THE ORIGINS OF A SUSPECT TALE FROM SOUTH AFRICA
It is unwise to cast aspersions on fan clubs. They have a habit of coming
back to bite!
Gilbert George Julian Gibson was born on 28th January 1928, one of 3 sons & 2 daughters of George Frank Clifford Gibson & Josephine Jooste. His marriage date is unknown but he had 2 children, a daughter Cheryl Yvonne born 15th September 1952 and a son Paul Llewellyn born 11th August 1954. His sister Josephine Annie Vera Gibson, on her third marriage out of five, married Nicolaas Cornelius ‘Nico’ Carstens on 15th November 1958. He was also a big player in the South African music scene.
Gilbert Gibson became a very plausible and smooth-tongued operator in the early sixties world of South African music & publicity. He had formed Sun Pacific Music as a subsidiary of Master Measure (Pty.) Ltd. in 1960 with his good friend, songwriter and pianist Johann Gustav ‘Taffy’ Kikillus, and bragged to Arie den Dulk at having published 1500 songs in Afrikaans & English. He also owned a Public Relations company called Reklama Publicity which was involved in the music & film industry. His later UK company Aquarius was also reputed to have been formed originally in South Africa. He mixed with the bigwigs at Teal Records, RCA & Reprise’s South African subsidiary which was owned by the UK parent company EMI, and would certainly get to know of the intended forthcoming intense promotional activity on country music singer Jim Reeves. He grasped the opportunity to become involved in a projected Jim Reeves album especially for the South African market.
The relationship between the two of them would never to lead to real friendship. Despite what Gibson said many times in articles & interviews about being friends with Jim, they each saw it purely as a business arrangement and opportunity. Gibson was to provide Reeves with promotion & publicity in South Africa. No money would change hands and he agreed that if Gibson sent him songs, he would consider recording them. Gibson had no idea that Reeves was to later do the dirty on him with one of his compositions. Between September 1963 & January 1964, over 30 songs written separately or jointly by Gibson & Kikillus were submitted by Sun Pacific for Reeves’ consideration. They were a balanced mix of English & Afrikaans titles. It could have been that Teal Records were hoping to persuade Jim to record another Afrikaans album for the South African market. But there were plenty of good songs around, and South African ones just weren’t right for the current US country music market. Jim never found that elusive Sun Pacific song like “Ek verlang na jou”, which would afford Gibson another lucrative pay day.
Gibson was given the unenviable task of schooling Reeves in the art of Afrikaans pronunciation. He later said it took him 3 weeks of telephone calls. It is hard to imagine how difficult this must have been for Jim, what with the complicated Afrikaans vernacular & Gibson’s pronounced stammer. Just who made the final choice of songs for the “Jy is my liefling” album is uncertain. One thing is certain, Gibson never quite told the whole story.
In his liner notes for the 1995 re-release of the South African cd “Jy is my liefling”, producer Louis Combrinck relates:
“Due to my association with and knowledge of South African music at the time, RCA asked me to make a selection of suitable local songs for Jim Reeves, write the Afrikaans lyrics so that he could pronounce the words on sight and sing them phonetically. The privilege & honour was also mine to attend the recording of ‘From a jack to a king.’ ”
The “Jy is my liefling” album contained no Gilbert Gibson compositions, but Sun Pacific had 3 songs included thanks to Taffy Kikillus. But first, 4 Afrikaans songs were chosen in mid-1962 for an album Teal planned called “In Suid Afrika” which was to feature 4 tracks each from Jim Reeves, Floyd Cramer & Chet Atkins. The album’s release was to be a precursor to the upcoming South African tour by the 3 artists. All 4 songs were ideal in showcasing Jim’s superb baritone on ballads in a foreign language, but one song in particular took his fancy and he immediately copyrighted the song with his publishing company Tuckahoe. The song was the beautiful “Ek verlang na jou”, literally translated “I long for you” submitted by Gilbert Gibson who had in fact sent 2 songs, the other being “Ek sal onthou”, literally translated “There’ll never be another Spring”, which Jim passed on. He included some English lyrics for both songs which Jim was to use later on his overdubbing of “Ek verlang na jou” on 27th February 1963 when it became “I’m crying again”. The 4 songs from that session which had English lyrics added to the Afrikaans were included on the “International Jim Reeves album (LSP2704). Gibson was later to admit that he got the better of the bargain, for he made a goodly sum out of the song, much more in fact than if Jim had had to reimburse him for his promotional work. It was to appear yet again on the “Jim Reeves Way” album (LSP2968, the first full-price album released after Jim’s death in February 1965.
