AMAZING DISCOVERY WORLDWIDE EXCLUSIVE
MYSTERY OF SUPPOSED JIM REEVES BEAR FAMILY RECORDINGS FINALLY SOLVED AFTER NEARLY 20 YEARS
This discovery will have no relevance at all for the Jim Reeves fan who has yet to invest in the greatest compact disc collection of all time of his recorded material. Released in 1994, the mammoth 16 cd boxed-set “Welcome to my world” (BCD 15656) on German Bear Family Records, is the ultimate chronicle of Reeves studio recording career from 1953 - 1964. The set, totalling 446 recordings, also includes acetates & demos from his early days, and subsequent overdubbed recordings (26 tracks) which entered the country music charts after his death. With 16 cd’s, this collection remains Bear Family’s largest numerical collection in their catalogue. It superseded their 1989 4 cd collection of Reeves material “Gentleman Jim” (BCD 15439) which contained only his RCA studio material between 1955 & 1959, a total of 110 songs including 10 masters never before released, and which is now deleted. Apparently, the 1994 collection contains superior quality recordings found by owner Richard Weize in the RCA vaults. The 16 cd boxed-set is still in their catalogue, but for how long is anyone’s guess. It is true to say that the complete Reeves recordings would never have seen the light of day in one set anywhere, were it not for Richard Weize’s desire, fortitude & love of early country music, plus of course the vagaries & disparities of the German music business which differs greatly from the U.S. The story from many years ago, was that the set had to sell 2000 copies to break even. It is hard to imagine that the man who produced the first Jim Reeves vinyl bootleg in the seventies, is now an iconic figure in the production of superb quality historical recordings in many fields of music, and as he says “it’s all been a labour of love.”
The cover of the boxed-set announces the superb bonus “124-page book with many previously unpublished photos, a newly researched biography by noted country music author & historian Colin Escott, and a comprehensive discography by Richard Weize.” Actually, when you get inside the book, the discography for the studio recordings is a 3 way affair crediting Arie den Dulk, Kurt Rokitta & Richard Weize; the overdubs - the charted hits discography credits Kurt Rokitta & Richard Weize. The final discography, the demo discography again credits the threesome who made a courageous effort to create a chronological listing of the 70 tracks, having very little to go on. Despite their cumulative knowledge & experience, they were never going to create a research document that was 100%. Their reparation states: “These sessions are the subject of some speculation. The information that appears here is based on copyright entries at the Library of Congress, tape boxes & interviews.”
In the boxed-set, the 70 acetate & demo recordings are spread over 3 cd’s. Cd 2 contains 11 tracks (25-35), cd 15 contains 33 tracks and cd 16 contains 26 tracks. The 2 tracks we are concerned with in this essay, are on cd 16 - track 9 “Right words” & track 10 “You darling you.” The 2 songs are listed numbers 44 & 45 in the demo discography with no songwriter credits. Little did the compilers realise how very warm they were!
To the discerning ear, it was painfully obvious that this was NOT Jim Reeves singing on the two recordings, but someone trying to sing like him. It was uncertain as to whether they were just mere demo recordings for Jim’s consideration, or whether the instrumentation which included a full rhythm section & out of tune vibes, denoted a full-blown attempt at a bone fide recording of the two songs. Some fans were totally convinced at the time that it was Jim singing, and refused to budge. Somehow the tapes of these 2 songs found their way into the RCA archives with the rest of Jim’s recorded material, and had it not been for Bear Family’s sterling efforts in releasing the 16-cd boxed-set, “Right words” & “You darling you” would never have seen the light of day.
