Thursday, December 04, 2008

Jimmy Wakely - Christmas On The Range

On occasion when I work with my friend Joel, we grab breakfast at a downtown Fort Wayne eatery called "Cindy's Diner" - serving the world 15 people at a time. Inside, they still operate authentic Seeburg counter jukeboxes and around this time every year, they put in several different Christmas 45s.

One in particular is "Silver Bells" b/w "Christmas Candy" by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely. Every time I eat there, I make sure to listen to that B-side - a very good, underrated Christmas song that deserves more radio airplay.

This little tune on Cindy's jukeboxes led me to investigate Jimmy Wakely and made me wonder if he had any other Christmas material.

Wakely was born in Arkansas in 1914 and loved listening to country & western tunes while growing up. He also took a love for movie westerns and singing cowboys. Jimmy was discovered by Gene Autry, who asked him to join his "Melody Ranch" at the beginning of the 1940s. He stayed in Autry's camp for several years before heading out onto the pasture as a solo act.

The Wakely Trio was formed to supply music for hundreds of B-movie westerns and for recordings on Decca Records throughout the 1940s. In the latter part of the decade, Jimmy appeared in 28 westerns for Monogram Pictures - John Wayne numbers indeed!

He switched to Columbia Records briefly before joining the Capitol stable of stars. It was here he recorded "Silver Bells" and this great 45 box set from 1950.

You get six songs all together - all given the full Wakely treatment. If you love old-school country and all its twang, you're gonna feel as comfortable as an old pair of cowboy boots with this one.

Jimmy continued his recording career on various other labels (Coral, Vocalion, Dot) and appeared on radio, television, and even in his own comic book for a brief time from 1949-1952.

Following Autry's lead, Wakely became a singing-cowboy mogul. Though not as successful as Autry, Wakely did own his own label (Shasta Records) as well as two music publishing companies. Part of his California ranch was converted into studio space and cowboy stars like Tex Williams, Eddie Dean, Merle Travis, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, and Wakely himself made recordings there.

Wakely continued to perform as a singing cowboy (even travelled with Bob Hope on a Christmas USO tour) until his death in 1982.

Happy listening...


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