Sweetwater, Texas, 1950s
New York City, 1957
Jim Boothe, my father’s first cousin, visited us in Sweetwater, Texas, while he stayed with his parents Ruth and Joe Boothe who also lived there. Some of the ranchers in my dad’s family thought Jim was really different. He was. Jim wore elegant clothes and drove a yellow convertible. My older sister and I were thrilled when he invited us to take a ride in his pretty car. It was the first convertible we had seen except for the few we had seen in movies. Jim laughed when I told him, “Cousin Jim, your car looks like a banana on wheels”.
Jim and Mother worked in our kitchen preparing hamburgers and onion rings during one visit. Our father never cooked, so it was fun to see Jim don an apron while he mixed mustard into the ground beef before he made patties. Mother taught him how she soaked sliced onion rings in milk for a little while before draining them. Next, she dunked them into flour which she shook off before dropping them into melted Crisco bubbling inside a hot iron skillet. After draining them, the crispy treats were delicious with Jim’s very tasty burgers.
After Jim decided to move to New York City, my mother and father put money in his jacket pocket to help him get established in the big city so far from Sweetwater, his birthplace. It was a sacrificial gift from our family because our father did not have a steady job at the time.
Over the years Jim lived in NYC, other relatives from his mother’s side of the family also pitched in to help him. He sent us demo records of songs he wrote and produced. In 1957 Jim and his co-writer friend, Joe Beal, completed Jingle Bell Rock. Joe was a public-relations professional while Jim was a writer at work in the advertising business. We were so proud of Jim when we received a 45 RPM gift which I still safeguard as a special treasure.
Recently Jingle Bell Rock was named the most requested Christmas song by The New York Times. It was first recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957. Since its release, the song has been recorded by 114 artists (and counting).
When my two children were young, they were excited when the song was played on the radio. I told them about our cousin Jim and recruited them to call radio stations to request Jingle Bell Rock be played. They laughed when I said, “Remember, we will earn a nickel each time it is broadcast. Ka-ching.”
In 1987 a television special, A Muppet Family Christmas, featured Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem having fun delivering the lyrics. In the soundtrack of movies, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Mean Girls, we clapped when we heard it. Friends told us it was in the movie Lethal Weapon as well, but we did not see it.
The happy news is that, because of my parents’ confidence in Jim’s eventual success and their contribution to his dream, Jim made bequests of royalties in his will naming all relatives who contributed money to help him at the beginning of his career. Jim died in 1976, yet his song is played worldwide and still blesses us all. It remains a fun, quirky, rockabilly song to listen to and reminds us that Jim was a Texas boy.
Stereo Story #528
For an Australian Christmas song, see David Oke’s story about The North Wind Is Tossing The Leaves.