Now, some 53 years since the demos were made and almost 20 years since the 16 cd Bear Family boxed-set was released, Reeves music historian David Bussey can announce, that after extensive research on the matter, he can disclose just who is the writer of the song, & the voice on the 2 demos. The man behind the songs & the demos is J.A. Balthrop. He was born in Slidell, Wise County, Texas on 29th February 1928 to James Monroe Balthrop (1884-1954) & Mary Alpha Balthrop (1896-1986). His Christian name of J.A. is derived from 2 names, namely ’J’ from father James (Jim) & ’A’ from mother Alpha. He is already known to Reeves fans as the writer of 2 songs Jim recorded - “A railroad bum” or to give it its original title “I used to be a railroad bum”, recorded 1961 & released on the RCA Camden “The Country Side of Jim Reeves” (CAL/CAS-686). The other song was “You’re slipping away from me” which had been written & copyrighted by Mr. Balthrop as long ago as 1958. Jim evidently liked the song & made his own demo which he must have forwarded to Mr. Balthrop, and it was never returned. Eventually Mary Reeves re-acquired the recording for an undisclosed sum and the song was copyrighted jointly by Bobe Wes Music (Balthrop’s music publishing company) and Tuckahoe Music in 1966. It is interesting to note Balthrop’s basis of claim to the Library of Congress on his renewal registration for the song on 15th August 1994 as “New matter: different lyrics & another verse added.” Eventually 10 years later on 10th June 1976 the song was overdubbed at an unknown location with unknown musicians. Only name mentioned as A&R representative was Jerry Bradley. It was released in the August of that year on the excellent “A Legendary Performer” album (CPL1-1891).
So Mr. Balthrop’s friendly association with Jim on a song writing platform was not too auspicious with only a Camden cut & a demo to show for his efforts. But it wasn’t for a lack of endeavour. He was to pitch 3 songs to Jim in 1960 for his consideration and 2 were forgotten about, but when Jim took one of Balthrop’s songs he’d written & copyrighted in 1958 called “What do you do?” & turned it into “What would you do?” a year later, Mr. Balthrop was none too pleased at the misappropriation of his work, despite Jim’s feeble cop out. The friendship suffered and during 1960, 61 & 62, he wrote precious little. But in 1963 & 64 he began writing songs again in earnest.
Bobe Balthrop and Frankie Miller, Ray Scribner and Don Pierce in the Bradley Film and Recording Studio, 804 16th Avenue in Nashville, in July/August 1959. Four songs were recorded, two of which were written by Balthrop - "Losing Again" and "Family Man." Session players were Tommy Hill (guitar), Grady Martin (guitar/banjo), Bobby Garret (steel guitar), Buddy Harman (drums), Lightnin' Chance (bass), and Pig Robbins (piano). Producer - Tommy Hill. Picture: courtesy of R.A. Andreas, …and-more-bears.
He began writing & copyrighting songs in 1957, and by 1958 had latched onto the thriving Fort Worth country music fraternity who were around the popular “Cowtown Hoedown” radio show & recording studios like Bluebonnet & Clifford Herring. His first real success came when country singer Frankie Miller recorded several of his songs on Starday.
His song “Family man” (St 457), & copyrighted as “I gotta bring home the bacon (I’m a family man)” hit the Cashbox country charts on 26th September 1959, reaching no. 8 & remaining in the charts for 22 weeks. The song gained Balthrop a BMI Award. Describing him, Miller said: “Bobe (pronounced Bow-bee) Balthrop was a local boy from Fort Worth. He was an ex-policeman. We all called him Bobe Wes. He wrote some stuff I recorded, like “Family man.” He was a songwriter mostly. He played a little guitar but he never performed.” Miller’s follow up Starday single (St 481) was another Bobe Balthrop (that’s the writer’s name on the record label) song called “Reunion (with dinner on the ground)” which remained 5 weeks in the Cashbox charts reaching only no. 31. Balthrop’s final song for Miller “A tough row to hoe” appeared on his 1966 Starday single (St 777) which failed to chart.
You could be forgiven at this point for thinking “Just what is the real name of this guy?” The truth of the matter, is that his birth name was J.A. Balthrop & on his gravestone is J.A. ‘Bobe’ Balthrop. He passed away in Dallas, aged 74 on 26th September 2002. It would appear that in the early years of his song writing, he was known as Bobe Wes, which nom de plume he adopted for his music publishing company, formed in 1959, the trademark being first used in March 1960. He was also referred to as Bobe Balthrop. In those days he could never quite make up his mind which name suited him best. Of his 159 song copyrights in the Library of Congress, only 27 are copyrighted under the name Bobe Wes (referring to it as a pseudonym of J.A. Balthrop & mainly in 1963), the remaining 132 are all logged under the name J.A. Balthrop. A composing hiatus occurred between 1966 & 1978, reasons unknown, but his output between 1978 & 1990 was the most prolific of his career.
