Del Reeves, 73; lighthearted entertainer at Grand Ole Opry
Del Reeves, a Grand Ole Opry star who sprinkled his performances with humor and hit No. 1 on the country charts in 1965 with the song “Girl on the Billboard,” has died. He was 73.
Reeves died Monday at his home in Centerville, Tenn., after an extended illness, Grand Ole Opry spokeswoman Jessie Schmidt said Tuesday.
During his 40 years at the Opry, Reeves was hailed as one of its best entertainers because of his comic timing. In addition to his music, he did impressions of stars such as Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Cash and Walter Brennan.
His “Girl on the Billboard” sold 1 million copies and earned him the nickname of “the Doodle-Oo-Doo-Doo Kid” for the nonsense syllables that he sang with the song’s guitar introduction.
His other hits included “The Belles of Southern Bell,” “Women Do Funny Things to Me,” “Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” “Good Time Charlie’s,” “Be Glad” and “The Philadelphia Fillies.”
Reeves became a regular performer on the Opry in 1966 and performed for up to 1 million people a year on the long-running country show.
“He was one of the best entertainers that ever came through the Opry, I think,” said Kelso Herston, who signed Reeves to the United Artists label in the 1960s and produced some of his early records, including “Girl on the Billboard.” “He was happy-go-lucky. He had a positive attitude and was a great person. A great friend.”
Reeves said he turned to impressions and light material early in his career.
“I couldn’t really sell a ballad,” he said. “It had to be material on the lighter side. Under this clown’s face, there’s a serious guy. But I never got to show it because I got tagged as that clown. I’ve been clowning as long as I can remember.”
Reeves said he was born July 14, 1933, in Sparta, N.C., the youngest of 11 children, and was named Franklin Delano Reeves for President Roosevelt. He learned to play guitar with his mother’s help and was playing regularly on a local radio show by the age of 12.
He attended Appalachian State College in Boone, N.C., and served in the Air Force, performing and writing songs while stationed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. He was regarded as a rising singer-songwriter by the time he moved from California to Nashville in 1962.