James Gilreath and His Only Hit “Little Band of Gold”

Introduction to James Gilreath

James Gilreath (or James William Gilreath or Jimmy Gilreath) was an American singer-songwriter and musician, born in Mississippi in November 1936. He started his music career playing with a local band called The Nine Liters, before starting to recording solo in the early 60s music era. His first own single was “I Need It”, released on Vee Eight label in 1962, but it wasn’t successful. The following year, Gilreath’s single “Little Band of Gold” was accompanied by his Nine Liters band mate John Mihelic and other musicians. Statue Records first released the single, and soon sold the rights of the song to the New York-based Joy Records. Soon after Joy released “Little Band of Gold” it gave Gilreath his first and only hit, reaching on both pop and R&B charts in 1963. Joy then issued other Gilreath singles but they all went unnoticed. In the mid-1960s Joy folded, and Gilreath soon gave up on recording and turned his attention instead on songwriting. He became a one-hit wonder, but “Little Band Of Gold” has been covered by a few diverse singers from British pop star Vince Hill to the Swedish rock group Hep Stars (whose one of the members was Benny Andersson, later of ABBA). Gilreath died in 2003 in a tractor accident on his farm in Mississippi, which he shared with his wife. He was 66.

Meet James Gilreath

American pop singer and songwriter James William Gilreath, popularly known as James (or Jimmy) Gilreath, was born on November 14, 1936. Hailing from Prairie, Mississippi, Gilreath began his musical journey in the early 1960’s when he became a member of a local band The Nite-Liters. In 1962, he had his first recording with the band with the instrumental track “Nervous” on Tennessee-based Vee Eight label. However, it was issued on Verve Records in Los Angeles, California.

Gilreath as a solo artist

In 1962, Gilreath debuted on Vee Eight Records with the “I Need It” b/w “Time Hasn’t Helped” but unfortunately, it was hardly noticed by the music fans. The following year, he moved to Mississippi-based Statue Records where he recorded his sophomore single, “Little Band of Gold” along with the B-side “I’ll Walk with You.” Not long thereafter, “Little Band of Gold”‘s rights were sold to New York City’s Joy Records. The single became a hit in 1963, peaking at #21 on the pop chart and crossed over to the R&B chart on #19. In the U.K., it made at #29 on the singles chart.

After the success of “Little Band of Gold,” it was followed by three other singles: “Lollipops, Lace and Lipstick” b/w “Mean Ole River,” Keep Her out of Sight” b/w “Blue is My Color,” and “Your Day is Coming” b/w “Pearls Gold, and Silver.” Unluckily, none of these became commercially successful. In 1965, Joy Records suddenly refrained from the business and Gilreath focused more on songwriting. A song penned by Gilreath was performed by the R&B singer Jimmy Hughes; it was called “Why Not Tonight.” It earned a  #5 spot on the R&B charts.

Aside from Bill Anderson’s version of “Little Band of Gold” in 1963, Gilreath’s only hit was redone by numerous diverse acts in the following years like Vince Hill and the Swedish rock group Hep Stars (whose one of the members was Benny Andersson, later of ABBA). The song also had a comeback on the charts when it was revived by Sonny James, reaching #5 (country charts). It was also included on The Tennessee Guitars’ instrumental album 20 Pieces of Country Gold in 1977.

On September 7, 2003, Gilreath died in a tractor accident on a farm at Saltillo, Mississippi.