For some strange reason, Mr. J.A. Balthrop gets not one mention in “Jim Reeves - The Untold Story.” The author prefers to stick with his alter ego Bobe Wes and relate tales bedecked in quotation marks, but no reference in the back of the book to any interview with Mr. Wes. The quotes are all to do with dubious tittle-tattle on such subjects as “Four walls,” Chet Atkins, happenings in the Forth Worth Hilton & a stolen song. It seems the author disregarded his own warnings about giving too much credence to legendary stories by songwriters. His numerous attacks on author Michael Streissguth & songwriter Alex Zanetis have come back to haunt him.
Mr. Balthrop’s obituary in the Daily Oklahoman paints a fitting picture:
"Mr. Balthrop, 74, died Sept.26th 2002 at Baylor University Medical Center of complications from a stroke. Interment will be at Restland Memorial Park.
The son of a travelling fundamentalist preacher, Mr. Balthrop spent much of his early life around church music. “Music was everything to him,” said his son, Paul J. Balthrop of Dallas. “It was something that he felt deep inside. He wanted to do something that he could be remembered for, and he knew music would be here forever.”
His musical legacy remains today in songs such as Mr. Presley’s “It won’t seem like Christmas (without you)” and Mr. Martin’s “Blue memories.” Mr. Balthrop also wrote “Railroad bum” & “You’re slipping away from me” by Jim Reeves.
A native of Slidell, Texas, Mr. Balthrop graduated from the local high school before studying psychology at Decatur Baptist College, now Dallas Baptist University. He served in the army from the late 1940s to 1953. Mr. Balthrop worked as a Fort Worth police officer for a few years in the 1950s, then went to work for an insurance company as a fraud investigator. He also worked briefly as a Dallas County deputy constable, his family said.
Throughout his adult life, though, music was his passion. Mr. Balthrop frequently travelled to New York & Nashville, playing songs in clubs and trying to sell his work to popular singers. Along the way, he also worked with Willie Nelson and the late country legend Lefty Frizzell, with whom he co-wrote “It costs too much to die.” “He always wanted his guitar,” his son said. “He was just a magnet for the limelight.”
Mr. Balthrop, who married three times, moved around from Fort Worth, Dallas & Mesquite. He settled permanently in Dallas during the mid-1970s. In addition to his son Paul, Mr. Balthrop is survived by two other sons, Miles J. Balthrop of Mesquite and Nicholas J. Balthrop of Dallas; and seven grandchildren."
But to get back to the two songs “Right words” & “You darling you” about which this essay has been construed. Just how did the discovery of the truth surrounding these two demos come about? After all, almost 20 years has passed and nothing was ever discussed or disclosed by Bear Family, fan clubs, book authors, researchers or fans. The matter was ignited in the mind of David Bussey, and his research juices started flowing when he read a copy letter from Jim Reeves to his friend Billy Deaton, a disc jockey on radio station KMAC in San Antonio, Texas who was desperate to carve out a career for himself as a country singer. The copy letter, dated 3rd January 1961 was sent to David by American collector Frank C. Anderson. Times were good for Jim Reeves in 1960, due in no small part to the success of “He’ll have to go.” At some point he had to find a successful follow up single and maybe setting up a new publishing company called Tuckahoe Music would unearth that magical song. He set about seeking new songwriters & songs with renewed verve & vigour, and this involved recording demos.
The letter to Billy Deaton concerned demos of 7 songs Jim was pitching to him for consideration as Deaton’s upcoming recordings for the new Smash label (a subsidiary of Mercury Records founded in 1961 by Shelby Singleton). The demos of several of the songs were by the original songwriters. Deaton’s recording contract with the small Texas TNT label had expired & his 4 singles released in 1960 had only local success. Jim saw this as an ideal opportunity to get his friend to record his songs for a bigger label & hopefully make him some money. The letter read: (excerpted)
“Dear Billy: I’m sending several songs. Some of them I think are good. However, I will let you be the judge. Just thought you would want to take a listen to several and let you make up your mind. I feel they are among the best I have on hand.
…in any event, you can let me know & please bring the demos with you when you come up. Looking forward to seeing you next week.
Here is my comments regarding each tune: 2. “My hands are clean” is very good for your style, it has been recorded by a fellow on a very small label, but it is my understanding that they are not going to release it until we let them know. It has been submitted to Kitty Wells, but there is no definite commitment from her. 4. “Chinese Angel” can be one of those odd ball things that become big records. 6. “You darling you” would depend on the arrangement. I like it very much. Give them a listen and see what you think and I’ll see you next week.
