Jerry Wallace: 'Mr Smooth' of country-pop

Sunday 23 October 2011 01:59

Jerry Wallace's warm and engaging vocal style gained him the sobriquet "Mr Smooth". He modelled himself on his hero, Nat King Cole, and his delivery proved ideal for the trend in the late 1960s and early 1970s towards country-pop; in 1972, he was nominated as Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association.

Wallace was born in Guilford, Missouri in 1928, but moved to Los Angeles while still in his early teens. He was drawn to both music and acting, but the former won out and, in 1951, following service in the US Navy, he cut his first sides for the Allied label. He moved to Challenge in 1957 and recorded "How the Time Flies", which made it into the pop Top Twenty in 1958. A year later, he had another big hit with "Primrose Lane" and in 1964 charted with both "Shutters and Boards", a song written by the war hero turned film star Audie Murphy, and Cindy Walker's "In the Misty Moonlight".

In the same year he made brief appearances in a pair of movies, Flipper's New Adventure and Goodbye Charlie and, more significantly, switched labels to Mercury, a move that coincided with a newfound focus on the country market. His initial forays into the genre, including "Life's Gone and Slipped Away" (1965) and "Sweet Child of Sunshine" (1968), proved only moderately successful and it wasn't until he signed with Decca in 1970 that he began to make a significant impact upon the country charts: "After You" (1971) quickly made the Top Thirty and was succeeded by "The Morning After" (1971).

In 1972 he enjoyed a crossover hit with "To Get to You", a disc that was later nominated as Single of the Year by the Country Music Association. He followed it with "If You Leave Me Tonight I'll Cry", a song that had been written for inclusion in an episode of Rod Serling's cult television series Night Gallery entitled "The Tune in Dan's Café". Although not heard in its entirety, the record's dramatic role within the story – the needle in the café's jukebox repeatedly gets stuck as Wallace sings, "'til death. . ." – helped to propel it to the top of the country charts. He then finished the year with, "Do You Know What It's Like to Be Lonesome", which reached number two.

Further hits included "Don't Give Up On Me" (1973), "Guess Who", "My Wife's House", "I Wonder Whose Baby (You Are Now)" (all 1974), and "Comin' Home to You" (1975), but protracted litigation involving his management interfered with Wallace's ability to sustain a chart career and he began to jump from label to label in a vain attempt to replicate his earlier success. "If I Could Set My Love to Music", recorded in 1980, proved to be his chart swansong.

Paul Wadey

Jerry Wallace, singer: born Guilford, Missouri 15 December 1928; twice married (three sons, one daughter); died Victorville, California 5 May 2008.

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