Oct. 15: Today is the golden anniversary of the recording session that yielded one of the signature hits of country music, a tune that sprang from a mundane conversation between husband-and-wife songwriters and was interpreted flawlessly by a legend in the making.
“He’ll Have To Go” was first on Jim Reeves’ agenda the morning of Oct. 15, 1959, at the RCA Victor Recording Studio in Nashville. By then, he’d perfected his style of singing softly into a microphone that practically touched his lips. His velvet voice was the centerpiece of the record, a rather sparse Chet Atkins production that also included Floyd Cramer’s piano, Marvin Hughes’ vibraphone, Bob Moore’s bass, Buddy Harman’s drums, Hank Garland’s guitar and the Anita Kerr Singers’ choral backing.
The record spent 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart, also going No. 2 pop and No. 13 R&B. Jim Reeves was already a big star, but this one sent him into the stratosphere, both at home and around the world. Not even his death in a 1964 plane crash could stop it; his widow and RCA reworked Reeves demos and other recordings to keep fresh product coming into the 1980s.
“He’ll Have To Go” is the biggest song in the catalog of Joe Allison, a top radio announcer in Nashville and L.A. who’d also written smash hits for Tex Ritter, Faron Young and Tommy Sands. Its inspiration came in 1959 while talking to his wife, co-writer Audrey Allison, on the phone. From Joe Allison’s musicianguide.com biography:
She had been unable to hear him clearly, and wrote on note pad: “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone.” When Allison found these words, he wrote the remainder of “He’ll Have to Go” around them. Chet Atkins believed the song would be perfect for Jim Reeves, and while the smooth crooner was initially reluctant, he recorded the song.
Allison went on to launch the recording career of Willie Nelson and run several labels before retiring from the music business. He was enshrined in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1978 — also on this date — and died in 2002.