“Chinese Angel” at no.4 on Jim’s list was a song that rang the first bell. All the paperwork on the song surfacing after Jim’s death, was offered for sale on eBay 10 years ago. The bidding ended on 8th September 8th 2003, the winning bid being US $48.51 by “panolacounty.” The description revealed: “This auction is for an old songwriter’s contract between Tuckahoe Music & a songwriter with the pseudonym of Bobe Wes. It was signed in 1961 by both the writer & Jim Reeves and at some point in time released back to the writer. Void in red is written across the contract. This auction includes the original signed contract, 3 professional copies of the music, and the lyrics, in the original folder it was found in.”
On 5th September 2003, the seller belatedly added the following: “I wanted to let everyone know that was bidding on this auction that I have discovered that in very tiny letters under Jim’s name on the contract it says ‘by JG.’ This means that Joyce Gray, Jim’s secretary at the time has signed this contract for Jim. I have another contract that IS signed by Jim, along with much of the same paperwork as this one, so to the winner of this auction, I will give both sets of contract papers. So, the winner WILL have a contract with Jim’s signature. Sorry for the confusion.”
The seller’s assumption that the song was released back to Balthrop is correct. He re-copyrighted the song on 8th February 1964 with Bobe Wes Music as sole publisher, when he produced a cut of the song by a Texas singer called Bobby Gray, about whom little is known. Gray only made 3 singles for the Jody label, all of which were produced, arranged & published by Balthrop. His songs were recorded at Boyd Recording Service in Dallas which operated out of the KCPA Radio studios and engineered as a sideline by the station’s engineer ‘Juicy’ Boyd.
Jody 101 “There’s gonna be a party” sung by Gray & written by J.A. Balthrop is worth about $150 today. Apparently Bobby Gray’s first record on Jody 100 “Devil eyes” b/w “Chinese Angel” is even rarer & is worth at least $400!!
J.A. Balthrop only copyrighted 3 songs during 1960. The first, “Chinese Angel” was registered with the Library of Congress on 25th March 1960 as a co-published song by Open Road Music & Bobe Wes Music. It is interesting to note that he had copyrighted a book on 8th December 1959 entitled “Thirty steps to success - writing & selling songs” editor J.A. ‘Bobe’ Balthrop. Perhaps the title was a little presumptuous for someone who wasn’t quite yet a Harlan Howard or Cindy Walker.
But it was song no.6 on Jim’s list which made Mr. Bussey jump out of his chair! He stared at the song title “You darling you” and somewhere in his subconscious, the second bell rang. This just had to be one and the same song as on the Bear Family demo. Could there be any association between this song & “Chinese Angel?” It was back to the Library of Congress archives for 1960 and he found what he was looking for.
On 4th August 1960, Mr. Balthrop had copyrighted two songs as his compositions - “Right words” or to give it its correct title “The right words” under his real name J.A. Balthrop, pseudonym Bobe Wes, & published by Bobe Wes Music. The second song with a consecutive registration number was “You darling you” or as the registration says “You, darling, you” words & music J.A. Balthrop, pseudonym Bobe Wes, and co-published by Bobe Wes Music & LeBill Music. The latter publishing company (& Softcharay Music) was owned by Major Bill Smith (1922 - 1994), a producer, label owner (Le Cam Records & Charay Records) & songwriter from Fort Worth. He produced the million-seller hit “Hey baby” by Bruce Channel & “Hey Paula” by Paul & Paula, and helped launch the careers of hundreds of artists.
Neither of the copyrights of “Right words” nor “You darling you” were renewed after 28 years and it would appear Mr. Balthrop had totally forgotten about them and the demos he’d sent for Jim’s consideration.. Clearly, he didn’t mention them in his interview with the author of “Jim Reeves - The Untold Story,” and he was certainly confused when he referred to the “stolen” song as “Living alone” which he insists was copyrighted. No song under that title by J.A. Balthrop or Bobe Wes exists in the Library of Congress.
But just who was it singing Mr. Balthrop’s demos of “Right words” & “You darling you”? Only one way to find out - ask the family. Mr. Bussey managed to contact Mr. Balthrop’s eldest son Paul by e-mail & included a recording of the two demos. On 9th May 2013 came back the reply: “Hi David, I agree with you that is Dad singing. I also got a second opinion from my brother Miles. He’s in agreement also. My fingers are crossed too, that there is more to know now that we know who is singing. Best regards, Paul Balthrop.”