David Bussey is in possession of a copy 4 page letter dated 24th July 1962 from A.G.J. McGrath of the Bothner Group Ltd., (presumably Teal’s parent company) to Chet Atkins with the full itinerary for the South African tour with the first date on Monday 20th August at Ellis Park Centre Tennis Courts, the artists having arrived at Jan Smuts airport on Saturday 18th August. Most of the detail contained in this letter was unknown to the authors of the two Reeves biographies.
Mr. McGrath states: “By the time this letter reaches you, I hope all the numbers of the Afrikaans record will have been recorded. Please get these tapes to us with a minimum of delay. The production of this record is creating enormous interest and for maximum benefit, we must release it a week to ten days before you arrive, so as to achieve full distribution by the time the tour begins……In conclusion, please keep up the flow of publicity - we cannot have too much.”
Gilbert Gibson, as a member of the press, was a part of that South African publicity machine. In that capacity he was to meet Jim for the first time and that’s when his monopoly on the great South African Jim Reeves story began. Over the years, no one else got much of a look in.
He alone created a legendary frame of reference. He became the ultimate raconteur and chronicler of the historical saga of Jim Reeves in South Africa. Trouble is, it was always going to be a mix of truth, fiction and fantasy. He became the first Jim Reeves “Storyteller” that is, a “Teller of Stories” in the broadest meaning of that word.
Gibson never forgave Jim for snatching half the writer credits in the States for his composition “A stranger’s just a friend.” It’s one of his favourite stories & has become legendary over the years. Just what the truth is, like many other of his stories, is hard to define. Just who exactly came up with that title at the time, is impossible to determine. All Jim would say was that Gibson had used the words of his pet saying and under the unwritten traditional rules of song writing, if you give someone a title, then you’re entitled to half the credit. Eddy Arnold had asked Cindy Walker to write him a song titled “You don’t know me.” Jim had asked Alex Zanetis to write him a song called “The storm.” The credits were shared. Song writing ethics in country music just didn’t exist.
But Gibson was to have the last laugh when Pat Campbell stuck "A stranger's just a friend" (song writer credit solely to Gilbert Gibson) on the B side of RCA UK's June 1964 single of "I won't forget you" (RCA1400). For the second time that year, Campbell was disregarding the US single release schedule & following his gut instinct again. After all, it had worked with "I love you because" (RCA1385) which had entered the UK Pop Charts in February (& remained there for 39 weeks!), though few would have bet money on him getting another winner with "I won't forget you", a Harlan Howard throwaway song recorded in November 1961 & culled from the Camden album, the "Country Side of Jim Reeves" (CAS686). The single immediately entered the charts, reaching no.3 & remaining there 25 weeks. It was to sell in excess of 600,000 copies. Reeves would have been none too pleased with Campbell's choice of B side which was published by Philip Solomon's 142 Music who handled Gibson's Sun Pacific company at the time. At under 2 minutes & a film song, it wasn't an ideal B side choice, but when you know the politics around at the time, you will understand why it was picked. This was evident in Campbell's October choice as Reeves next single - another Camden song "There's a heartache following me" (RCA1423) which had yet another Sun Pacific song, co-written by Gibson & Kikillus, as its B side. The single reached no.6 in the pop charts, remaining there for 13 weeks. After 3 single smashes in 1964, Jim, had he still been with us, would have had to bow to Pat Campbells superior knowledge & experience of the UK pop music scene.
To read part two click here