He’ll Have to Go — From Country Western to Popular Music

Thanks to mrtibbs6912 for the You Tube

He’ll Have to Go was written by Joe Marion Allison and Audrey Allison. Joe Marion Allison was radio disc jockey and a TV show host, in addition to writing songs. His big break came when Jim Reeves recorded his version of He’ll Have to Go.

Jim Reeves’s version of the song was not the first version of the song but the best selling version. Jim Reeves had been a moderately successful country music singer when Chet Atkins, the head of RCA Victor’s Nashville division suggested He’ll Have to Go. Chet Atkins brought his favorite piano player, Floyd Cramer, as part of the band.  It was a smash hit not only in the U.S. but all over the world.  More on Floyd Cramer in a moment.  Unfortunately,  just as he had achieved worldwide  success and just three weeks shy of his 41st birthday, Jim Reeves was killed while piloting his own airplane in Tennessee.

It was customary in popular music when an artist had a popular song that was a hit, others would jump on the bandwagon and see if they could sell records too.  It was the music BUSINESS but it was also human nature.  As with James P. Johnson’s Old Fashioned Love, musicians like Bob Wills would see an opportunity to transform a song into their music.  He’ll Have to Go inspired what are called “cover versions” as well:

Thanks to musicvideosparttwo’s channel for the You Tube

Singing He’ll Have To Go was Nat King Cole .  Once the Jim Reeves version became a world wide Country Western hit, good singers and musicians in other fields saw the cross over potential and recorded there own version. Nat King Cole by the late 1950’s had established himself as a blockbuster popular singer, just as before in the 1940’s he had established himself as a remarkable jazz pianist.   I’ll have  more to write about Nat King Cole later this month.

This song was perfect for Nat King Cole, and to give it a Country flavor, I think the producer  used the same studio session pianist used on the Reeves record: Floyd Cramer.  Although there are no credits on the post, I’m guessing with my “golden ears” (Ha Ha) that it’s Floyd Cramer on piano. It certainly wasn’t Nat King Cole who was very much a jazz pianist when he gave it up early in the 1950’s to become a vocalist.

I haven’t heard him in a long time, but I remember Floyd Cramer as a very popular piano player in Country Music in the early 1960’s. He was entirely self taught and he developed and mastered a very unique style.   He was discovered by Chet Atkins and debuted on  piano on Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel record.

Hearing them both sing the same song, both men were extraordinarily talented singers.  It is tragic that they both died at an early age, Jim Reeves as mentioned above from a plane crash in 1964 and Nat King Cole seven months later in 1965 of lung cancer.  Jim Reeves was three weeks shy of  41 and Nat Cole was one month shy of 46.

About Richard Rollo

I am a retired Community College Instructor. I taught Political Science 1 American Government for 22 years in Southern California. I am originally from Northern Minnesota. My earliest years were spent in the living quarters of a rural Duluth Winnipeg & Pacific Railway Depot. Then my family joined the great 1950's migration to Southern California where I joined up with fellow baby boomers in overcrowded schools.
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