BOBBY HELMS, born August 15, 1933 in Bloomington, Indiana, achieved his biggest seller by mixing rock 'n' roll with the spirit of Christmas. He wasn't too sure about that unholy conjunction but Jingle Bell Rockbecame a holiday classic peaking at #6 pop in 1958, charting each Christmas for the next four years and cropping up in the opening credits to the box-office winner, Lethal Weapon. Two of his other records, Fraulein (#36) and My Special Angel (#7) were among the biggest crossover hits of 1957.
Helms made his first records for Speed, a Nashville label, in 1955. Hillbilly fans regard them as his best efforts. In 1956 he obtained a record deal with Decca after appearing on Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree radio show and auditioning for Decca's A&R man, Paul Cohen. "My first release" he told Walt Trott "was a less than successful number called 'Tennessee Rock 'n' Roll' which came out right after Sun Records had gotten all that attention with their rockin' newcomer Elvis Presley on over there in Memphis".
Paul Cohen chose the song which was written by a couple of Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, Larry Coleman and Irving Reid. Coleman was famous for Ricochet, Tennessee Wig Walk, Pa-Paya Mama and Changing Partners, novelty hits for Teresa Brewer, Bonnie Lou, Perry Como and Patti Page. The song's contrivance and the fact that Helms was never comfortable with rock'n'roll - "I was a country singer" he told Jimmy Guterman. "I didn't like the beat" - accounts for it's belated appearance in this series. On the other hand when Trevor Cajiao asked if he was happy doing things like Tennessee Rock 'n' Roll, Helms replied "Yeah, it didn't hurt me. That's Grady Martin and 'Sugarfoot' Garland playing high and low guitar on there".
Tennessee Rock 'n' Roll wasn't a hit but Fraulein (also #1 C&W) was just around the corner. Helms's regular chart reign ended in 1960 but he staged a comeback on Aubrey Mayhew's Little Darlin' Records in 1967. Eventually, excessive drinking and pill-popping wore him out. He lost vision in his right eye and took to wearing a patch over it. He suffered from diabetes, emphysema and stomach problems. In 1993 he appeared at the Harrogate C&W Festival in Yorkshire looking old and frail; fellow performer Kenny Johnson remarked "It wouldn't have surprised me if he'd asked me to buy a 'Big Issue'." [an English magazine sold by and on behalf of the homeless].
On June 19, 1997, thrice-married Helms died of heart failure in Martinsville, Indiana. He was 63. His entire recordings for Speed and Decca are gathered together on Bear Family's collection, 'Fraulein; The Classic Years' (BCD 15594). His biography, 'Jingle Bell Rock' (Aalida Press), written by Lisa E. Brown and David Ward, is a fascinating tale of grief and destruction.