Hello Remember Me: A Tribute to Jimmy Donley

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Published on: March 20th, 2023

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of his passing, Gulf Coast songwriting genius James Kenneth Donley will be the spotlight of The '50s R&B Show this week.

Jimmy Donley's music starkly reflected his life experiences. Often digging deep into his personal heartaches, Donley poured his tortured soul into his lyrics.

A lot was packed into his short life. In 1957, he landed a contract with Decca, one of the biggest record labels in the business. In 1960, after an unannounced visit to the home of Rock 'n' Roll giant Fats Domino, the pair became close friends and Domino would go on to record seven Donley songs. Donley was married and divorced five times. There were the 19 months he spent in the army, the countless jail visits, the violent temper, the loss of his beloved mother in 1962 and, of course, the dozens and dozens of lyrical masterpieces, most of which he sold for a pittance. All this in his all-too-brief 33 years of life. The story of Jimmy Donley came to a tragic end when he committed suicide by asphyxiation in his car while parked on the side of a lonely road in Gulfport, MS in the late night hours of March 20 or the early morning hours of March 21, 1963.

Donley's songs have been recorded by Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, Freddy Fender, Warren Storm, Big Boy Myles, Tommy McLain, Sunny & the Sunliners, Joe Barry, Link Davis, Frogman Henry, Eddy Raven, Ferlin Husky and many others. Just a few of the classic titles from Donley's pen are "What a Price," "Think It Over," "Born to Be a Loser," "Baby Heaven Sent Me You," "Hello Remember Me," "Lovin' Cajun Style," "Please Mr. Sandman" and "I'm to Blame."

Johnnie Allan, swamp pop legend and dedicated Jimmy Donley fan, did extensive research on Donley's life in the late '80s and early '90s. Culled from in-depth interviews with Donley's family, friends and bandmates, Allan's book Born to Be Loser: The Jimmy Donley Story was published in 1992.

As part of the Donley tribute, I'll be airing segments from interviews I recently conducted with swamp poppers Johnnie Allan and Tommy McLain. We'll hear a few words from Earl Stanley, who played bass on some of Donley's tracks cut in New Orleans. There will also be a very special and compelling guest -- someone at the heartbeat of the Donley story -- who I won't reveal until airtime.

Please join me this Tuesday night, March 21, at 7pm CT on WWOZ 90.7 FM or wwoz.org for a deep dive into the life and music of the one and only Jimmy Donley.

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