The complete early output of the moody rock pioneer. All tracks sourced from newly discovered master tapes, including several excellent unissued sides.
Jody Reynolds’ 1958 Top 10 entry ‘Endless Sleep’ is frequently cited as an early example of a pop “death disc”, or filed alongside other hits from rock’n’roll’s first phase such as ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ and ‘Last Kiss’ in the category “teardrop rock”. The song is undoubtedly the progenitor of that genre, yet also quite separate from it. A teen tragedy, such as Mark Dinning’s ‘Teen Angel’, could be considered mawkish and immature, a simple objectification of unrequited love. ‘Endless Sleep’ is much more emotionally complex and mysterious, with an impressive sonic ambiance to match. The tune is one of the more compelling insights into the human condition to be found in a pop song.
Such themes were nothing new in country or the blues but ‘Endless Sleep’ was one of the first times it was to be found in rock’n’roll. To have made it to the top of the pop charts, an arena usually overwhelmed with syrup or enforced jollity is another indication of the song’s power. What might have been considered a novelty has endured as one of the best templates for the effective use of drama in pop.
The unwitting revolutionary behind this million-seller was a jobbing musician who simply wanted to write and record a hit. When he came up with ‘Endless Sleep’ in 1956, Jody Reynolds was playing Southwestern clubs purveying a light brand of rockabilly and could not have guessed that his lament would become a rock standard, consistently covered through the ensuing years. A demo was passed around in Hollywood which caught the ear of publisher Herb Montei, who got the singer signed to a newly minted indie label, Demon, co-owned by George Brown, and in the process became his manager. Phoenix guitar whiz Al Casey twanged on the session, Gold Star legend Stan Ross manned the controls and LA jazz stalwart Joe Greene helmed the date and Reynolds’ subsequent recordings for Demon, as ‘Endless Sleep’ shot to the top of the charts and kept him on the road for the next few years.
Although he came from a standard entertainer’s background, Reynolds was also a stylist, and his persona on record, particular in the era covered on this compilation, demonstrates this clearly. His was a lonesome, introspective approach, carefully utilising elements taken from his roots in country and rockabilly but loading them with atmospherics that amplified the sadness and heartbreak in tunes such as ‘Fire Of Love’, ‘The Storm’ and ‘Stone Cold’. These tracks still send a shiver down the spine as the singer wallows in an endless, reverberating despair.
Reynolds could also rock with the best of them. Some of his best work is in this style: ‘Beaulah Lee’, ‘Daisy Mae’ and the unissued ‘My Baby’s Gone’. He could switch from a jaunty bopper such as ‘Tight Capris’ to the big band arrangement of ‘I Wanna Be With You Tonight’ with ease. As his pop visibility ebbed, Reynolds took to cutting raucous instrumentals such as ‘Makin’ Out’, and after some spotty releases on other labels, reconnected with Brown and his new Titan label in 1966 for the moody ‘A Tear For Jesse’ and a rare duet with Bobbie Gentry, who had performed in his band just prior to finding fame with her own spooky smash, ‘Ode To Billie Joe’.
The Titan singles and his early quasi-rockabilly sides are much sought after, yet only a couple of hodge-podge collections of Jody Reynolds’ best work have been available to date. Reynolds died in 2008 but was performing almost up until the end. This exhaustive anthology is fully mastered from pristine, recently discovered tapes for the first time, and the fresh sources have also revealed several exciting unreleased titles. With “The Complete Demon & Titan Masters” this rockin’ iconoclast finally has the anthology he deserves.