Jon Derek...

"During a recent photographic session for a cover of a live album which is shortly to be released on Decca, I met Tony Byworth (a noted country music journalist) and in conversation we chatted about a tour I did some years back with the late Jim Reeves. Only a few days prior to speaking to Tony, I'd met some old friends of mine in a pub who I'd not seen for some years. They also remarked that the first time they remembered meeting me and seeing me perform was at a U.S.A.F. Base in High Wycombe when they were part of the audience at the Jim Reeves Show. In the space of just a few days, this turned out to be one coincidence after another. David Bussey of the Jim Reeves Fan Club called me to ask if I would like to attend the 3rd Jim Reeves Convention in January for which I am very honoured and am looking forward to. So you can bet that most of the conversation with all parties was related to my memories of that tour with Jim Reeves."


Jon Derek tells Tony Byworth...


The first night we appeared with Jim Reeves, we never had the chance to meet him prior to ourselves opening the show. But I'll always remember his first words he spoke to me as I was leaving the stage. At that time I did not know he had been standing in the wings listening to our last couple of songs. As I began to walk by, he asked me "What part of the States are you from?" I looked and saw to my surprise a grinning face I recognised from photos of L.P. covers. He was wearing a black leather raincoat. Before answering him I paused for a few seconds just to make sure and then replied, "Apart from the American sergeant on fiddle we are all English!"

He said, "I never knew you had English country music bands!" and then passed a pleasant comment. As the band and myself continued to walk to our dressing room, I could hear someone yelling over to us, "Hey! Was there a piano out there on stage?" Gordon Huntley, our steel player, yelled back "No!" It was Dean Manuel, Jim's piano player. Then all of a sudden there was a big panic. The piano had been left in an adjacent building. So everyone had to lend a hand. This was our brief introduction to the Blue Boys - wheeling a piano into the club room and onto the stage. (This was not the last of their problems over pianos.) It was soon our turn to sit back and listen to someone who despite piano problems definitely captured the hearts of everyone in the building that evening.

Now I have had the pleasure of working behind quite a few American country music artists, all of which I once respected before witnessing their live performances. Many I'm afraid have disillusioned me, regarding their professional ability. Only a small few have lived up to my expectations. But here was someone who could hold an audience from the moment he walked on. He always looked sharp. His singing was always in tune and his own guitar rendering of "Wildwood Flower" and all his old hits, was just like listening to one of his gramophone records. Although, by this time under considerable strain, he didn't show it whilst performing. His first day in this country, as far as I can remember, was probably the only one when things went reasonably smooth, because the tour wasn't a happy one for Jim and his band. They had been working and touring abroad long before they came over here. They were understandably tired, and wanting to go home for what I would have called 'a well-earned rest'.

To make things worse - while touring over here, things got off to a bad start when the bus carrying the Blue Boys was involved in a road collision just after completing one of their one night stands. They were playing two or sometimes three shows a night at different venues. This meant having to dash dangerously from one show to the next, and although a couple of the band members were hurt badly (one I remember was Bobby Dyson the bass player), 'the show must go on' attitude was still with them, but not without many a painkiller and high stools to sit on.

Now our part of the show was mainly to warm up the audience and to keep things going at the clubs until Jim Reeves arrived, just in case they were held up or late getting away from the previous club. Needless to say that was one evening we thought they were never going to make it! Now because of their late arrival, we had been working harder than usual that evening, and it's no easy task when you’ve got to keep an impatient audience happy until someone they'd waited a long time to see finally arrives late. So I don't think anyone was more pleased to see them than we were that night, even though they were bruised, tired and limping. Now Jim Reeves was a perfectionist. He liked things to be as near spot on as possible every night both with his own efforts and the music, so you could bet that someone in the band would be briefed for something or other after each performance.

Leo Jackson, Jim's lead guitarist with the band, told us that at that time they were the hardest worked and highest paid band in the country music field with the exception of Johnny Cash's band, and that's the way Jim wanted to keep it. So a little briefing and criticism now and again didn't hurt. That's just being firm but fair. Leo Jackson continued to say that there was a lighter side to things, especially back home, when Jim would try to keep all the musicians happy by taking them all out to dinner and discussing any problems the band might have. This helped a lot as it brought everything out into the open and cleared the air. Many a time in the dressing room you could have cut the air with a knife. Other times it would be just great.

It all really depended on what mood everyone was in. For instance, if the dressing room was full of people, that had no need to be there, straight-away this would annoy Jim immensely and he would make a remark like "Boy! There's more people in here than in the whole auditorium", and then he would shy off to one corner. Although not a shy man, he just could not stand people continually mauling over him. Just after one of his performances, I once witnessed a queue of people waiting their turn to collect his autograph. From way back in the line there was a drunken woman yelling at him, "Hey, when are you gonna sign mine?" as she was waving a piece of paper at him. But with the corner of his eye, he could see who it was, and completely ignored her. He continued to sign all the others, leaving her just outside and then closed the dressing room door. He looked over to us and said, "If it's one thing I can't stand, its a loud-mouthed drunken woman. We could still hear her shouting her mouth off for a good couple of minutes afterwards, and then the voice slowly disappeared down the corridor.

Now many years have passed since the time Jim Reeves appeared on his one and only tour of this country, apart from a couple of T.V. appearances just before his tragic death. Therefore, some, if not all the stories have probably been exaggerated slightly, but we all know that when a man is under the constant pressure and strain of having to appear at three shows a night at different venues, this can bring anyone down, especially when they have only agreed to do two.

Then there was the added aggravation of pianos that were supposed to be tuned to A40, but were always well out of pitch. By this time anyone would have lost patience. This often brought about the non-appearances at some venues, especially in Ireland. Although our band never appeared on any of the Irish part of the tour, I did hear from every good source, that if it had not been for Dean Manuel getting to venues long before shows, there may have been many more walkouts. Dean was apparently trying to tune pianos with a pair of pliers each night, rather than having more non-appearances. The only time we witnessed this experience was one night when Jim was performing, he looked over to Dean Manuel and whispered "Is it in tune?" Dean reluctantly moved his head slowly from side to side and then we noticed his act was cut considerably.

Now because of the lack of cohesion between Jim and the promoters, someone well known in the country music business over here then wrote an article stating that during the tour, Jim Reeves did not live up to his reputation as "Gentleman Jim", the title of his then most recent album. What a load of rubbish! Jim, as far as his public were concerned, lived up to it very well, and never once did a bad show or took any of his problems out on his audiences or anyone he knew had nothing to do with the bad handling of the tour. He thanked anyone who asked for his autograph and treated the rest of us with professional respect.

He was always keen to give good friendly advice, and someone like ourselves needed more than our share at that time. In conversation we mentioned to him that we had recently televised one of his own compositions entitled "Most of the time" from his album "The Country Side of Jim Reeves". He was very interested and thought it would be a good idea if we did the song on stage. Needless to say, we didn't have to be asked twice! My career as a vocalist had barely just begun, so a chance such as this to ask questions of someone whom I'd always respected long before meeting him, was too good to miss. He would always answer honestly. For instance I remember the American sergeant fiddler we had, asking him if Jim would be able to help him in any way up the ladder of success, when he finished his time in the Air force and returned to the States. Jim replied, "It's as much as I can do to keep myself up there. If you want to be a success, you've got to spend 24 hours a day working at it!" That piece of advice I'll never forget. Nor will I ever forget the treasured moments of working with someone as great as the late Jim Reeves.