Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Unfortunate Career

For years I considered writing a book about a singer named Jimmy Ellis. I even had a hardback press interested in the project, but I found it tough sledding to gather necessary material for a decent-sized biography. It's possible I'll go back to it someday, unless someone finally releases a good book about him.

Yeah, they actually released this morbid piece of shit cover.

Ellis was a singer whose voice was uncannily similar to that of Elvis Presley's. If he wanted to, he
could sound so much like Presley that even Presley's biggest fans found it difficult to tell them apart. He was signed to a number of labels, mainly smaller ones, before finally ending up at famed Sun Records. Alas, he was convinced to put on a silly fucking mask and perform as a guy named "Orion" who, it was said, was actually Elvis Presley--or perhaps some kind of resurrection of the King. It was a sad decision and a terrible mistake on the part of Ellis and his management team.

Ellis as a clown.
The worst part of all of this is that--in his prime--Ellis had a very remarkable voice. At some point he finally stopped chasing the brass ring and retired to run a business in his native Alabama. And was murdered by an armed robber at that place of business.

I put up this video on YouTube because all other versions of this song were rather murky from a listening perspective. He cut this tune for the TV series McCloud, which starred the late Dennis Weaver. Weaver's patented catch phrase on the show was "there you go". The production company commissioned a song, and Ellis was chosen to put voice to it. It was even released as a 45rpm record and, as I recall, did manage to chart, but never got very high on those charts. Which is a shame because it's a pretty good tune that deserves a wider audience.


Kent Tankersley said...

Interesting. I've never really heard anything about Jimmy Ellis. It's sad the way things ended up for him. And what horrible marketing on the part of the record company -- truly messed up.

James Robert Smith said...

He's a very sad character, all in all. I think he may have had a largely happy life outside of the industry--and I know he had good moments in his career--but that whole "Orion" thing was a hideous mistake and (while he was certainly an adult and should have known it was a bad idea) he was led down a bad path by his managers and producers at Sun Records.

I met him twice. He was a very nice guy. At the time I met him, his voice was about as good as it was going to be--he had remarkable range and was a truly impressive stage performer. The saddest thing about it all is that he never got to reach the wider audience that he deserved.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

I knew I'd heard this again just recently. "There You Go" appeared in the 3rd-season episode, "SHOWDOWN AT THE END OF THE WORLD", which featured Jaclyn Smith (years before CHARLIE'S ANGELS) and Bradford Dillman.

It seems they found an excuse to include a song in at least one episode per season. The 3rd season also featured "Garden Party"-- a Rick Nelson song I find horribly dull and boring, which is ironic as it somehow became his biggest-selling single. (Go figure.) That was in "THE NEW MEXICAN CONNECTION", the 3rd season opener, when Glen Larson came back after a year away to take charge of the show again.

Nelson appeared in the episode as a singer with a secret in his past he was trying to hide, but there was so much going on in that story, he had almost no screen-time to show off his acting skills (which were considerable-- see "RIO BRAVO" for proof).

Jimmy Ellis did NOT appear in the episode his song was in, which may explain why I never took notice of who sang the song.

James Robert Smith said...

I will assume that what the producers wanted the audience to think was the Elvis was singing the song. Or that everyone would assume that it was SUPPOSED to sound like something Elvis would record.