Del Reeves, the Grand Ole Opry star who delighted audiences for decades with his full-throated vocals and comic impressions of fellow artists, died Monday (Jan. 1) at his home in Centerville, Tenn. He was 73. The cause of death has not been announced.
A fixture on the charts throughout the 1960s and ’70s, Reeves made his first big splash in 1965 with the whimsical “Girl on the Billboard,” his only No. 1. He followed it with the equally leering “The Belles of Southern Bell” and “Women Do Funny Things to Me.” His other major hits included “A Dime at Time,” “Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” “Good Time Charlie’s” (which also provided him the name of his band), “Be Glad” and “The Philadelphia Fillies.”
Franklin Delano Reeves was born July 14, 1933, in Sparta, N.C. He learned to play the guitar at an early age and had his own radio show by the time he was 12. After a brief period at Appalachia State College in Boone, N.C., he joined the U.S. Air Force, a move that took him to Travis Air Force Base in California.
It was in California that Reeves got his professional start in music, first by appearing on a local TV show and then by recording a series of singles for Capitol Records, none of which charted. However, Reeves showed early promise as a songwriter. His “Sing a Little Song of Heartache,” became a No. 3 hit in 1963 for Rose Maddox, and he also had other songs recorded by Carl Smith, Roy Drusky and others. Reeves penned his own 1963 charter, “The Only Girl I Can’t Forget.”
In 1961, Reeves signed to Decca Records. This union yielded him his first charted single, “Be Quiet Mind,” which rolled to No. 9. Following very brief stops at Reprise and Columbia Records, Reeves settled in at United Artists in 1965 and stayed there for the next 13 years.
Encouraged by songwriter Hank Cochran, the tall, gangly Reeves moved to Nashville in 1962 and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1966. A talented mimic, he enlivened his shows with physical and vocal impressions of performers as disparate as Little Jimmy Dickens and Johnny Cash.
Reeves appeared in eight movies, including Sam Whiskey, a 1969 film starring Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson and Ossie Davis. Other titles conveyed their dramatic standing, including Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar, Forty-Acre Feud, Gold Guitar and Cotton Pickin’ Chickenpickers. Reeves also established his own syndicated TV series, The Del Reeves Country Carnival, which ran for four years in the early ’70s.
After “The Philadelphia Fillies,” which peaked at No. 9 in 1971, Reeves never had another Top 20 record, but he did continue to chart sporadically into the 1980s on the Koala label. His last charted single came in 1986 with “The Second Time Around” on Playback Records.
Reeves had a hand in launching the careers of two younger stars. Lee Greenwood first gained wide exposure playing in his band, and Billy Ray Cyrus relied on Reeves to make Nashville contacts for him when he was seeking his first record contract.
Reeves made his last Grand Ole Opry appearance in August 2002. He is survived by his wife, Ellen, and daughters Anne, Kari and Bethany. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.