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Goebel Leon Reeves (October 9, 1899 – January 26, 1959) was an American folk singer. His most famous song is "Hobo's Lullaby," which has been covered by numerous singers, notably Woody Guthrie and his son Arlo.
Born October 9, 1899, in Sherman, Texas, Reeves grew up in Austin, a son of a shoe salesman. His father rose from selling shoes to becoming a member of the Texas State Legislature. His mother taught voice and piano. In 1917 he enlisted in the army as a bugler; he was wounded in frontline action. He was discharged and in 1921 adopted the life of a hobo, writing and singing songs as he travelled. It was from this time that an aura of mystery surrounded the life of the Texas Drifter. He travelled to Italy as a merchant seaman in the mid-1920s and toured Europe. But Europe was not ready for the Drifter and so, broke and hungry, he stowed his way back.
He arrived in Galveston in 1929, and the first sound he heard was a Jimmie Rodgers record playing from a record store. Making records seemed like a good idea, so he swung up on the next fast freight for New York practicing yodels in the boxcar straw. Reeves walked into Long Island recording studio of the Gennett Record Co. and told George Keats, the manager, that he was an important recording artist from Texas. His first recordings were issued as Goeble Reeves, but that was too mundane; at all later sessions for Gennett Records, Okeh Records, and A.R.C he used a variety of pseudonyms including: The Texas Drifter; The Yodelling Wrangler; George Riley; Bert Knowles; The Broadway Wrangler; The Yodelling Rustler; Johnny Fay; The Broadway Rustler and Louie Acker.
Reeves' big break came in 1931. He was invited to join the clientele of a high-class New York restaurant and clutching his guitar, in he went. Graham McNamee, an NBC announcer, introduced "The Singing Bum" to Rudy Vallée, who immediately placed Reeves on his network radio show. Reeves was a great success, and signed an NBC contract for "three and a half." Reeves, not being the world's greatest accountant, divided several meals into $3.50. But when he got his paycheck he was shocked; the three and a half turned out to be $350. Frank Black of Brunswick laid out the red carpet and allowed Reeves to make some transcription material (" Radio Station H.O.B.O calling......"). During this time around 1932-34 Reeves met such artists as Carson Robison, Vernon Dalhart and Frank Luther.
Heavy drinking and smoking took a toll on Reeves' once melodic voice. His last sessions were in 1938 for the McGregor Transcription Recording Co. of Hollywood, California. These were numerous but not of his usual high vocal standard. The last transcriptions for McGregor were poems read to a strumming guitar, just before he joined the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World). In the 1940s Reeves was semi-retired in Bell Gardens, a Los Angeles suburb. He lived completely alone, having lost touch with family and friends.
Goeble Reeves died of a heart attack in Long Beach Veterans Hospital, aged 59 on 26 January 1959
Style and legacy
Reeves had a musical style that resembled that of "the Singing Brakeman" Jimmie Rodgers, including yodeling and lyrics about life on the road. Reeves claimed that he had taught Rodgers how to yodel as they traveled together in the 1920s. A sampling of the Texas Drifter's recordings can be found on the third CD of a four-CD set released in 2005, Sounds Like Jimmie Rodgers, on which Reeves sings 19 songs. Nine of these and others are on the Bear Family CD Hobo's Lullaby. (This is supposedly his complete output but only covers 1929 to 1934. It does not include the McGregor recordings or nine of the Sounds like Jimmie Rodgers tracks. Another Bear Family release, A Cowboy's Life Is Good Enough For Me, has two tracks that are not on Hobo's Lullaby.)
- Biographical sketch of Goebel Reeves from the All Music Guide
- Somewhat longer biography of Reeves from The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin
- Album review of Sounds Like Jimmie Rodgers, with tracks listed
- Summary of CD Hobo's Lullaby with tracks listed and a brief biographical sketch of Reeves