Beginning in the 1980s several compilations of his music were issued in the U.S. and Europe, and he enjoyed modest acclaim as a pioneer of rockabilly music. In 1999 Reynolds was honored with both a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Palm Springs Walk of Stars and induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Ralph Joseph Reynolds was born in Denver, Colorado, and was raised in the small town of Shady Grove, Oklahoma. Inspired by Western Swing and artists such as Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, and Eddy Arnold, who he heard on the radio, Reynolds took up guitar at age 14. He began playing rockabilly in Texas in the mid-1950s after hearing performers such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Roy Orbison. While performing in San Diego, California, Reynolds met music publisher Herb Montel.
Montel rejected several songs offered by Reynolds, but after hearing his composition "Endless Sleep", got him signed to Demon Records and began managing him. Inspired by the haunting sound of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel", Reynolds wrote "Endless Sleep" while in Yuma, Arizona for a gig, and played it onstage the same night. Though a proficient guitarist himself, the studio recording of the song featured Al Casey and Howard Roberts on guitars. It had been written solely by Reynolds, but Demon Records credited it to Reynolds and the fictitious "Dolores Nance", in order to make it appear to have been written by a 'professional' songwriting team. With spooky, reverb-laden vocals, "Endless Sleep" tells the story of a young man desperately searching for his girlfriend, who, after an argument, has flung herself into the ocean.
The label persuaded a reluctant Reynolds to change the lyrics to give the song a happy ending. The song reached the #5 position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart on July 7, 1958, sold over one million copies, and inspired a trend of "teen tragedy" songs. Reynolds performed on American Bandstand and other TV shows, and was featured on concert tours organized by the legendary disc jockey/promoter Alan Freed. "Endless Sleep" would later be covered by the Judds, John Fogerty, and Billy Idol; Marty Wilde had a major hit with it in England, and Hank Williams, Jr.'s version was a modest country music chart success. Reynolds' self-penned follow up single, "Fire of Love", became a rock & roll classic years later, after being revived by the MC5 and the Gun Club, but only reached #66 on the Billboard chart when released in August 1958, and was his last song to reach the "Hot 100". As with "Endless Sleep", "Fire of Love" was given a fictitious co-writer — in this case, "Sonja Stordivant". Reynolds recorded several more singles, both with Demon and other labels, including duets with Bobbie Gentry, two songs written by Marty Cooper and Lee Hazlewood, and two hot instrumentals released under the name "The Storms" (Reynolds' backing band).
By the mid-1960s he had settled in Palm Springs, where he focused on raising a family and working as a realtor; however, he retained his lifelong love of music, writing and recording songs in a small home studio, occasionally performing in "oldies" shows, and opening a music store. Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, signed Reynolds to his Boxcar Publishing Co., thinking Presley might be interested in some of his songs, though Presley died in 1977 before recording any of them. Reynolds included one of the songs he'd written for Presley, "Yesterday and Today", on a 1978 album. Starting in the late 1970s, "Endless Sleep" and other of Reynolds' songs were re-released in Europe and America; the rockabilly revival beginning in the 1980s saw a further increase of interest in his music. Reynolds died of liver cancer on November 7, 2008, in Palm Desert, California, at age 75. He was survived by Judy, his wife of 47 years, daughters Malinda and Marla, and son Mark.
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