About The Artist
Bobby Helms was singing for audiences at a very young age. His father had a bit of a jamboree type show in Monroe County, Indiana and began to push him out onto the stage to perform. At the time he was only 13 years old. He was reluctant at first, often his father had to prod him to go out, but gradually he found that once he started singing, that initial bit of stage fright would go away. One article notes that his father's show was the "Monroe County Jamboree".
Bobby Helms got his start in the country music business with Uncle Bob Hardy's show, the Happy Valley Folks in 1949 over WTTV in Bloomington, Indiana. A few years later, around 1952, when Uncle Bob's show became the Hayloft Frolic, Bobby was one of the first artists signed as a cast member.
You can read more details by viewing the article we have on Uncle Bob Hardy. But during those years in Bloomington, things changed a bit. Uncle Bob had started a show that became known as the Happy Valley Folks. It's popularity gave Uncle Bob and opportunity at another station which he tried for a time to give him additional experience and exposure. The band he left behind was led by Bobby's brother, Freddie Helms. Then when Freddie had to join the military service, Jack Noel took over the leadership of the group.
But Uncle Bob wanted to go back to his roots in Bloomington and found himself back on his own station. But to his surprise, it was not the old show he had a large part in developing. Instead, he got his own show and it was known as the Hayloft Frolic. One weekend afternoon, several of his old band members such as Bobby Helms and Joe Edwards visited his home and told him they wanted to be on his new show. Station management underestimated Uncle Bob's popularity, but his former band mates did not. On January 5, 1952, the Hayloft Frolic was on the air.
Uncle Bob told us that Bobby became quite popular and knew he was a talent that could go places beyond the Hoosier state.
Uncle Bob had established himself enough that he called Ernest Tubb and told him he had a fellow he thought had enough talent to sell a few records. Ernest as he would seemingly always do for youngsters trying to make a name, offered to put him on his show at the record shop, the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree.
Uncle Bob and Bobby Helms and a few others got on a small plane and flew to Nashville one February evening. Bobby did a few tunes for Ernest, with Uncle Bob playing rhythm guitar, Scotty Scott on steel. Ernest liked what he heard and contacted Paul Cohen of Decca records. He got his recording contract and his first record was "Tennessee Rock and Roll". The flip side of that first record was a tune Bobby had written while working one evening at Uncle Bob's western wear store he had at the time. They had finished a show after the broadcast of a Hayloft Frolic show and Bobby sang it for Uncle Bob, "I Don't Owe You Nothing".
But Bobby apparently didn't take advice too easily sometimes, and didn't have the career that one might have had with the hits he had. Uncle Bob writes in his book that he had to let him go from his show - he was difficult to manage. Something he reiterated in our conversation. Bobby wanted Uncle Bob to manage his career, but Uncle Bob felt he was not the person to take Bobby to that next level - he needed someone who was on the inside of the industry, not someone who was based in Indiana. Bobby wanted someone to manage his career, but seemingly wouldn't listen to the advice he got at the same time. It is perhaps a story too often told in the entertainment industry.
Bobby noted in one interview with Ben Newman that it was a long time before he really got comfortable singing in front of large audiences. Then later, when he seemed to be getting a lot of attention, he felt those early opportunities helped him - as he wondered what would have happened if he had hit it big before he got comfortable with the larger audiences.
On May 25 and 26, 1956, Bobby was one of the many country music performers who appeared at the National Hillbilly Music event that saluted Jimmie Rodgers down in Meredian, Mississippi. According to journalist Ben Newman, nearly 30,000 people attended the event that was created by two of Jimmie's biggest fans, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb.
This was around the same time that Bobby had released his first recording on Decca. Country & Western Jamboree reported that the distinctive steel guitar backing Bobby was by Howard (Scotty) Scott, also of Uncle Bob Hardy's Hayloft Frolic show.
In the spring of 1957, Country & Western Jamboree noted that Ruth Abram of Bloomington, Indiana was heading up Bobby's fan club.
Bobby even got mentioned in Bobby Gregory's regular column in Cowboy Songs magazine before that first Decca recording session. Bobby noted, "This lad has a fine voice and will go places in the C&W field.
Country & Western Jamboree conducted a Reader's Poll back in 1956 and Bobby finished eighth in the "Best New Male Singer" category. But consider who finished ahead of him and you might think he was in pretty good company. Ahead of him were Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, George Jones, Justin Tubb, Sonny James, Dave Rich and Bobby Lord.
In 1957, after the release of Fraulein, Mae Boren Axton wrote in her column in Cowboy Songs that Bobby sought out Gabe Tucker to help manage his career. At the time, Gabe had seemingly moved back to Texas and was out of the artist management business. But he knew Bobby from his Nashville days and know what he heard when Bobby first appeared on the Midnight Jamboree. Gabe found himself back to managing an artist.
That song wasn't the only hit he recorded in 1957. He also released the classic, "My Special Angel" that stayed on the charts 26 weeks compared to the run of "Fraulein" which was on the charts for 52 weeks.
That same year, he released the Christmas classic, "Jingle Bell Rock". Some articles attribute that recording as the first attempt to mix rock and roll with Christmas.
While lightning seemed to strike for Bobby three times in 1957, his recording career seemed to never reach that zenith again. He continued to do personal appearances and an occasional recording. He toured with his wife, Dori and released his last album in 1989.
On September 22, 1957, Bobby made his debut on national network television on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show in New York.
In the winter of 1957, Bobby was making appearances on the WSM Grand Ole Opry.
When he died in 1997, Bobby was dealing with emphysema and asthma. His manager, Joe Kleiman, indicated in one article of his passing that in some of Bobby's last performances onstage, he took along his oxygen tank and still 'sang like dynamite'. He passed away at his home in Martinsville, Indiana.
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