Beyond 'Endless Sleep': The Life And Music Of One-Hit Wonder Jody Reynolds

Sep 2, 2016
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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Some so-called one hit wonders are just that, artists who really didn't have more than one record in them. But others were talents who continued to record interesting music and never connected with the public again for one reason or another. Jody Reynolds was one of those. Rock historian Ed Ward has his story.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENDLESS SLEEP")

JODY REYNOLDS: (Singing) The night was black, rain falling down. Looked for my baby, she's nowhere around. Traced her footsteps down to the shore, afraid she's gone forever more. I looked at the sea and it seemed to say, I took your baby from you away. I heard a voice crying in the deep, come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

ED WARD, BYLINE: Jody Reynolds was born in 1932 in Denver and grew up in Oklahoma, where he picked up a guitar in his teens and was lucky enough to get some lessons from hillbilly boogie master Jimmy Bryant. Reynolds couldn't get the hang of Bryant's supersonic style, but Bryant told him, Jody, not everyone can play fast. Reynolds took that advice to heart. By 1956, Reynolds had a professional band, The Storms, with guitarist Al Casey, working in a territory that included Arizona, Southern California and parts of west Texas where they shared bills with Roy Orbison and The Teen Kings. Like their music, The Storms' repertoire covered country and rock 'n' roll. And one night during a week-long gig at The Backdoor Cafe in Yuma, Ariz., Reynolds had a brainstorm. Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel" had just appeared on the cafe's jukebox, and Jody played it five times in a row and then went to his room in the adjoining motel and wrote "Endless Sleep." He knew it was a hit, and The Storms put it into their set that very night. It stayed there for the next two years as The Storms kept moving. And in 1958, a music publisher named Herb Montel heard "Endless Sleep" and urged them to make a demo. Montel shopped it around Hollywood with no success. When the band arrived there, Montel convinced Reynolds to change the last verse so that he rescues the girl from the sea and it ends happily. Reynolds wasn't happy with this change, but when the record appeared on jazz musician Joe Greene's Demon label, it took off. Released in March, it went to number five in May, and Reynolds was booked on some important package tours, although without Al Casey, who was poached by Duane Eddy. He had time to cut a follow-up, though. And unsurprisingly, it sounded a lot like "Endless Sleep."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIRE OF LOVE")

REYNOLDS: (Singing) The fire of love is burning deep. The fire of love won't let me sleep. Oh, my love, hear this my plea, because of you, it's burning me.

WARD: This also charted, although it only went to number 66. But its flipside, which sounded more like what The Storms usually did, also got some airplay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAISY MAE")

REYNOLDS: (Singing) Oh, baby, baby, baby. Oh, Daisy, Daisy Mae. Well, baby, baby, baby, well, Daisy, Daisy Mae. Cross the valley and up the creek, lives a girl that's oh so sweet. When she smiles, the sun comes out. That's the girl I speak about. Oh, baby, baby, baby. Oh, Daisy, Daisy, Mae. Baby, baby, baby, Daisy, Daisy Mae.

WARD: Maybe it was the tours that inspired a co-write with rockabilly Johnny Burnette in 1959, a kind of commentary on the acts that were selling better than he was.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDEN IDOL")

REYNOLDS: (Singing) It's 3 o'clock. School is done. There goes my girl on the run. The golden idol is in town for a show. She has waited oh so long for the show to go on, for the life of this boy makes her heart cry with joy.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Golden idol, are you lonely? Are you happy? Are you blue?

REYNOLDS: (Singing) Golden boy...

WARD: Joe Greene and Demon still believed in Reynolds, though. And he kept trying for another moody hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STONE COLD")

REYNOLDS: (Singing) About a million years ago it seems, you gave me a world of lovely dreams. But now the story can be told. Your heart, your heart is stone cold. I was a fool...

WARD: By 1960 though, when "Stone Cold" failed to do anything, Reynolds parted ways with Demon and kept on touring. In 1962, he settled in Palm Springs, opening a music store, befriending Elvis, who lived in town, and playing in a band. In 1966, he recorded two duets with a young singer who was playing with him, Roberta Lee Streeter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REQUIEM FOR LOVE")

REYNOLDS: (Singing) You know I'm going to love you, have no fear.

REYNOLDS AND GENTRY: (Singing) Just hold me, dear.

REYNOLDS: (Singing) I place no one above you beneath the sun.

AND GENTRY: (Singing) My only one.

BOBBIE GENTRY: (Singing) When the chilly hand of loneliness reaches for your soul, just come into my warm caress and, darling, you will know.

REYNOLDS: (Singing) That I'll always need you to be mine.

AND GENTRY: (Singing) Until the end of time.

WARD: The record came out under the names Jody and Bobbie, and nobody noticed it until Bobbie left the band and achieved fame with Capitol Records a year later as Bobbie Gentry. Reynolds recorded and played sporadically for the next 10 years, but buying and selling real estate made him a lot more money. He played the oldies circuit occasionally and died of liver cancer in 2008.

DAVIES: Ed Ward is the author of the forthcoming book "The History Of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1963." He played music from the CD "Jody Reynolds: The Complete Demon & Titan Masters."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "100 DAYS, 100 NIGHTS")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) One hundred days, one hundred nights to know a man's heart.

DAVIES: On Monday's FRESH AIR, soul singer Sharon Jones talks about returning to the stage after treatment for pancreatic cancer. She's the subject of a new documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.