Later that same day came an e-mail from younger brother Miles Balthrop:
“Hi David: Pleased to meet you. Yes, I am an active playing country musician. You’re welcome to seek me out on Facebook to put a face with my name. I would consider my dad eccentric given on the wide range of character attributes that he exhibited in daily life. But, he was in fact a very loving & supportive father. Within that dynamic, it is interesting to note that on some things he was very set in his own way. Example: I acquired my license to drive a motor vehicle in 1986 at the age of 16. Dad just about couldn’t get over the fact that I preferred to own & drive a pickup truck rather than some long big Cadillac like he did. I could go on and on about his idiosyncrasies but what is paramount is that he was a very loving father & a great songwriter.
I know quite a bit about my dad’s music but the discovery you made is very much a mystery, although very interesting. Before we get into that, let’s establish some background understanding. Dad excelled at getting into an artist’s head, whether it be for the literal authorship of material intended for the artist, or whether it be for getting the business deal done. Dad used to ride with me to all of my shows, so I heard stories of him in his “hay day” and I could discern what he was doing and how he worked. He could be around an artist for 1 hour and sit down and write a song custom fit for them as a person in 20 minutes flat. Now that just addresses authorship. He was also masterful at creating demos for artists in terms of full musical production like they would have on their album, as well as emulating their style of phrase singing and so forth. That is what you have encountered with the new Jim Reeves (supposedly, lol) songs. I’ve not known of those songs, but I knew that was dad singing right away. I have heard 2 other songs of my dad’s (in the past) where he recorded the demos in the style of George Jones & Willie Nelson. Those recordings are absolutely unbelievable in terms of sounding like George & Willie, although they are not good enough to fool the masses like I am sure the Jim Reeves tunes have. Concerning the Jim Reeves tunes, I don’t know where they were recorded. My “guess” is that those were just demos intended to captivate Jim into recording them. I never heard dad say he had additional songs that Jim intended to record. That kind of statement was commonplace for dad. When he talked to people about Elvis, he frequently said he would always say he had 4 more songs scheduled on Elvis at the time of Elvis death.
Your discovery about dad & Jim and those 2 songs is somewhat similar to a discovery that dad & I made some years back. We were walking together in a record store and dad said, “Oh, there’s Lefty in a box”; Left Frizzell’s box set album. Upon closer examination, dad discovered that Lefty had recorded his song called “It costs too much to die.” Dad & Lefty were friends - Lefty was known for having spent the night at ours - but dad never had a song that Lefty recorded; at least that he knew of. But, one trip into a record store proved very different!! In this case Lefty was the actual singer, not dad. So there’s a primer for you. We can into more later! Cheers, Miles Jay Balthrop”
So there we have it. The truth surrounding the mystery of the two songs which appeared on cd 16 of the German Bear Family Records collection of almost all of Jim Reeves recorded material in 1994, has at long last been revealed. By the strangest quirk of fate, Bobe Balthrop, in 1960 a struggling songwriter from Mesquite, Texas, finally managed to gatecrash the finest set of Jim Reeves songs on the market, and so ensure posterity would remember him. It seems very doubtful at this point in time that Bear Family will now delete Mr. Balthrop’s final claim to fame from the collection, and re-press it without his contribution when stocks are gone. Oh, if only he’d known about all this in the last 4 years of his life as a single man. What a story he’d have been able to tell his grandchildren.
Picture: from the collection of Mr. David Bussey.
His prophetic final words on his gravestone are typical of the man:
“THE SONGS I WRITE WHILE LIVING I HOPE WILL LIVE ON WHEN I’M GONE ’CAUSE I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED BY MORE THAN A SMALL PIECE OF STONE.”
DAVID BUSSEY 2013
Frank C. Anderson - Jim Reeves letter to Billy Deaton 3rd January 1961.
R.A. Andreas, …and-more-bears - 2 photos from pages 34 & 35 of 2008 Bear Family 3cd - set “Blackland farmer - The complete Starday recordings & more” by Frankie Miller (BCD 16566 CH).
Paul & Miles Balthrop - without whose e-mails there would have been no confirmation.
Arie den Dulk - eBay archive from 2003 and 1960 archives Library of Congress.
Richard Weize - without whom there would be no Bear Family & a wealth of mouth watering Jim Reeves musical treasures.