Though his name is unfamiliar to most, Bobby Helms rules the airwaves every year around December 25th. His single "Jingle Bell Rock" first became a hit in 1957, and it reappeared on the charts four of the following five years to become an all-time Christmas classic. Before he was pigeonholed, though, Helms had a successful country career with two number one hits to his credit.
Born on August 15, 1933, in Bloomington, IN, Helms first performed on his father Fred's Monroe County Jamboree, singing while brother Freddie played guitar. The Helms Brothers, as they were billed, became a regional attraction. Bobby later cut a single called "Tennessee Rock and Roll," but then returned to Bloomington to appear on the Hayloft Frolic television show. While on the program, he was encouraged to go to Nashville to sing background vocals on an Ernest Tubb session. Tubb recommended him to Decca Records, and the label signed him in 1956. His debut single, "Fraulein," initially flopped in January 1957 but then hit number one on the country chart in April. (The song also hit the pop Top 40 in July of 1957.) In October, Helms released another number one, "My Special Angel," which stayed four weeks at the top and crossed over to number seven pop.
Helms' next recording was "Jingle Bell Rock"; though Decca released it only two days before Christmas 1957, the single still peaked at number six on the pop chart. Two 1958 singles — "Just a Little Lonesome" and "Jacqueline" — hit the country Top Ten but flopped elsewhere, though a reissue of "Jingle Bell Rock" made the pop Top 40. The country single "Lonely River Rhine" hit the Top 20 in 1960, but subsequent new material from Helms had little success. (Decca reissued his Christmas hit each year from 1960 to 1962 with diminishing returns.)
Helms toured throughout the '60s and recorded two albums for Kapp in 1966, I'm the Man and Sorry My Name Isn't Fred — a nod either to brother Freddie or father Fred. Two years later, he released All New Just for You on the Little Darlin' label. Several singles placed modestly on the country charts during 1967-1968, including "He Thought He'd Die Laughing" and "So Long." The 1970 Certron single "Mary Goes 'Round" was his last hit, but Helms recorded Pop-a-Billy for MCA as late as 1983.
Bobby Helms (born Robert Lee Helms, 15 August 1933 – 19 June 1997) was an American singer who enjoyed his peak success in 1957
Born in Bloomington, Indiana, into a musical family, he began performing as a duo with his brother, Freddie, before going on to a successful solo career in country music. In 1956, Helms made his way to Nashville, Tennessee, where he signed a recording contract with Decca Records. The following year would be filled with astonishing successes. Helms' first single in 1957 titled "Fräulein" went to No. 1 on the country music chart and made it into the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Later that same year he released "My Special Angel" that also went to No. 1 on the country charts and entered the Top 10 on Billboard's pop music chart, peaking at No. 7.
Released just a few days before Christmas of 1957, his song "Jingle Bell Rock", was a big hit. Uniquely, it also re-emerged four out of the next five years, and sold so well that it repeated each time as a top hit, and became a Christmas classic still played to this day. Stories that Helms wrote and recorded the song "Jingle Bell Rock" with legendary guitar player Hank Garland seem to be apocryphal. ASCAP and Allmusic list the writers of the song as Joseph Beal, Joseph Carlton, James Ross and James Boothe.
Helms continued touring and recording for the next three decades. His pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Helms spent most of his later years living just outside of Martinsville, Indiana, until the time of his death from emphysema and asthma, at the age of 63 in 1997.
He was portrayed by the actor Brad Hawkins, in the 2007 film, Crazy.