Jim Halsey may be pushing 93, but the Tulsa-based country-music impresario remains remarkably busy, doing what he’s done for decades, and still doing it the way he’s always done it.

“I’m in the middle of a five-year plan,” he says. “This is something I started in 1952 with Hank Thompson, setting out our plans of where we wanted to go, how we were going to achieve our goals, and where we were going to end up in five years. I’ve done that ever since – for 70 years now.

“So we’re about two-and-a-half years into our latest five-year plan. I don’t know of anybody else that does this, but I’ve had one for everybody I’ve ever worked with. It started with Hank Thompson, and then when we went with Roy Clark, we had a five-year plan. Wanda Jackson. Reba McEntire. At the end of our five years with Reba, we’d gotten her two Grammys, two platinum albums, gotten her on television, gotten her in the MGM hotel [in Las Vegas], with all of that culminating in Carnegie Hall.

“With our five-year plans, each artist is different and has different requirements. The same thing is true for my company and myself, personally. It’s ‘Where am I right now? What do I want to accomplish and achieve, and where do I want to be five years from now?’”

No matter whether it’s for his acts or himself and his company, he adds, no five-year plans are ever the same. “They change because we’ve either accomplished something we’d planned, or we’ve grown, or we’ve learned. The business changes. Life changes, but it all harmonizes and it will adjust itself to what we’re doing.”

And speaking of harmonies: One of Halsey’s current five-year plans involves The Oak Ridge Boys, that veteran vocal supergroup he’s been managing for a half-century, ever since he oversaw their transition from gospel to mainstream country music in 1973.

“Part of it includes a fifty-year celebration,” he notes. “How do we recognize and honor those 50 years without doing some sort of a tribute show, where everybody comes out and sings a tribute song? There have been so many recently – Lee Greenwood, George Jones. Ronnie Milsap’s coming out with one. And the Oaks have been on most of them.

“What we’re talking about is something different, honoring where we’ve been, rather than someone else coming up and making the tribute. Of course, we’ll bring in other people to help us, but we’re going to give thanks, and honor our 50 years, and celebrate them.”

His personal five-year plan includes developing a museum to display a portion of the memorabilia he’s acquired over his seven-plus decades in the music business. Since 2020, some of it has been featured in the Jim Halsey Legends of Country Music exhibit at the Wagoner City Historical Museum; at this writing, he says, plans are underway for more of it to be housed in a new building in his hometown of Independence, Kansas. And he’s still looking for other opportunities to display pieces of a personal country-music-related collection that’s as vast as any in the world.

“The only place you’ll find as much memorabilia as we have in Wagoner is in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville,” he says. “We’ve got archival items from the artists we’ve been involved with, and that includes Grammys, gold and platinum records, awards and citations, posters, and important contracts. A lot of museums don’t show contracts. I show contracts – my contracts with Roy, with the Oak Ridge Boys, with Wanda Jackson, Conway Twitty, Dwight Yoakam, Reba McEntire. I don’t display the intimate details, but they show what our obligations were to them, and what their obligations were to the business.”

At one point, during the 1970s and ’80s, the Tulsa-based Jim Halsey Company was the biggest country-music booking agency in the entire world. It seemed at the time as though every country act of any consequence was represented by Halsey and his agency.  

Still, he remembers, there were a few who, for some reason or other, never became clients.  

“One of the first ones was Willie Nelson,” says Halsey. “Joe Allison, the great songwriter and producer, kept touting me on Willie Nelson. He had an album out on Willie – on Liberty Records, I think – with all those great songs that Willie had written. This was in the early ’60s, and of course Willie was clean-shaven and had short hair.

“Willie and I got together, and I had a plan for him, but I couldn’t get anything going at all. Boy, did I believe in him. But I couldn’t get him on package shows. I couldn’t get him interviews or anything. He tried, and we tried, and then we finally got together and I said, ‘Willie, I’ve tried all that I can try, all the magic that I made work with others, and we just can’t do it.’

“But – he did.”

The other big name that comes to Halsey’s mind is Oklahoma superstar Vince Gill.

“You know, every time I see Vince, he says, ‘I tried to sign with your agency and I could never get past your receptionist,’” says Halsey. “And I always tell him, ‘I don’t know how that happened. It must’ve been a substitute.’ You know, I would see everybody.”

On the other hand, there were also immensely talented performers represented by Halsey who he believes didn’t have the impact they should’ve had on a national and international basis. At the top of that list are two Tulsa-based artists, Don White and the late Debbie Campbell.

“Debbie was an outstanding singer, one of the best ever, and while she achieved local success, she never became that national star,” he explains. “The same with Don, a really good songwriter and really good performer.

“There were a lot of artists, too, we worked with before they did hit, and people would say, ‘Why are you sticking with them?’ “

Those acts, he adds, include a performer who became one of Halsey’s biggest success stories.

“People thought that about Roy Clark,” he says. “They’d say, ‘You know, he’s super talented, but there are a lot of people out there who are so talented they never make it.’ He did a little bit of everything. But how do you pinpoint that?

“When I signed Roy and we made our five-year plan, the first person I called was [music promoter] Hap Peebles in Wichita. He had a package show going out, with five or six big stars, playing  dates in Wichita, Kansas City, Lincoln, Omaha, places like that.

“Hap told me, ‘I don’t have any money. We’re all booked up. The show’s all set, and it goes out next week.’

“I said, ‘Would you give him a hundred dollars? Anything?’

“He said, ‘No. I don’t need him.’

“I kept talking to Hap, and I said, ‘Listen, believe me, this guy’s going to be really great, and I need these six dates you’re doing.’

“Finally, he said, ‘I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll have a hotel room for him, and I’ll feed him.’ And those were the first six days I ever booked with Roy.’

“So,” he adds, “Roy went on the show with these big superstars. He opened the show; Hap gave him 15 minutes. And by the time the tour was over, every one of those superstars had gone to Hap and said, ‘Listen, why don’t you put me on before that guy? He just stops the traffic so much that it’s hard to get ‘em back.’ At the end of that tour, a totally unknown person, Roy Clark, was closing
the show.”

Main image cutline: Jim Halsey, a legend in the country music industry, continues working to improve the industry for his clients. Photo courtesy Jim Halsey

Previous articleBirds and Brews
Next articleAccessible, Affordable, Enjoyable