Story Behind the Song, "Old Tige"
Posted by Manendra Pedris on March 4, 2015, 11:16 pm
I just came across this story on Facebook. Thought y'all might like to read it: |
I've pasted the source link at the end of the article in case you'd like to read some of the other interesting stories about classic country songs that are posted there.
"The Story Behind The Song:
(written by Ross and Mildred Burke)
Jim Reeves (flip side of “Distant Drums” - #1 country, #45 pop, 1966)
Back in the days of 45 RPM records (which contained two songs per disc), it was standard practice for a record label to designate which song would be the “A” side (sometimes referred to as the “plug” side) and which would be the “B” (or “flip”) side. Rarely have “B” sides made any impact at all. In some cases though, the song that was supposed to be the hit turned out to be ignored and the radio deejays would turn the record over and play the “flip” side, which would go on to become the hit. In very few instances, both songs would score well on the charts. One of the best examples is Elvis Presley’s double-sided 1956 release “Hound Dog”/”Don’t Be Cruel.” Both of these titles landed at #1 for multiple weeks on both the Billboard pop and country charts. However, such an occurrence is extremely abnormal. Still, one wonders how much of an impact some of the “throwaway” songs on the “B” side actually generate toward making a record into a top seller. My backstory today is about one such number, a recitation, that I feel contributed greatly to the success of one of Jim Reeves’ biggest hits.
Country superstar “Gentleman” Jim Reeves had perished in the crash of his private plane that he was piloting on July 31, 1964 as he approached Nashville’s Berry Field during a severe thunderstorm. Not an instrument-rated pilot, Reeves became disoriented during the storm and nosed the plane straight down into a wooded area just a few miles from the airport. At the time of the crash, Reeves was at the peak of his powers, and RCA Victor elected to continue issuing material on him, which the label did for the next twenty years (the final release being a Harlan Howard composition “The Image of Me” in January, 1984). There were many songs “in the can” and ready for release which Jim had cut not only at the RCA facility in Nashville, but in his home studio as well. Such a song was the Cindy Walker-penned “Distant Drums.” The song had a “war-time” theme to it and since the Vietnam war was in full-swing at the time (1966), RCA decided to remix Jim’s home studio recording and issue the song as a single. Reeves’ former producer and chief of the label’s Nashville operation, Chet Atkins, thought that “Distant Drums” wasn’t a strong-enough song to warrant a single release and voiced his skepticism, but he was voted down by RCA’s New York executives.
An even bigger surprise though, was the song that RCA selected as the “B” side of “Distant Drums.” It was “Old Tige,” a five-year-old track from Reeves’ 1961 album “Talkin’ To Your Heart,” a collection of recitations. Although Jim did no actual singing on this package, it was highly successful due to Reeves’ wonderful speaking ability in addition to his singing prowess. What made the choice of “Old Tige” to back “Distant Drums” so unusual was the age and obscurity of the track. At the time it was selected, “Old Tige” had long since been forgotten on a five-year-old album which hadn’t produced any hits. Generally “B” sides are new cuts, in fact most are recorded at the same session as the designated “plug” side. Nonetheless, “Old Tige” was chosen and “Distant Drums” entered Billboard’s country singles chart on April 2, 1966, destined for a #1 landing.
The story about how “Old Tige” came to be written is a fascinating one. Its storyline about a “ghost” dog saving its master was conceived around a strange, real-life occurrence that happened to Jim Reeves late one night in 1955. Reeves was driving back to Nashville from a show performance about a hundred miles away. He was in the remote, mountainous area east of Nashville. It had been raining quite a bit. Suddenly, a person in white clothes appeared in front of Jim’s car. Reeves slammed on the brakes, thinking he had struck the person. He jumped out of the car and started looking all around, but couldn’t find anyone. Jim thought that maybe the person ran down the road, so he started driving very slowly looking for the person he believed surely must be injured. Then he came upon a bridge that had been washed out by a raging river. Because he had been going slow, looking for the “person in white,” Reeves was saved from running off the road and into the river. He genuinely believed that he had been saved by his guardian angel. Jim related this story to family members for years afterward, and eventually told it to a couple of songwriting friends of his, Ross and Mildred Burke of Springfield, Missouri. Reeves had become acquainted with the Burkes through his association with the “Ozark Jubilee,” a nationally-televised country music show broadcast live from Springfield every Saturday night on the ABC Television Network. On several occasions during the show’s six-year run, Jim filled in for regular host Red Foley. Using Reeves’ account of his mysterious story as a guide, Ross and Mildred fashioned a unique tale about the ghost of a beloved dog which saves its master from a flood created by the construction of a new dam. They called it “Old Tige,” and Jim eagerly accepted the piece for his 1961 album of recitations, “Talkin’ To Your Heart.” It reappeared as the “B” side of “Distant Drums” five years later.
The record wasn’t a double-sided hit and although “Old Tige” didn’t chart in its own right, I’ve always felt that Jim’s superb rendering of the beautifully written story greatly helped “Distant Drums” become the huge hit that it was. “Distant Drums” spent four weeks at #1 on Billboard’s country singles chart and reached a respectable #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. It was far and away the biggest of the thirty-two Jim Reeves singles issued after his 1964 death. I believe that many people bought “Distant Drums” just to get a copy of Jim’s wonderful recitation of “Old Tige,” my all-time personal favorite spoken-word narration by any artist. – JH"