The music business has always been staffed by unique characters, none more so than Eddie Reeves.
The charismatic Reeves, who died Nov. 18 at 79, ran the gamut: A hit songwriter (co-writer with Alex Harvey of Cymarron’s 1971 hit “RIngs,” with Jimmy Holiday of Sonny & Cher’s 1971 hit “All I Ever Need Is You,” and, again with Holiday, Ray Charles’ 1971 hit “Don’t Change On Me.”
For “Rings” Reeves received Broadcast Music Inc.’s Special Citation of Achievement in recognition of its million-plus radio/TV plays; “Rings” and “All I Ever Need is You” also garnered Grammy nominations.
In addition to writing songs, Reeves was a recording artist himself in the early 1970s, then was appointed VP of Chappell Music (then the world’s biggest music publisher and now part of Warner Chappell) in 1974. Among his signings there were Kim Carnes and Jules Shear, and in 1977 he continued working with both after starting his own music publishing and artist management company.
In 1984, record producer Jim Ed Norman, whom Reeves had hired at Chappell, returned the favor. Now head of Warner Bros. Nashville, Norman brought Reeves in as general manager of the mostly country label. Over the next 16 years there Reeves worked with the label’s illustrious likes of Faith Hill, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams, Jr.
Born in Austin, Reeves had been raised in Amarillo, where he began singing, playing guitar, and writing songs in high school. In 1956 he formed Amarillo‘s first rock ‘n roll band, which the following year was renamed The Ravens after Buddy Holly’s hit “Rave On.” Changing their name again to The Nighthawks, the band recorded a local hit single at the Norman Petty recording studio in Clovis, New Mexico, where Holly recorded his early hits.
In 1964, after attending the University of Texas, Reeves was hired by Petty to represent him in New York, where he co-wrote a song with Doc Pomus and ran into the young folkie Bob Dylan. He was hired as a song plugger, writer and recording artist the next year by United Artists Music, then in 1968, established the company’s Hollywood office; while at UA he worked with such artists as Alex Harvey, Jackie DeShannon, Mac Davis, Delaney & Bonnie, Andy Kim and Billy Edd Wheeler.
“He had such a unique personality,” notes Jimmy Gilmer, lead singer of the hit-making 1960s group Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs (they had Billboard’s No. 1 song of 1963 with “Sugar Shack”), and Reeves’ lifelong friend. “He had a sense of humor that was his own, and an air about him that made you like him the first time you shook hands with him. And he did all kinds of stuff that just blew my mind, because his mind was going here, there and everywhere at once.”
“He was the antithesis of ‘bureaucrat,’ adds acoustic guitar legend Leo Kottke, one of many artists who recorded “Rings”—though he substituted the line “I got Mel Blanc on the radio” for the original’s “Got James Taylor on the stereo.”
“I didn’t know him well, but I spent about an hour talking about ‘Rings’ with him in his office in Nashville [the meeting with the nonplussed Reeves was hilariously documented in Kottke’s 1989 homevideo release Home & Away]. He made me laugh, and didn’t fog me out of his office.”
About “Rings”--which Kottke performs live regularly to this day—is “both dumb and brilliant--bubblegum as an art form,” he observes. “And it was written for a wedding that Eddie and Alex knew shouldn’t happen--the tragic view meets that big purple Barney thing in one swell foop. The only tune that comes close is ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’”
But for Gilmer, who likewise followed his recording artist career with successful stints in music publishing and artist management, Reeves’ talent extends well beyond songwriting—as does his influence on him personally.
“I wouldn’t have had the career that I’ve had, both as artist and as music executive, if not for Eddie,” says Gilmer, who also grew up in Amarillo.
“I was in high school when he started The Nighthawks, and I used to go see him and thought, ‘If he can do that, I can do that!’ He was my inspiration. I knew I could sing: I inherited that from my father, and sang in church choirs. But watching Eddie—and thinking about all the girls hanging around him—I thought I could do that, and it drove me to play guitar, too. He inspired me then and there.”
“We were always close in those days,” adds Gilmer. “When he went to the University of Texas after high school, I’d go down all the time and visit. On the other hand, he taught me all the bad things, like partying up and all that! But we stayed very, very close, and when I was on the road throughout the ‘60s with The Fireballs, I spent a lot of time with him in New York. When he went to California to set up the United Artists office, I spent a lot of time with him there, too, when I didn’t have any gigs. And when I decided I‘d had enough of the Fireballs regime, I turned to him and he helped me try to put something together.”
And so Gilmer, at Reeves’ suggestion, moved to Nashville in 1970 to head up the fledgling UA office there.
“I didn’t know anything about music publishing, but Eddie said, ‘You know a hit song when you hear it! That’s all you got to do: Find hit songs and get them recorded.’”
Indeed, Gilmer knew hit songs very well. He eventually moved into artist management, his most successful client during that part of his career being Brad Paisley. He’s now back in Amarillo and still performs occasionally.
“As artist and publisher, in everything I did, Eddie was instrumental—and I’m so very thankful,” says Gilmer.
“More like him—please!” concludes Kottke.
Leo Kottke performs "Rings" after crediting Eddie Reeves