Jim Reeves was destined for stardom since his introduction on KWKH’s “Louisiana Hayride” radio show in Shreveport, Louisiana. He had been hired as an announcer on the program, but what he really wanted to do was sing. He got that chance by accident one night when one of the scheduled performers didn’t show up (legend tells us that it was Hank Williams, but actually it was Sleepy Labeef who didn’t show) and manager Horace Logan sent Reeves out on stage to fill the time. The audience loved his singing, and suddenly he was on his way to success. He recorded an up-tempo novelty tune called “Mexican Joe” on the small, independent Abbott label. It shot to #1 nationwide and became one of 1953’s biggest selling records. RCA Victor signed Reeves two years later and by 1957 he had embraced the new, smoother “countrypolitan” technique that came to be known as “The Nashville Sound.” Jim became its standard-bearer, notching a string of top hits that crossed over effortlessly into the pop market and brought an entirely new and much larger audience to country music.
Just a few years later, at the peak of his career, Reeves’ life was suddenly snuffed out when he crashed his single-engine private airplane during a severe thunderstorm while approaching Nashville’s Berry Field (now Nashville International Airport) on July 31, 1964. He was 39 years old. With that plane crash, “Gentleman Jim’s” career transformed from highly-regarded and incredibly successful to iconic and legendary. He was unanimously elected to The Country Music Hall Of Fame just three years later (the “twenty-five year” rule had yet to be implemented).
After Jerry Bradley authorized the Jim Reeves tribute album project, Ronnie and producer Tom Collins immediately went to work on it. The finished result was “Out Where The Bright Lights Are Glowing,” its title drawn from the first line of Reeves’ 1957 classic “Four Walls.” Milsap covered that one, as well as nine more of “Gentleman Jim’s” hits, including “I Guess I’m Crazy,” (which was just beginning its chart run at the time of Reeves’ death), “He’ll Have To Go” (Jim’s all-time biggest hit), “I’m Beginning To Forget You” (a lesser-known Jim Reeves tune which originally reached only #17 on the charts, but my personal favorite from Ronnie’s album) and “Am I Losing You,” a song which made the Top Ten twice for Reeves during his lifetime. Milsap’s version of “Am I Losing You” was the only track from the album released as a single. It reached the summit of Billboard’s country singles chart on May 9, 1981, giving Ronnie his 17th of 35 number one hits (4th on the all-time list behind George Strait’s official Billboard tally of 44, Conway Twitty’s 40 and Merle Haggard’s 38). The tribute album even contained a couple of original songs in honor of Reeves: The title track, “Out Where The Bright Lights Are Glowing” (a song specifically written around the album’s already selected title), and “Dear Friend.”