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Sonny James, The Southern Gentleman

Singer | Musician | Entertainer | Songwriter | Producer
16 Consecutive #1 Country | 26 Total #1 Country | 72 Charted Releases
Recording Artist of the 1950’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, and ’80’s | Country Music Hall Of Fame Legend

Willful Shadows book cover with image of Sonny and The Southern Gentlemen on a sidewalk



The Account Of

Sonny James

and The Southern Gentlemen

Sonny James witnessed the birth of rock-n-roll and in 1957 sold over 3,000,000 singles of the first country-pop crossover hit “Young Love”. Five years later, and having been cancelled by the fourth record company in four years, he was released by Dot Records. Suddenly, and without a recording contract for the first time in a decade, Sonny was fully aware that his career was most likely over.

Chapter 10, “The Pivotal Year – 1962”, begins with a Winston Churchill quote, “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” But, by all accounts, there was nothing for Sonny to be courageous about, nothing at all.

At this point, if the story going forward would have been presented as fiction, it would have been criticized for capturing a sequence of events that can’t actually happen in real life.

You can now experience the inspiring second career comeback laid out in detail in Willful Shadows – The Account of Sonny James and The Southern Gentlemen.

Sonny James witnessed the birth of rock-n-roll and by 1957 had sold over 3,000,000 singles of the first country-pop crossover hit “Young Love”. What happened next was unimaginable. From 1964 through 1972, an era in American music history filled with the challenges of societal change and the British music invasion, one entertainer standing alongside his vocal band of brothers achieved a level of hit status above all others.

This personal account of one who was there each step of the way brings to light, for the first time anywhere, who these men of varied backgrounds were, and what stories from that era are essential in grasping not only the successes but more importantly, the friendships which endured the test of time.
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Clovercroft Publishing
  • Language: English



Legendary Streak of 16 Consecutive #1 Singles

According to Billboard statistics, for almost 20 years (1960-1979) Sonny James spent more time in the Number One chart position than any other artist in country music — a total of 57 weeks, including a 5 year period of 16 Consecutive #1 Singles, a feat never before accomplished by any solo artist in Country Music, Pop or Rock ‘n Roll. If incorporating the same criteria used today for determining #1 singles, James would have had an unbelievable 25 number ones in a row.

    HITMAKERS 1960-1979

  • Weeks at #1: Ranked 1st
    (Sonny James | Buck Owens | Merle Haggard)
  • Total #1 HITS: Ranked 3rd
    (Conway Twitty | Merle Haggard | Sonny James)
  • Billboard Point Rankings: Ranked 5th
    (George Jones | Buck Owens | Johnny Cash | Merle Haggard | Sonny James)
  • Top 10 Hits: Ranked 7th
    (Loretta Lynn | George Jones | Buck Owens | Merle Haggard | Conway Twitty | Charley Pride | Sonny James)

Most Recent Article Post

Christmas 2018: Eric Clapton Records Sonny James Christmas Song

Written by Sonny James and John Skye and first recorded and released by Sonny in 1954, "Christmas In My Hometown" would again be recorded and released by Sonny James and The Southern Gentlemen in 1966 when it was included on his "My Christmas Dream" Capitol Records album. With tidings of ...
Read More

Did You Know?


In the midst of the American Civil Rights era with his #1 release of Adam Wade’s “Take Good Care of Her” in 1966, Sonny was the first country artist to record and deliver an R&B song into the country music mainstream. During his highly successful run of 16 consecutive #1 hits, beginning in 1969 of the next 7 singles James recorded – 5 had previously been moderately successful releases for soulful R&B artists Ivory Joe Hunter, Brook Benton, Clyde Otis and Jimmy Reed. Those 5 songs were Since I Met You Baby, It’s Just A Matter of Time, Endlessly, Empty Arms and Bright Lights, Big City – all of which reached #1 on the Billboard country charts.

From the inception of the R&B genre in 1949 through 1971 when Sonny’s last such recording topped the charts, no other country artist ever achieved such success with R&B material. The 2nd country artist to reach #1 with an R&B song would not occur again until April of 1976. And so from the beginnings of R&B in 1949 until April 1976, Sonny James stood alone for 27 years as a true innovator towards the broader appeal of what country music could be.  Learn More…

1963: Sonny James & Nat King Cole in collaboration at Capitol Recording Studios, Hollywood CA


Sonny produced the first 3 albums for Marie Osmond. The first album went Certified Gold in the US and the first single “Paper Roses” also received a Certified Gold recognition. The phenomenal success of “Paper Roses” would see Marie nominated for a Grammy Award.  Each of these three albums also contained recordings of a number of James’ #1 hits.

