Jimmy Sweeney

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Jimmy Sweeney
Jimmy Sweeney - At His Best.jpg
Cover of a Greatest Hits Album issued in 2017
Background information
Birth nameJames Sweenety Jr.[1]
Also known asJimmy Bell and Jimmy Destry
Born(1922-11-15)November 15, 1922
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
DiedOctober 6, 1992(1992-10-06) (aged 70)
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Years active1947–1962
Associated actsElvis Presley, Marty Robbins

Jimmy Sweeney (March 15, 1922 – October 6, 1992) was a veteran of the Nashville African-American music scene. He was a singer, songwriter, and self-taught guitarist.

As a pop singer, he was known professionally as Jimmy Sweeney a.k.a. Jimmy Bell.

Jimmy was born, raised, and died in Nashville, Tennessee.[2]

His recordings span country, rhythm and blues, soul, and doo wop.

He was an early influence on Elvis Presley.

Jimmy and Elvis[edit]

Jimmy's main claim to fame is as an influence to the young Elvis and that he was the mystery singer on a demo disk played to Elvis by Sam Phillips.

An enduring myth from the fifties is that the young unknown Elvis was daunted by the performance on record of an (unknown) singer. The story is that Elvis as an undiscovered 18 year old was introduced to a demo record of "Without You" by Sam Phillips on 24 Jun 1954. (Elvis had already visited Sun before that to record two sessions for personal use, and Marion Keisker had taken note of his potential).

Sam had a stack of demos that had been sent into him, one was a disk of an unknown ballad "Without You", by an unknown singer with guitar. The song began: "Always at twilight I wish on a star, I ask the lord "to keep you wherever you are..." Sam had been impressed by it, but was unable to ascertain the name of the singer; nevertheless he toyed with releasing it as a single. Marion, (Sam's business associate) intervened with the idea to get Elvis to sing it as a debut record. Despite a spirited attempt at recording it Elvis felt he could not better the performance on the demo, and went on to work on "That's All Right", released in July 1954.[3]

The Sweeney demo remained privately in Marion's hands, its existence became an urban myth. The singer was not identified, till heard by Christopher Kennedy in early 2017, his suspicions were confirmed by Jimmy's daughter Eugenia, amongst others. The demo disc label identifies it as "Without You", "Audiodisc 3324", recorded at 18 rpm.[4] The writer of the song has never been identified. Earlier to these events in January 1954, Elvis had in the second of two (self paid) private sessions cut a second acetate at Sun Records of "I'll Never Stand In Your Way" and "It Wouldn't Be the Same Without You". The latter a Fred Rose, Jimmy Wakely song. That song and the Sweeney demo have no similarity.[5][6]

Later in 1960 Jimmy Sweeney made an original recording in 1960 of "She Wears My Ring", a F. Bryant, B. Bryant adaptation of an old Mexican song "La Golondrina". This particular record had been Jimmy's most successful reaching number 5 on the Canadian Billboard, and in July 1962 number 24 on the American chart.[7]

Coincidentally Elvis was to cover it in 1973, on the Good Times album on RCA Records issued in 1974. It was along time favourite of his, he had also (again coincidentally) made a home recording of it in November 1960 at 565 Perugia Way in Los Angeles, officially released on "Follow That Dream Records" label, In a Private Moment album. Roy Orbison recorded it for Monument Records in 1964.[8]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Named after his father, who was born in Nashville; he was of West Indian descent. The second child of thirteen. A gifted American football player as a boy, he was a self-taught guitarist. He was born, raised, and based in Nashville, Tennessee all of his life. In 1943 he was drafted as Private into the US Army, at Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and was eventually honourably discharged.[9] He married his wife Elsie in Jan 1941, and made ends meet as a carpenter.

Solo career[edit]

He recorded under various names; Jimmy Sweeney, Jimmy Bell and Jimmy Destry.

He was the lead singer of "The Five Bars", who later changed their name to "The Varieteers".

On the 8 Jul 1948 the Varieteers appeared as guests on the "Appointment With Music" (an NBC radio show originating from WSM, Nashville). The Varieteers, sang "All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart"... The host was Snooky Lanson, with Dorohy Dillard & Beasley Smith and his orchestra.

In Oct 53, the Varieteers were at Ciro's in Hollywood. They performed in the intermissions between sets of Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane.

He travelled throughout the U.S. and Canada promoting his recordings gathering a legion of fans. However great success was to elude him.

