Jim Reeves was not the first music artist whose name became associated with the song “Distant Drums.” Roy Orbison released a debut record of it in 1963. The song became a hit in Australia peaking at No. 3 on the Australian ARIA chart. That same year, Reeves also recorded a version but only as a demo for its composer, Cindy Walker. Considering that it’s only for her personal use and not appropriate for public release, the original recording employed an inferior sound quality. The following year, Reeves died in a plane crash. However, the song “Distant Drums” relived his memories and this lasted for many years, perhaps even up to the present.

Below is Orbison’s recording of the song.

Reeves’ Enduring Version of “Distant Drums”

In 1966, two years after Reeves passed away, a re-mastered version of “Distant Drums” was released under his name. The overdubbed version added an orchestral backing which brought more life to the song. Another factor that possibly catapulted it to international popularity was the timing of its release. The lyrical content resonated well with the hostilities in the Vietnam War taking place at that time. Because of this, the RCA record insisted on releasing the song with the strong belief it has a huge potential market. Thus, in the summer of 1966, Reeves’ version of “Distant Drums” was out.

Listen to his version below.

“Distant Drums” narrates the story of a soldier who fell in love deeply with a woman named Mary. He wanted to marry her before answering a battle’s call in some far away land. That’s where the song derived its title. More than the romantic tale told in the song, which caught the listeners’ attention, “Distant Drums” also ignited public awareness of the troubles faced by soldiers involved in the war.

Shortly after the song’s release, it entered the UK Singles chart. It peaked at No. 1 on September 22, 1966, and stayed atop for five weeks. Eventually, UK named it “Song of the Year” making Reeves the first American recipient of such special award. The song was also a big hit in the US occupying the No. 1 spot of the country music chart.

Several albums of Jim Reeves which have been released through the years featured “Distant Drums.” This means that the song continued to reach and affect more listeners long after its artist had gone to the afterlife.