An industry powerhouse and long-time close friend of Sonny’s Mike Curb, who had overseen Donny Osmond’s solo hit covers of oldies like “Go Away Little Girl,” “Puppy Love,” “Sweet and Innocent,” and “Hey Girl,” used the same approach with Marie. According to Curb in the book Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits by Fred Bronson, when Curb was looking for country songs for Marie to record for her first album, Sonny James suggested Marie sing “Paper Roses” which had been a #5 Pop hit for Anita Bryant in 1960.

“Paper Roses” was the first song James’ recorded of Marie, and also her first single release. The single was released in August 1973. MGM promoted the single first to country radio, and received a favorable reaction to the song from radio stations and disc jockeys. Soon the song became a hit for Osmond, going all the way to #1 on the country charts. Before long, the song crossed over to pop radio as well, becoming a #5 Pop and #1 Easy Listening singles hit in the US as well as receiving similar success internationally.

Upon reaching No. 1, Osmond became — at less than one month after her 14th birthday — the youngest female artist and youngest overall solo artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, a record that still stands.

Sonny’s productions of Marie Osmond’s first 3 albums and initial release of “Paper Roses” sold over a million worldwide.

Capitol Records released his signature song “Young Love” in late 1956. This giant hit became one of the most recognizable songs ever recorded. It was the first Traditional Country/Teen cross over record. Followed by fellow Capitol artist Ferlin Huskey’s “Gone” and later Marty Robbin’s “White Sport Coat”.

YouTube Playlist:

The 26 #1 Hits of Sonny James

[Courtesy of Richard Custer]

On August 30th of 2006, the day it was announced Sonny James was to be an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Kix Brooks (Brooks And Dunn) probably said it best, “This is an artist who really dominated his time in history.”

Similar accolades from fellow entertainers began early in James’ career… Elvis Presley, from the best seller book “Elvis, Word for Word” was asked “who do you think’s the greatest country and western singer that’s alive today” his reply, “I like Sonny James”.




Friend Kris Kristofferson presents plaque to Sonny commemorating
James’ Induction Into the Country Music Hall Of Fame

Learn how Nat King Cole’s collaboration with Sonny James in 1963 at Capitol Studios in Hollywood became the formula for the greatest streak of Consecutive #1 Singles the recording industry has ever known in any genre from a solo artist before or since.

Career Highlights

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All rankings provided by Billboard. Pop/Rock Comparisons are provided to match the time in music history.

VideoSong TitleTop RankMonth/YearChart Weeks#1 Pop/Rock Same Time Period

Young Love


December 1956
24 Weeks
Young Love - Sonny James

You're The Only World I Know


November 1964
25 Weeks
Baby Love - The Supremes

I'll Keep Holding On (Just to Your Love)


March 1965
20 Weeks
Eight Days A Week - The Beatles

Behind The Tear


October 1965
22 Weeks
Yesterday - The Beatles

True Love's A Blessing


December 1965
18 Weeks
Get Off Of My Cloud - The Rolling Stones

Take Good Care of Her


April 1966
20 Weeks
19th Nervous Breakdown - The Rolling Stones

Room In Your Heart


August 1966
20 Weeks
Summer In The City - Lovin’ Spoonful

Need You


April 1967
18 Weeks
Happy Together - Turtles

I'll Never Find Another You


June 1967
17 Weeks
Respect - Aretha Franklin

It's The Little Things


August 1967
18 Weeks
All You Need Is Love - The Beatles

A World of Our Own


January 1968
17 Weeks
Hello Goodbye - The Beatles

Heaven Says Hello


June 1968
17 Weeks
Mrs. Robinson - Simon & Garfunkel

Born to Be with You


October 1968
16 Weeks
Hey Jude - The Beatles

Only the Lonely


January 1969
16 Weeks
I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye

Running Bear


May 1969
15 Weeks
Get Back - The Beatles

Since I Met You Baby


September 1969
15 Weeks
Honky Tonk Women - The Rolling Stones

It's Just a Matter of Time


January 1970
14 Weeks
I Want You Back - The Jackson 5

My Love


April 1970
15 Weeks
Let It Be - The Beatles

Don't Keep Me Hangin' On


July 1970
15 Weeks
The Love You Save - The Jackson 5



October 1970
16 Weeks
I’ll Be There - The Jackson 5

Empty Arms


February 1970
16 Weeks
Lonely Days - The Bee Gees

Bright Lights, Big City


June 1971
13 Weeks
It’s Too Late - Carole King

Here Comes Honey Again


September 1971
15 Weeks
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart - The Bee Gees

Only Love Can Break A Heart


January 1972
16 Weeks
American Pie - Don McLean

That's Why I Love You Like I Do


May 1972
11 Weeks
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Roberta Flack

When the Snow Is on the Roses


July 1972
15 Weeks
Lean On Me - Bill Withers

Is It Wrong (For Loving You)


March 1974
15 Weeks
Seasons In The Sun - Terry Jacks