It might not surprise you to hear that Goebel Reeves, the guy who wrote one of Woody Guthrie‘s signature tunes, “Hobo’s Lullaby,” actually did spend some time as a hobo. After all, a lot of the early folk/country singers were ramblin’ men, and the guy who sometimes called himself the Texas Drifter (among other things) was certainly that. But it is kind of odd that he’s pretty much unknown to modern music fans, especially when you consider that he also claimed to have taught the legendary Jimmie Rodgers how to yodel.
Goebel Leon Reeves grew up in Austin, Texas, the son of a businessman turned state legislator, but he rebelled against his middle-class upbringing. He was still in his teens when he joined the Army and was soon seeing action in World War I, where he was wounded in action. In the years following, he began drifting around the country and living his life as a troubadour and hobo. By the late 1920s he’d also spent some time working as a seaman and had even traveled in Europe, but had returned home to an uncertain future. But then Reeves discovered that guys like Jimmie Rodgers were making and selling records, and he saw the light.
Arriving in New York after a long trip via freight trains, Reeves bluffed his way into an audition and soon began making records under a variety of names, including some colorful ones like the Broadway Wrangler, the Broadway Rustler, and the Texas Drifter. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that well for a couple of years, but eventually he landed a spot on crooner Rudy Vallée‘s popular radio show, and it proved to be his breakout moment.
For most of the 1930s Reeves was a popular recording artist and a frequent guest on radio shows, including the Grand Ole Opry. He also made the occasional movie appearance and continued to write a lot of good songs, all the while regaling fans with tales of his days ridin’ the rails — including how he taught Jimmie Rodgers to yodel. But hard living began to catch up with him as the years passed, and even though he did help entertain troops during World War II, he eventually spiraled down into ill health and obscurity. He was 59 when he died in 1959.