Jimmy Wakely Biography

Clarence Wakely, 16 February 1914, near Mineola, Arkansas, USA, d. 25 September 1982, Mission Hills, California, USA. Wakely’s family relocated to Oklahoma when he was child, moving several times as they struggled to make a living, usually by sharecropping. He gave himself the name of Jimmy and attended High School at Cowden, Oklahoma, where he learned to play the guitar and piano and worked on various projects, until, after winning a local radio talent contest, he became a musician. In 1937, he married and moved to Oklahoma City, where he first worked as the pianist with a local band and appeared in a medicine show, before he was given a spot on WKY with Jack Cheney and Scotty Harrel as the Bell Boys (Cheney was soon replaced by Johnny Bond). In 1940, as the Jimmy Wakely Trio, they were hired by Gene Autry to appear on his CBSMelody Ranch radio show in Hollywood. He worked with Autry for two years, at one time being known as the Melody Kid, before leaving to form his own band, which at times included Merle Travis, Cliffie Stone and Spade Cooley. Wakely made his acting debut in 1939, in the Roy Rogers B-movie Western Saga Of Death Valley, and went on to appear in support roles (sometimes with his trio) in many movies and with many other cowboy stars. In 1944, he starred in Song Of The Range and between then and 1949, when he madeLawless Code, he starred in almost 30 Monogram movies. He became so popular as a cowboy actor that, in 1948, he was voted the number 4 cowboy star after Rogers, Autry and Charles Starrett.

Wakely made his first appearance in the US country charts in 1944 with his Decca Records recording of ‘I’m Sending You Red Roses’. In 1948, recording for Capitol Records, he charted two country number 1 hits - ‘One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)’ (which held the top spot for 11 weeks and remained in the country charts for 32, as well as being a national US Top 10 hit) and ‘I Love You So Much It Hurts’. In 1949, he had more success with solo hits including ‘I Wish I Had A Nickel’ and ‘Someday You’ll Call My Name’, plus several duet hits with Margaret Whiting, including their million-selling recording of Floyd Tillman’s song ‘Slipping Around’, which was a country and pop number 1. At this time, Wakely’s popularity was such that, in Billboard’s nationwide poll, he was voted America’s third most popular singer behind Perry Como and Frankie Laine - edging Bing Crosby into fourth place. Wakely and Whiting followed it with several more Top 10 country and pop hits, including ‘I’ll Never Slip Around Again’ and ‘A Bushel And A Peck’. Strangely, after his 1951 solo Top 10 hits ‘My Heart Cries For You’ (a UK pop hit for Guy Mitchell), ‘Beautiful Brown Eyes’ and a further duet with Margaret Whiting, entitled ‘I Don’t Want To Be Free’, Wakely never made the country charts again. During the late 40s and the 50s, he toured extensively throughout the USA, the Pacific, the Far East, Korea and Alaska, sometimes appearing with Bob Hope.

Musical tastes changed with the advent of Hank Williams and other country singers, and the cowboy song and image lost much of its appeal. Wakely, however, hosted his own network radio show from 1952-58 and in 1961 he co-hosted a network television series with another silver-screen cowboy, Tex Ritter. During the 60s and throughout much of the 70s, he was still a popular entertainer, mainly performing on the west coast (he made his home in Los Angeles) or playing the club circuits of Las Vegas and Reno with his family show, which featured his children Johnny (b. 29 January 1944, d. 22 December 2001) and Linda. He had formed his own Shasta label in the late 50s and in the 70s, he subsequently recorded a great deal of material on that label. In 1971, he was elected to the Nashville Songwriters’ Association International Hall Of Fame. He died from emphysema, after a prolonged illness, in 1982.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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