Singer-guitarist Jody Reynolds, the West Coast rockabilly provocateur whose riveting, morbid 1958 hit “Endless Love” sold over a million copies, died in Palm Desert, California on November 7 following a lengthy illness. Born December 3, l932 in Denver, Colorado, Reynolds was a stylist of drastically offbeat vision. His lyrics were spare, evocative, his song structure often highly unconventional (hell, even his indie label–Demon Records–seemed weird). Unusual scarcely begins to cover his music. While Reynolds cut plenty of straight-up, standard-issue horny rockabilly, he also churned out a memorable series of wildly disparate records like “Night Girl,” an utterly relaxed and convincing, mad-cool blues fraught with proto-psychedelic imagery (her “halo shines at night . . a crimson red”) and, with tenor sax paragon Plas Johnson, a series of greasy, chugging strip joint instrumentals (check their “Makin' Out”) and later, some penetrating pop-country experiments, dueting with a pre-“Ode to Billie Jo” Bobbie Gentry (hear “Stranger in the Mirror”).

The consummate open-minded Westerner, he was raised in Colorado, later moved to Oklahoma for a time but professionally based himself in Southern California. Like every other rockabilly aspirant, Elvis Presley played a key role in Reynolds' musical breakout and after an evening in 1956 when Reynolds got five juke plays of “Heartbreak Hotel” in a row for twenty five cents, he went upstairs to his hotel room and wrote “Endless Sleep.” Although it took two years (and a re-write nixing the original double suicide climax) before anyone would release it, he had a created a masterpiece of gothic, death-fixated pop. With an eerie riff that Reynolds said was inspired by the funeral bells he heard as a youth in Oklahoma, the record sounded like it had been recorded in a mist-shrouded graveyard–full of wide-open space and atmosphere–and his vocal, pulsing with a numb, detached anguish, significantly anticipated the balladeer mix of drama and vulnerability which Roy Orbison so effectively exploited several years later. Reynolds' equally powerful and eccentric follow up, “Fire of Love,” employed the same tender, tortured pathology, but was just too odd to match the success of “Endless Sleep.” Like every other rockabilly, Reynolds moment quickly passed but both of those songs proved vastly influential, with the former recorded by the MC5 and Gun Club while the latter was covered by Hank Williams, Jr., John Fogerty, Marc Bolan, Nick Lowe, Simon Stokes–to name but a few. A magnificent aberrant, Reynolds approach to rock & roll constituted an entirely separate artistic order, one that remains utterly unique. — Jonny Whiteside

Here's the Gun Club's take on “Fire of Love.”

Fire Of Love – The Gun Club

And here's Reynolds' “Endless Sleep”

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