A LETTER WAS SOLD ON EBAY AT THE END OF MAY FOR $20.50.
The letter dated Wednesday 5th December 1962, was from a disc jockey to Jim Reeves. It became the prelude to a horrific sequence of triple/tragedies on Friday 25th January 1963, Tuesday 5th March 1963 & Thursday 7th March 1963.
The letter from Kansas City disc jockey Jack Wesley “Cactus Jack” Call was clearly a plea for help. Since 1956, as “Cactus Jack”, he’d been a stalwart in that metropolitan area as one of the most popular record spinners, first on KANS & then KCKN. He was only small in stature but his resonant deep bass voice was ideally suited to radio and TV. He also had his own show “Cactus Jack’s General Store” broadcast on KDRO radio & KDRO-TV in Sedalia, Missouri, a city of 20 thousand situated some 87 miles east of Kansas City. He was never a musician but earned his fame by relentlessly promoting new talent. He knew all the big names out of Nashville and made regular visits there to see the Grand Ole Opry and listen to new stars and talent. He took his shows to another level by surveying and compiling his own Top 50 list by contacting jukebox operators and the record companies.
But by the end of November 1962, things appear to have gone decidedly sour. He was out of work and needed a job. He knew Jim as a friend and artist over the years and his letter confirms the help and assistance Jim gave to his DJ friends when they were down on their luck. His letter is printed exactly as written in capitals and with typos.
5th DECEMBER 1962
I WANT TO THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR ALL THE HELP YOU HAVE GIVEN ME IN MY SEARCH FOR A JOB. I WILL NEVER FOREGET HOW KIND YOU HAVE BEEN TO ME. I CALLED AND HAVE WRITTEN TO A LOT OF STATIONS BUT THEY ALL SEEM TO BE FULL RIGHT NOW, I GUESS THAT’S THE WAY IT GOES SOMETIMES.
JIM, WHEN WE WERE TALKING ON THE PHONE YOU SAID YOU WERE TRYING TO GET A STATION IN COLORADO. I WAS WONDERING IF YOU HAVE HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT IT. IF YOU DO GET IT I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO GO TO WORK FOR YOU. I AM A HARD WORKER JIM AND THE HOURS MEAN NOTHING TO ME.
IF YOU COULD USE ME I WOULD LIKE TO BE YOUR PROGRAM DIRECTOR AND D.J.. I KNOW I COULD PROGRAM THAT STATION JUST THE WAY YOU LIKE IT. ALL I NEED JIM IS THE CHANCE TO SHOW YOU WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU. IF FACT IT WOULD BE GREAT TO HAVE LITTLE HERBIE AND GUY SMITH WITH YOU TOO BECAUSE I THINK THESE TWO GUYS ARE TWO OF THE FINEST COUNTRY D.J.S AROUND.
AGIN I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR ALL THE HELP AND HOPE SOME DAY TO SEE YOU AGAIN. I HOPE EVERYTHING IF FINE WITH YOU AND YOURS. TELL THE FOLKS (EVEN IF THEY DON’T KNOW ME) I SAID HELLO.
GOOD LUCK JIM AND I HOPE YOU WILL FIND THE TIME TO WRITE SOON.
It is not known if Jim Reeves ever replied to Jack Call’s letter.
Jack’s actual address was 3413 S. Vermont Ave., Independence, the 4th largest city in Missouri. The house, built in 1956 was located in the Three Trails area of Independence. In the weeks after he wrote the letter, things moved apace and Jack must have really thought his luck had finally changed.
By 17th January 1963 he was working his dream job at radio station KCMK - FM which was switching to an all country format. He was be the vital lynchpin in the operation. Only a week into the job, he was dealt a fatal blow. It is not known if he was on his way to work on Thursday 24th January or on his way from work in Kansas City, a twenty minute journey, when his car was in collision with a transport truck a mere five minutes away from his home. The crash occurred at the junction of South Sterling Avenue and US Highway 40. Badly injured and unconscious, he was rushed to the St. Joseph Medical Center on Carondelet Drive in South Kansas City where the following day, Friday 25th January 1963 he lost his slender hold on life. He left a widow Anne, and two young sons, Don and Dan.
The artists and fans of country music lost a friend and a passionate booster of their music that sad day, but country music will always look after its own. Jack’s friend and colleague Guy Smith approached the Midwest’s biggest and best-known music talent buyer and promoter Harry Alexander ‘Hap’ Peebles with a view to organising a fund-raising benefit show to raise much needed financial help for Jack’s family. Also approached was country star Billy Walker, another good friend of Jack’s. Both Peebles and Walker vowed to do all they could.
George Jones & the Jones Boys who were appearing in Kansas at the time of the proposed benefit show on Sunday, 3rd March agreed to perform. Billy Walker spoke to his manager Randy Hughes in Nashville to see if he would donate the services of some of his acts. Roy Acuff agreed to attend but backed out on the morning of the shows. Loretta Lynn was approached but had a prior engagement. In the ensuing years many artists bragged on being asked to perform. Peebles & Walker wanted a female headliner to co-star with Jones. Patsy Cline was a favourite of Jack Call, so became the obvious choice. She didn’t need asking twice!
The cast of the show read like a veritable who’s who of country & western music - George Jones & the Jones Boys, Patsy Cline, Billy Walker, Dottie West, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, George McCormick and The Clinch Mountain Boys. The Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City could not accommodate all those wishing to attend and three shows were arranged for the afternoon & evening: at 2:00 pm, 5:15 pm & 8.15 pm.. The show began with Hap Peebles paying tribute to Jack Call. His widow Anne was backstage shaking the hand of each of the artists, thanking them for their generosity and unstinting loyalty in donating their time & talents to the benefit. There is no doubt that each show was a resounding success.
It was to be the last time that the country music world would ever again witness the on stage performances of Grand Ole Opry stars Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. The ensuing hours and days after the show have been well documented in film, TV, the spoken and the written word. The crash of Randy Hughes’ private airplane on the evening of 5th March 1963 in inclement weather with the loss of all on board, was a foreboding of things to come on 31st July 1964.
Attendances at the four services for the deceased went down as the largest funeral attendance in Nashville history. Sadly, that wasn’t to be the end of the tragedies. Grand Ole Opry star Jack Anglin who found fame with the Anglin Brothers & later as Johnny & Jack, had been to the barbers for a trim and was dashing to the prayer service being held for Patsy Cline not too far from his home. He took a bend in Madison too fast and died in the ensuing crash.
WSM & Opry members debated at length what they should do about the Saturday night Opry, considering the massive loss that was being felt throughout the country music fraternity. Eventually it was decided, in true showbiz fashion, that “the show must go on.” The Opry executives chose to have a short memorial to the 4 stars on the 8:30 portion of the programme. After a brief tribute by Opry manager Ott Devine, the 3,500 assembled throng bowed their heads in silent prayer after which the Jordanaires sang “How Great Thou Art”, accompanied only by a piano.
Many miles away a grieving family in Independence, Missouri were contemplating the loss of a dear husband & father. Jack Wesley Call is buried in Mount Washington Cemetery, Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. His simple grave marker speaks only of his army service in World War II. No mention of his love for, and influence on the stars of country music. Thanks to a strange twist of fate, the name of Cactus Jack will be forever etched in the history of country music.
JACK WESLEY CALL
December 22nd 1923 January 25th 1963
Courtesy: David Bussey