A dash of national recognition and a swirl of nostalgia


Last updated 11/19/2019 at 5pm

Courtesy photo: Trini Lopez

Norman Petty, left, and Jimmy Self worked together in the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis in the mid-1950s.

Portales' Terri Doerr was watching television on her computer a couple of weeks ago - "mainly ignoring the commercials," she said - when a voice came on that she'd not heard in person for almost two decades.

It was her father, Jimmy Self, singing a fragment of a song he wrote and recorded at the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis back in the 1950s.

"You're everything I'll ever need to make my dreams come true," Doerr heard her father singing. "You're my recipe for happiness ... that's you."

That snippet of song is the soundtrack of a 15-second commercial for Campbell's chicken noodle soup, but for Doerr, it was an unexpected connection to her past.

"I'm probably the only living person who would have recognized that song," she said, "but I was 100 percent certain it was him."

Doerr, who retired in February after working 27 years as an accountant at Eastern New Mexico University, has been married to Portales attorney Steve Doerr since 1976. She was born and raised in Clovis, and her Clovis music roots are deep.

In fact, Doerr said, her father is known as the first person to record at the Norman Petty Studios in Clovis.

James Coin "Jimmy" Self was born in Childress, Texas, in 1921. Doerr said her dad migrated to California - "Grapes-of-Wrath style" - as a young teenager during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era of the 1930s.

"He never spoke much about that time in his life," she said, "but it had to have been unimaginably difficult. The only stories he told of his time in California were of picking avocados and peaches."

Self served in the United States Army in the South Pacific during World War II, earning a medical discharge for an injury before finding his way back to his home state of Texas.

"He began working as a musician, singing with a band called the Rhythm Ramblers," she said. In his travels, he crossed paths with Norman and Vi Petty, who were on tour as two-thirds of the Norman Petty Trio.

"The story goes that on a trip back to California, my dad was stranded in a snowstorm for several days in Clovis and during that time, met up again with Norman," she said. "He ended up doing some recording sessions in the newly constructed studio and just never left."

Recording under the name Jimmy Dean Self to avoid confusion with another singer at the time named Jimmie Selph, Doerr's father went on to record a dozen or so songs at the studio, she said, some of which he also wrote.

He played guitar and could play "anything on a harmonica," Doerr said, but only ever performed as a vocalist.

She remembered her dad talking about selling all the rights to one of his songs when he was only a teenager, earning enough money to buy a car.

"I'm sure he was delighted at the time to get the money," she said, "but had he kept the rights he might have received a lot more."

Unfortunately, "in spite of his talent and lifelong love of music," Doerr said her dad never got that elusive "big break."

His recording and performing career ended in the 1950s, before his youngest daughter was born, and for the remainder of his life he worked in radio, television, and advertising.

While Jimmy Self may not have left a string of hit records behind, he did gift his daughter with a lifelong connection to Norman and Vi Petty.

"I have pictures of Vi holding me when I was an infant so I guess you could say I knew them all my life," Doerr said. "But I never realized what legends they both were until much later. They played all the music for my wedding and, at the time, I just didn't think it was a big deal."

She said her father had "the utmost respect and reverence for Norman's incredible musical and engineering talent, and he remained their most devoted fan and friend throughout their lives."

Doerr said Jimmy Self worked for KICA radio in the 1950s, owned and operated KZOL radio station in Farwell in the 1960s, and was the manager for the KWKA/KTQM stations in the 1970s.

"He started his advertising agency in the 1980s and wrote and recorded his own radio ads," she said.

After Norman Petty's death in 1984, Jimmy Self and Vi Petty "began working on the idea of a musical tribute to (Petty) and his many accomplishments," Doerr remembered, which included inviting artists who had recorded at the Petty studio since the 1950s.

"The first year of what later became the Clovis Music Festival was 1987," Doerr said. "My dad was the emcee and one of many performers during the first several years. It was always exciting to see him doing what he loved."

Jimmy Self died in 2000.

When Doerr heard her father's voice on the soup commercial this month, she posted a link on social media and has since heard from friends and family members across the country who are also tapping their toes to the old recording.

She said she'd been told it is the first - and so far only - song accessed from a collection of Norman Petty Studios archived recordings recently assembled to market for commercial use.

"I only wish this had happened during his lifetime," Doerr said. "To use an expression he often used, he would have been 'tickled' for his music to be getting such wide national exposure."

A dash of national recognition, a sprinkling of sweet memories, and a swirl of nostalgia ... that sounds like a recipe for happiness to me.

Betty Williamson loves a tasty recipe and a good story. Reach her at:

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