2 Films - Friday, July 15
Born James Clarence Wakeley in Mineola, Arkansas, he was raised in Depression-era Oklahoma. After leaving the farm he joined another singer, Johnny Bond, to create a vocal trio called "The Bell Boys." Legend has it that a chance meeting with superstar cowboy crooner Gene Autry led the group to California to appear on Autry's CBS radio show, then in a movie with Roy Rogers, Saga of Death Valley (1939).
Wakely (who adapted the nickname "Jimmy" professionally and dropped the final "e" from his surname) began recording for Decca Records in 1941 and soon was releasing such classics as "Cimarron (Roll On)," which became his first hit; "I'm Sending You Red Roses"; and "Beautiful Brown Eyes."
Meanwhile, his country trio, including Bond and Dick Reinhart or Scotty Harrel, performed backup duties at various studios in the movies of such cowboy stars as Hopalong Cassidy, Tex Ritter, Johnny Mack Brown, Charles Starrett and Don "Red" Barry. The group was variously known as The Jimmy Wakely Trio or Jimmy Wakely and His Rough Riders or Saddle Pals or Oklahoma Boys.
Executives at low-budget Monogram Pictures saw the potential for another "B-movie" singing cowboy star in the trim, dark-haired, handsome Wakely, whose relaxed style would lead to the nickname "the Bing Crosby of country/Western." His first Monogram outing was Song of the Range (1944); his last, as the public lost interest in warbling wranglers and "B" Westerns in general, was Lawless Code (1949). Overall he made more than 30 Monogram Westerns, usually playing a character called "Jimmy Wakely" and supported by such sidekicks as Lee "Lasses" White and Dub "Cannonball" Taylor.
Typical adventures included Oklahoma Blues (1948), in which Jimmy poses as a singing outlaw called The Melody Kid; and Brand of Fear (1949), in which he defends the honor of a schoolteacher (Gail Davis) and greets an ornery cowpoke with this line: "I've collected a lot of useless information in my time, but up to now no news of you has reached me."
With his film career behind him, Wakely turned his attention to writing and recording songs and appearing on television and in live shows. In the 1960s he developed his own record company, Shasta Records. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in 1991. Wakely had only one wife, Inez, to whom he remained married until his death. They raised four children, two of whom (Linda Lee and Johnny) were also singers and sometimes performed with their father.
by Roger Fristoe