy collection of his own. Like fellow nominee Patty Loveless, this is his third nomination for this award. While Loveless has also yet to win this one, she does have a Grammy already, for her contributions to the multi-artist collaboration “Same Old Train.”

Randy Travis is a real contender here; five of his previous albums have won Grammys. Two of them (Always & Forever, Old 8×10) won in the Best Male Country Vocal Performance category, back when albums and singles competed with each other in that race. And while this is his first nomination for Best Country Album, he was won Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album three times, for Glory Train (2007), Worship & Faith (2005) and Rise and Shine (2004.)

While Vince Gill broke the all-female trend in this category last year, he was nominated in an all-male field. If the trend begins again this year, this will be a battle between Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. The latter’s Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love is arguably the strongest album in this category, and while Yearwood won three Grammys in the nineties, she has never won Best Country Album, despite earning more nominations than any other artist in the history of the category – Heartache is her eighth set to contend for the trophy. She’s beyond overdue, but her competition is formidable.

vince-gill-these-days2008

  • Dierks Bentley, Long Trip Alone
  • Vince Gill, These Days
  • Tim McGraw, Let it Go
  • Brad Paisley, 5th Gear
  • George Strait, It Just Comes Natural

With the exception of Shania Twain’s Come On Over, no album that has also been nominated for the general Album of the Year race has failed to win Best Country Album. So it was no surprise when Vince Gill picked up the trophy for his four-disc opus These Days. In his acceptance speech, he good-naturedly ribbed Kanye West, providing one of the evening’s brightest moments.

2007

  • Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
  • Alan Jackson, Like Red On a Rose
  • Little Big Town, The Road to Here
  • Willie Nelson, You Don’t Know Me: The Songs of Cindy Walker
  • Josh Turner, Your Man

The Chicks became the first artists in Grammy history to win four genre Best Album awards, breaking their tie with Eminem, who has won three Best Rap Album trophies. This was one of five trophies they took home at the February 2007 ceremony, and the album returned to #1 on the country chart and back to the pop top ten on the strength of those victories.

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