Born Floyd Glenn Reeves, 29 December 1930, Rockwall County, Texas
Bear Family has just released the first-ever compilation of the music of Glenn Reeves, a little known singer and songwriter, best remembered perhaps as the guy who recorded the original demo of "Heartbreak Hotel". Between 1955 and 1958 he had eight singles released : two on TNT, one on Republic, one on Atco and four on Decca. The Bear Family CD contains the 16 tracks from these singles, that important demo of "Heartbreak Hotel", a rare single from the late 1960s and six previously "unissued" recordings. Unissued according to Bear Family that is ; for instance, the opening track, "Rock Around the World" has been issued five times before, but apparently these were not legal releases.
Reeves grew up in Shamrock, Texas, and formed his own band in high school, playing western swing and hillbilly classics. After a stint in the Marine Corps he decided to pursue his interest in music, working as a deejay on KCTX in Childress, Texas. In 1955 he recorded two discs of his own for Bob Tanner's TNT label in San Antonio. "I'm Johnny On the Spot", his debut release, was described by Billboard as a "lively country novelty". All four TNT sides were co-written by Mae Boren Axton (1914- 1997), a school teacher and part-time songwriter from Jacksonville, Florida (where Reeves had moved in 1953), but with roots in Texas. She collaborated with several others as a songwriter. Reeves was one of her co-writers, but the person she worked with most frequently was steel guitarist Tommy Durden. Axton and Durden wrote "Heartbreak Hotel" in October 1955. They asked Reeves if he'd like to help with the composition, but he declined, saying the title was silly. When he returned an hour later, the song was completed and recorded by Durden on Axton's tape recorder. Axton then asked Reeves to sing the song into the tape machine in a style that Elvis Presley could relate to, as she had promised Elvis to write a song for him. Glenn obliged and Presley would copy it exactly as Reeves phrased it. Tommy Durden said later : "Elvis was even breathing in the same places that Glenn did on the dub". Axton and Durden offered Presley one-third of the writing credit to record the song, which he did on January 10, 1956. The rest is history, as they say.
Mae Axton quit her teaching job, moved to Nashville to concentrate on songwriting, but continued to collaborate with Reeves and Durden on such songs as "Honey Bop" (for Wanda Jackson) and "Rockin' Country Style", which Reeves recorded for Atco in June 1956, after a one-off country single on Republic. "Rockin' Country Style" and its flip, a remake of "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" (Atco 6080) were Glenn's first attempts at rock 'n' roll. Both the Republic and the Atco single were recorded in Nashville and produced by Murray Nash.
When Atlantic/Atco failed to renew their interest in Reeves, Murray Nash and Mae Axton touted his contract around Nashville and managed to come up with a four-record deal with Paul Cohen, the boss of Decca Records for country music. The first two Decca singles were geared to the pop market and were very different from the Atco cuts, but the third single, "Betty's Bounce"/"Rock-A-Boogie Lou" (Decca 30589, 1958) was a great double- sided rocker, with accompaniment by the Nashville A-team. A final Decca session in October 1958 resulted in "Tarzan"/"Born To Cry", with Boots Randolph on sax, but this single fared no better than the seven preceding singles and both Decca and Reeves knew there had to be a parting of the ways.
By 1959, Reeves was focused on the Florida music scene. He worked as a disc jockey on WQIK in Jacksonville and started a country music TV show, the 'Glenn Reeves Show' that was networked over 15 stations in the South East USA. In the late sixties he had a bad car accident that brought an end to his TV show. Around 1970 Glenn moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he became executive producer of 'Jamboree USA', a long-running barn dance show performed live on stage each Saturday night, broadcast over radio WWVA. He organized several massive country music festivals, with great success. Come 1980 he was back in Florida and soon formed a company called Mellojean Inc., for "producing fairs, festivals, and radio station promotional events all over the east". He was a star in the radio and TV world of the Southeast and still quite active when he became very ill with cancer in 1998 and died soon afterwards, at the age of 67. Glenn Reeves was a talented singer, but his recording career never got off the ground. After a brief period chasing that elusive hit record, he saw the light and spent most of his life behind the scenes, organizing and enabling things to happen for other musicians, just as he had in 1955 when the arrangement for "Heartbreak Hotel" was originally being worked out.
Acknowledgements : Martin Hawkins, liner notes for the Bear Family CD. Thanks also to Eric LeBlanc.
CD : Glenn Reeves, Johnny On the Spot (Bear Family BCD 16658). Released 2011. 25 tracks. In the "Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight" series. With 42-page booklet by Martin Hawkins.
More info : http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/artist.php?key=reev4200 (By Terry Gordon. )
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