100 Greatest Men: #30. Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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


  1. I remember as a kid hearing my mother singing “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone …” She had a good voice. I don’t. Reeves sure had a mellow sound on “He’ll Have to Go” but that’s the only song of his I’m familiar with.

    I never knew that Reeves played baseball. According to http://www.baseball-reference.com, he only played minor league ball, never made it to the Cardinals.

  2. Distant Drums was from 1966, not 1976. It was also a number one record in Great Britain, which brings up why you have Jim Reeves much much too low in your rankings – Jim Reeves was the first international superstar of country music, charting hits throughout Europe and those parts of Africa and the Caribbean that had been been British colonies and protectorates.

    In fact when I lived in England in 1969-1971 there were one daily BBC show that had a daily Jim Reeves spot and a weekly show that featured him each week. Many Jim Reeves recordings have remained in print throughout the English speaking world – one of his albums charted in the UK top ten as recently as 2009 – forty-five years after his death ! Actually, his albums are available almost everywhere on the planet – Japan, Germany, India – you name it, his albums are available there

    In terms of pure vocal talent Jim Reeves would be in anyone’s top five,maybe even at #1.

  3. While I agree with Paul W. Dennis that perhaps “Gentleman Jim” is ranked a touch too low here, I also believe that it’s a great honor to be ranked up there in the upper half of this survey. It’s kind of clear that Reeves’ hits have had staying power, especially “He’ll Have To Go”, which a lot of artists, inside and outside of country, have covered since Reeves’ original (among them, Elvis in 1977, and Tom Jones in 1967).

  4. I like Jim Reeves but I think this is the perfect position for him. To any fans of today, they will probably only know “He’ll Have to Go” Great song and vocalist. Ok, maybe he should be just a bit higher.

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