Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Country Legend Sonny James Has Died

NASHVILLE — Country singer Sonny James, whose music went from rural Alabama to the moon, died Monday afternoon, February 22, 2016, according to longtime friend Gary Robble. He was 87.

James was “an artist who really dominated his time in history,” Kix Brooks said in 2006, the year the singer was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His smooth 1956 recording of Young Love came before the rise of the Nashville sound, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, James released 16 consecutive chart-topping singles.

Born James Hugh Loden on May 1, 1928, in Hackleburg, Ala. The child, whose nickname was "Sonny Boy," performed with his family. At age 3, he received his first mandolin, which his father made by hand from a molasses bucket. The child soon would learn to play the guitar and fiddle as well and won fiddle championships as a teen.

The Loden family played on radio stations and in schoolhouses across the South. During their travels, James met a young musician named Chet Atkins, who also would go on to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The two men later crossed paths once again in Music City.

In September 1950, James’ Alabama National Guard unit was sent to Korea. While he was stationed there, he began writing songs seriously.
After leaving the service, he came to Nashville to pursue a career in music. He met with Atkins, who introduced him to Ken Nelson of Capitol Records.
Nelson suggested that he adopt the stage name Sonny James, which was easier for disc jockeys and fans to remember.

The singer soon would get the nickname “the Southern Gentleman.” As a soft-spoken and humble man with impeccable manners, he lived up to that description on stage and off. "He was the ultimate gentleman," said Robble, whose vocal quartet, The Southern Gentlemen, recorded and toured with James from 1964 to 1971. "He knew a lot of people, but when you were talking to him, the only person he knew was you."
Brenda Lee, who toured with James and the duo Mickey and Sylvia, said she really got to know the Young Love singer when they starred on a country music television show, The Ozark Jubilee, in the 1950s. The two became dear friends.

She was 9 or 10 years old and he was an established star more than twice her age, but he was always unfailingly kind to the young singer. "I didn't know that his nickname was the Southern Gentleman. I just knew that he was one of the nicest, sweetest, most down-to-earth people that I had ever met," Lee said. "Family was always first with him, and the career was second," she said. "I loved him for that."

In early 1953, James released his debut single, That’s Me Without You, which would hit No. 9 on the charts. The music he released in the next three years, for the most part, was unsuccessful, but in late 1956, James recorded his breakthrough hit, the dreamy ballad Young Love. The sweet, earnest single spent nine weeks atop the country charts and crossed over to pop radio in early 1957. With its polished production and crooning vocals, Young Love would help open the door for the smoother Nashville sound of the late 1950s and 1960s that supplemented a more honky-tonk country genre.