For a time he worked in Western Canada for C.P.Rail

"She Wears My Ring" charted at #5 on CHUM, Toronto, in May 1961.[10]

Then, at the height of it all in 1962, aged 40, he opted out and returned home to Nashville; for a state government job.

A period of inactivity followed, before he started again to write, penning songs for Columbia. Marty Robbins in particular recorded his songs.[11]

Most of his recordings were with the Hickory label.

Associated labels were:

Most of Jimmy's music writing was published by Acuff-Rose Music.

Jimmy and Marty Robbins[edit]

He contributed songs regularly for Marty Robbins. This is an incomplete list, the dates are the years the songs were issued by Marty:

  • Don't Go Away Senor – 1957
  • No Tears, No Regrets – 1965[16]
  • "Will There Be Stars in My Crown?" (George Jones, Jimmy Sweeney, Edmond Hewitt) – 1965
  • My Wonderful One – 1969
  • When My Turn comes around – 1969
  • You Say It's Over – 1971
  • You're an Angel disguised as a Girl – 1987



Died in Nashville of cancer at age 69, leaving his wife Elsie and five children.

He is buried in a U.S Veterans gravesite at the Nashville National Cemetery, Madison, Davidson County, Tennessee.[18]


An influence on Elvis Presley.

He left behind many (now rare) collectible recordings which regularly surface on YouTube, under the names: Jimmy Sweeney, Jimmy Bell, Jimmy Destry, The Five Bars, and The Varieteers.

Jimmy Sweeney discography[edit]

45 RPM singles

  • "I'm All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart" (Val-Reese-Patrick) b/w "To Make A Long Story Shorter" (Ellis) – Bullet 1009, 1947 (recorded as the "Five Bars")
  • "Bars Boogie" b/w "Deep In My Heart" – Bullet 1010, 1947 (recorded as "The Five Bars")[19]
  • "(It's) Needless" (Vaughan) b/w "It's Goodbye Again" – Tennessee 809, 1950 (recorded as Jim Sweeney and The Dinning Brothers)
  • "Boogie Woogie Jockey" (Sweeney) b/w "I Gotta Leave This Town" – Tennessee 714, May 1950 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney; A side with Gene Nobles WLAC, Nashville)[20]
  • "I'll Try To Forget I've Loved You" b/w "You Don't Move Me No More" – MGM 10888-A/B, January 1951 (recorded as The Varieteers)
  • "Tobacco Road" (Edward B. Marks/Arranged Anita Kerr) b/w "The Song Of The Wind" – Tennessee 715, 1952 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney With (Choir) Accompaniment)
  • "Believe In Me" b/w "Desire" – Republic 7054, October 1953 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney; Republic a subsidiary of Tennessee Records)
  • "Deep Blues" (Rose, McAlpin) b/w "I've Got a Womans Love" (Robbins) – Hickory 1004, February 1954 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney and The Varieteers)[21]
  • "I Pay With Every Breath" (Sweeney) b/w "If You And I Could Be Sweethearts" – Hickory 1014, August 1954 (recorded as The Varieteers, vocals by Jimmy Sweeney)
  • "Memories Of You" b/w "When Did You Leave Heaven?" – Republic 7101, November 1954 (recorded as The 4 Bars; Republic a subsidiary of Tennessee)
  • "Danny Boy" b/w "Your Gonna Be Sorry" – Hidus Records issued 2009, recorded May 1955 (recorded as Jimmy Destry)[22]
  • "Call My Gal, Miss Jones" (Jimmy Sweeney) b/w "Minnie, Come Home" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Hickory 1025, May 1955 (recorded as The Varieteers)[23]
  • "The Question" (Chick Thompson) b/w "These Tears" (Jimmy Sweeney) – CHIC 1002 December 1956 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney; Chic Records of Thomasville, Georgia. CHIC active 1956–1957. Label owned by Chic (Chick) Thompson.)[24][25]
  • "Tica Boo" (Ted Edlin) b/w "Bongo Olay" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Chic Records March 1957 (recorded as Jimmy Sweeney)[26]
  • "The Midnight Hour" (Jimmy Sweeney) b/w "Till The Right One Comes Along" (Jimmy Sweeney) – DATE 1001 – January 1958 (recorded as Jim Sweeney; Date, a subsidiary of Columbia. This record released in New Zealand and the UK)[27]
  • "Sick, Sick, Sick" ((B. Bryant, F. Bryant) b/w "Gonna Find My Sweetheart" (Jimmy Sweeney) – COLUMBIA 4-41201|Columbia Records, June 1958 (recorded as Jim Sweeney)
  • "It Wouldn't Be The Same (Without You)" ((Jimmy Wakely/Fred Rose)]]b/w "Afraid" (Fred Rose) – COLUMBIA 4-41262, November 1958 (recorded as Jim Sweeney)[28]
  • "(Where You Lead Me) I'll Follow You" b/w "The Buzzard And The Owl" – COLUMBIA 4-41454, 8/59 (recorded as Jim Sweeney)
  • "Prayin' For Someone To Love" b/w "What'cha Gonna Do About Me" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Hickory 1115, February 1960 (recorded as Jimmy Bell)
  • "She Wears My Ring" (F. Bryant, B. Bryant) b/w "Going Down To The River" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Hickory 1136, November 1960 (recorded as Jimmy Bell)
  • "Lunch In A Bucket" (John D. Loudermilk) b/w "(Yes) Here I Go Again" (Don Gibson) – Hickory 1146, April 1961 (recorded as Jimmy Bell)
  • "The Poorest Boy In Town" (Tobias, Pockriss) b/w "Honey Bee" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Hickory 1156, October 1961 (recorded as Jimmy Bell)
  • "Your Skies Of Blue (Will Turn Gray On You) (Fred Neil)" b/w "Tomorrow is a Comin" (Gene Pitney) – Hickory 1168, April 1962 (recorded as Jimmy Bell)
  • "She Wears My Ring" (Boudleaux and Felice Bryant) b/w "What'cha Gonna Do About Me" (Jimmy Sweeney) – Buckley 1101 NBOW 2937/2938, July 1962 (issued as Jimmy Sweeney; from Jimmy Bell, Hickory masters)[29]
  • "Endless" (Chic Thompson, Gwen Boyd) b/w "Beloved" (Chic Thompson, Gwen Boyd) – Parthenon, 1967 (Recorded 1956 at Chic Records)


