Del Reeves: July 14, 1932 to January 1, 2007
Del Reeves’ records never probed the human psyche or the nation’s social ills; lighthearted novelties were his primary stock in trade. When he died at his Centerville, Tennessee, home New Year’s Day after a long battle with, among other things, emphysema, it was the first many had heard of him in years.
Named Franklin Delano Reeves in honor of FDR when he was born in Sparta, North Carolina, he was singing Bill Monroe songs on local radio at age 12 but got his professional start in California during his mid-’50s Air Force days. Nothing came of two 1957-58 sessions for Capitol. Reeves, who preferred recording country, couldn’t countenance producer Ken Nelson trying to reinvent him as a rocker.
His 1961 move to Nashville improved his status, as his Decca single “Be Quiet Mind” reached the top 10. Two subsequent singles broke the top 20. A gifted songwriter, Del co-wrote (with his wife Ellen) Rose Maddox’s biggest hit, 1963’s “Sing A Little Song Of Heartache”.
He hit his stride at United Artists in 1965, when a bit of scat-singing (“doodle-oo-do-do”) on the intro of his #1 ditty “Girl On The Billboard” became Reeves’ trademark. Subsequent hits were similarly catchy, among them “The Belles Of Southern Bell” and the trucker tune “Lookin’ At The World Through A Windshield”, covered by Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen and, later, by Son Volt.
He mixed comedy and music on his syndicated Del Reeves Country Carnival TV show. The hits were fewer and more modest after 1971, yet Reeves, a Grand Ole Opry member since 1966, never lost his passion. In 1988, he told me, “We felt every time [a record] came out that next week we’d be on the Opry. That was my life’s dream. It’s a feelin’ I guess only I can feel, about how it was: to fulfill that dream.”