(Image courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
(Image courtesy of Donn & Nancy Moyer)
Above - Jimmy Wakely circa 1980.
"I joined right out of high school and two years later, Johnny did the same thing. It was a wonderful life for me. We worked the Mint and Golden Nugget in Vegas, Harrah's Club in Reno, and Lake Tahoe from 1960-1969 ... several times a year. And we also played one of Daddy's favorite places: Cactus Pete's in Jackpot, Nevada where he played Keno and golf and just loved it there. We worked state fairs and rodeos and supper clubs (not country or western, but with evening clothes and formal suits, etc.). The last ten years Daddy worked, we played mostly the northwest - Washington state and a few places in Oregon. We had a weekly TV show in L.A. We worked for the military - all the bases in Hawaii (Officer and NCO clubs) ... and just about all of them on the north and south west coast as well as home shows, special openings, etc. We also worked several times for the Shrine organization of which Daddy was so proud to be a Freemason and 32º Scottish Rite Mason. He put a show together with Tex Williams, Eddie Dean, Monte Montana, Billy Armstrong (award winning fiddle player), and occasionally a comic. When Pat Butram could join us it was great. It was always a great night of music, songs and fun."
Wakely was a prolific song writer, authoring or co-writing over a hundred. Of all his western compositions, my favorite is "Saddle Pals" which he co-wrote with Johnny Marvin. Jimmy used that in several of his films including his first starrer, SONG OF THE RANGE (Monogram, 1944). He also penned another of my favorites, "Song Of The Sierras", and it became the title tune of his 1946 movie of the same name. Over the years, many singers have recorded Wakely creations - including Elvis Presley with "I'll Never Let You Go Little Darlin'" for Sun Records in 1954. (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) website includes information on songs that were written or co-authored by Wakely. Link is on a later Wakely webpage.)
Some have been critical of Wakely's sagebrush adventures, citing that they were a low budget copy of Gene Autry's films. In reality, Hollywood tried many singing cowboys in hopes of finding someone - anyone - who could come close to matching Autry's popularity and ticket sales. Among the more successful were Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Achieving moderate popularity were Rex Allen, Eddie Dean ... and Jimmy Wakely. Wakely always had good words about Gene's support and mentoring. Bobby Copeland, in his book Trail Talk, has the following Wakely quote:
"Everybody reminds somebody of someone else until they are somebody. And I had rather be compared to Gene Autry than anyone else. Through the grace of God and Gene Autry, I got a career."
In his later years, Wakely suffered from a variety of medical issues including heart problems, emphysema and asthma. Jimmy was admitted to Holy Cross hospital in Los Angeles on August 14, 1982, and he passed away from heart failure on September 23, 1982. His wife Inez passed in 1997. They are interred next to each other in the Court of Remembrance at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.
I'm pleased that in the past few years, many Wakely recordings have been issued on CD, either in a specific Jimmy Wakely collection or in a compilation featuring him along with other western music artists.
Wakely's career spanned nearly fifty years. He was a singing cowboy on the silver screen as well as a comic book hero. He was one of the early country/western recording artists able to successfully cross over to popular music. He wrote or co-authored scores of songs. He performed on stage. He did television and was a prolific radio performer. He had his own publishing business and record company. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 1680 Vine Street), and is a member of the Hall of Fame at the Nashville Songwriters Foundation as well as the Western Music Association. In summary, Jimmy Wakely was a multi-talented artist with a marvelous singing voice.
(From Old Corral image collection)
Above is a lobby card from OKLAHOMA BLUES (Monogram, 1948) with Wakely atop his second film hoss 'Sonny'. Does the range costume, saddle and horse remind you of Gene Autry and Champion?
(Image courtesy of John Wright)
Above from L-to-R are Ray Whitley, Gene Autry and Jimmy Wakely at a Sons of the Pioneers show, circa 1978. Wakely was friends with many of the top country and western artists of the period as well as people involved in the western film genre: in addition to Autry, Whitley, Bond, Scotty Harrell and Dick Reinhart, Jimmy was close to Eddie Dean, Roy Rogers, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Bob Nolan, Merle Travis, Wesley Tuttle, Cliffie Stone, steel guitarists Noel Boggs and Earl 'Joaquin' Murphey, Sunshine Girl Colleen Summers (who became Mary Ford, the wife of Les Paul), western movie director/screen writer/song writer Oliver Drake, lots more. And he was also friends with many pop/contemporary singers, including Margaret Whiting, John Denver, Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole, and Elvis Presley.
|Linda (nicknamed "Lindalee" by her Dad) authored a biography on her Father titled See Ya Up There, Baby - The Jimmy Wakely Story and the cover on the left shows Jimmy riding his paint horse 'Lucky/Tex'.|