Born James Allen Bowen, 30 November 1937, Santa Rita, New Mexico
Never the possessor of the greatest of voices, Jimmy Bowen was far more important as a producer than as a singer. Nevertheless, the story of his 1950s career as a rockabilly / pop singer deserves to be told here. He started out as bass player and singer for the Rhythm Orchids, a trio (later quartet) that included Buddy Knox.
Born in New Mexico, Bowen moved to Dumas, Texas, with his family at the age of seven. Young Jimmy sang in the church choir and took part in the high school glee club. At Dumas High School he met Donny Lanier with whom he became close friends. While studying at West Texas State College, they met Buddy Knox. Around 1954/5 Knox, Lanier and Bowen got together to form a group called the Serenaders, soon retitled the Orchids. They started working dances around Dumas and Amarillo, as well as landing a slot on Radio KDDD in Dumas, where Bowen also worked as a deejay. Lanier played lead guitar, Knox rhythm guitar (he was also the lead vocalist) and Bowen bass. Initially they played country and western swing, but seeing Elvis Presley perform in Amarillo on June 2, 1955 inspired them to switch to rockabilly. Early in 1956 they had cut two demos of self-composed songs, “Party Doll” and “My Baby’s Gone”. Roy Orbison advised them to get in touch with Norman Petty, who owned a recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico.
It was there that the trio (augmented with drummer Dave Alldred) recorded “Party Doll” (sung by Knox) and “I’m Stickin’ With You” (sung by Bowen) in April 1956. The boys formed their own label, Triple D (named after KDDD), on which the two songs were initially released. The newly established Roulette label in New York purchased the masters and split up the two tunes on the Triple D single. “Party Doll” was coupled with “My Baby’s Gone”, which was sung by Bowen and recorded in New York, but both sides were credited to Buddy Knox with the Rhythm Orchids (the new name that the Roulette bosses had invented for the Orchids). “Party Doll” was a smash hit, topping the Billboard charts in the week of March 30, 1957. Bowen’s “I’m Stickin’ With You” also sold impressively, peaking at # 14, while the other side, “Ever Lovin’ Fingers”, reached # 63.
Bowen and Knox went on to make many more records for Roulette, alternating sessions between New York and Clovis. Knox, a far better singer, was the more successful of the two. Bowen managed two further chart entries, “Warm Up To Me Baby” (1957, # 57) and “By the Light Of the Silvery Moon” (1958, # 50). He appeared in the film “Jamboree”, where he sang “Cross Over”. His last recordings for Roulette were made in October 1959, after which the Rhythm Orchids broke up. Bowen gave up performing and worked as a deejay in Colorado Springs for about a year before moving to Los Angeles in late 1960. He had one release on Capehart and one on Crest in 1961, but his main ambition was to become a producer.
In 1962 Bowen did his first production work, with Chancellor Records. The next year he moved on to Reprise, the label founded by Frank Sinatra in 1960. Bowen soon became one of the top producers there, working with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., among many others. He produced three number ones : "Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin (1964), “Strangers In the Night” by Frank Sinatra (1966) and “Somethin’ Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra (1967, co-produced by Lee Hazlewood). Bowen left Reprise in 1968 ; at that time he was married to Keely Smith. After working for a number of other Los Angeles labels (including his own Amos label), Bowen headed for Nashville in 1977. Until then he had not really been interested in country music, but he fell in love with it and set out to improve the overall quality of country albums and raise the budgets. In L.A. he could spend $ 100,000 to $ 125,000 per album ; in Nashville they were spending $ 15,000. Soon Bowen was one of the most important forces on the Nashville scene.
Initially he worked for MCA, then Elektra/Asylum (where he became vice-president), later again for MCA and finally Capitol/Liberty. The list of country artists he has produced is very long and includes Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty, Crystal Gayle, the Bellamy Brothers, Reba McIntyre, Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis, and, most successful of all, George Strait. Sixty-seven of his (co-)productions have topped the country charts. Jimmy Bowen retired after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 1994. He got treatment, quit the music business and moved permanently to Hawaii.
More info : http://www.waybackattack.com/bowenjimmy.html
Book : Jimmy Bowen (with Jim Jerome), Rough Mix : An unapologetic look at the music business and how it got that way. New York : Simon & Schuster, 1997. 302 pages.
Discography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/2009/08/jimmy-bowen.html
CD : Jimmy Bowen’s complete Roulette recordings (30 tracks) are on Disc 2 of the 2-CD set “Buddy Knox, Jimmy Bowen and the Rhythm Orchids” (Sequel NED CD 278, released 1996). Liner notes by Adam Komorowski.
Acknowledgements : Adam Komorowski, Melinda Newman, Wayne Jancik.
Dik, January 2017
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