Not much can be found in newspaper archives about recording engineer Jim Beck, perhaps due to his shortened career and untimely death, but his name is well known in the music and recording industry.
Beck was born August 11, 1916 in Marshall, Texas to Albert Demastor and Lorine Young McClanahan Beck. His father was a grain merchant and his mother was a housekeeper. By 1930, the family had moved to Fort Worth, where his father was still in the grain brokerage business. James was the oldest of three children, and the only son. By 1940, James was still living with his family in Fort Worth and his occupation was listed as radio sales.
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He joined the United States Army in World War II where he served as a radio engineer. After returning to Texas, he settled in Dallas. He was a radio announcer for a while, was associated with the Big D Jamboree and worked with radio entrepreneur Gordon McLendon as Beck began to establish himself as a recording engineer.
Not previously known as a prime location for recording top country music, Dallas became Beck’s headquarters as he began recording and producing artists such as Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Marty Robbins and others. In an article in the Austin Chronicle, Price tells of Beck recording two of his songs in 1949. Neither single was commercially successful, but Price felt that they gave him his start in the music business. Another article in the Austin Chronicle credits Beck for signing Frizzell to record some of his earliest work in 1950.
Beck is also known to have worked with other artists such as Roy Orbison, Jim Reeves, Buddy Holly and Sonny James. Norman Petty, who also became a well known recording engineer, producer, manager and agent, worked with Beck for a time in Dallas. We have seen references to studios on Main Street, another in in Beck’s home though we don’t know the exact address of either location and at 1101 Ross Avenue (downtown at Ross and Griffin Street). Beck’s last studio was located next door to the Forest Avenue Theater in South Dallas.
The Forest Avenue Theater was built in 1949 by Interstate Theaters in a time of theater expansion in the Dallas area. It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the application for which gives some background about the former Beck studio. “1914 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard [formerly known as Forest Avenue] – The location of the Jim Beck Studios until 1956, this space was occupied by KNOK Radio throughout the late 1950s and 1960s. … ”
Beck had worked there on Forest Avenue for a few years when he was hospitalized in 1956 from exposure to fumes from carbon tetrachloride, used to clean the heads of his recording equipment. After a brief hospitalization, Beck died on May 3, 1956 and is buried at Restland Memorial Park.
Sources include Laurie E. Jasinski’s “Handbook of Texas Music” (Kindle Locations 2108-2119). Texas State Historical Assn. Kindle Edition.
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