  • "At His Best" Released 12 June 2017 by E.N. Digital. ASIN: B0721Y9ZVG. Tracks: 9. Length: 21:40. (issued as Jimmy Sweeney)


  1. ^ "Jimmy Sweeney". mojo.com. Retrieved 2017-09-05.
  2. ^ "Origins". Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  3. ^ BBC. "Presley: Part 1 "I don't sound like nobody"" (Documentary)|format= requires |url= (help). BBC. pp. Time: 23.10. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  4. ^ Kennedy, Christopher (23 Aug 2017). "The King's Singer". Mojo Music Magazine (287 (Oct 2017)): 44–47. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  5. ^ Guralnick, Peter (1994). Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley. Little, Brown. p. 65.
  6. ^ "Lyrics for "It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You Lyrics"". lyricsfreak.com. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  7. ^ "She Wears my Ring - Billboard". Billboard. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  8. ^ "She Wears My Ring". FECC Forums. For Elvis CD Collectors. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  9. ^ "James Sweeney Jr". Ancestry.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  10. ^ "She Wears My Ring chart position". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  11. ^ Coyle, Craig. "Biography". jam! showbiz The Canadian Pop Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  12. ^ "Bullet Records". vocalgroupharmony.com. vocalgroupharmony.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Buckley Records". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  14. ^ "Republic Records". bopping.org. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  15. ^ "Tennessee Records". bopping.org. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  16. ^ "No Tears, No Regrets". letssingit.com. letssingit.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  17. ^ Pruett, Barbara J. (1990). Marty Robbins: Fast Cars and Country Music. Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 396–424. ISBN 978-0810823259. Retrieved 9 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Jimmy Sweeney". Find a grave. 2000-02-26. Retrieved 2017-09-05.
  19. ^ "The Five Bars". vocalgroupharmony.com. vocalgroupharmony.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  20. ^ "Boogie Woogie Jockey disc label". sundayblues.org. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  21. ^ "Hickory 1004". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  22. ^ "Reviews of New Pop Records". Billboard: 42. 14 May 1955. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  23. ^ Sweeney, Jimmy Sweeney (1955). Call My Gal, Miss Jones b/w Minnie, Come Home (Record label ed.). Hickory Records.
  24. ^ "Chic Records". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  25. ^ "Chic 1002". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Chic 1007". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Date 1001". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  28. ^ "Afraid". Discogs. Retrieved 20 September 2017.
  29. ^ "Buckley 1101". 45cat.com. 45cat.com. Retrieved 10 September 2017.

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