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 74.
Reeves died Monday, New Year’s Day, after an extended illness, Grand Ole Opry spokeswoman Jessie Schmidt said Tuesday.
During his 40 years at the Opry, he 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 a 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 intro.
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.”
“I want to be remembered as a great showman and a nice guy,” he said in 1988. “That’s all I could hope for.”
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.
“I listened on the radio on Saturday nights and it was the ultimate,” he said in 1988. “As a child, I told my daddy I was going to sing on the Opry one day. He said, ’Yeah, sure you are.’ I kept my goal in mind and in ’66 we achieved it.”
Reeves turned to impressions and light material early in his career when he found those more to his liking than ballads.
“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.”
In the late 1960s, Reeves had his own syndicated TV show, “The Del Reeves Country Carnival.” He also appeared in several movies, including “Sam Whiskey,” starring Burt Reynolds and Clint Walker.
He said he was born July 14, 1932, in Sparta, N.C., the youngest of 12 children, and was named Franklin Delano Reeves for then-presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. He learned to play guitar with his mother’s help and was playing a regular gig on a local radio show by age 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 California. He was regarded as a rising singer-songwriter by the time he moved from California to Nashville in 1962.
In the early 1990s, he promoted the emerging career of singer Billy Ray Cyrus. The arrangement ended up in court with Reeves suing for damages. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.