Goebel Leon Reeves, popularly known as the “Texas Drifter,” was born in Sherman, Texas, on October 9, 1899. He was one of six children born to Icil Burchett Reeves, a traveling shoes salesman, and Alice (Tutt) Reeves, a voice and piano teacher who taught her son to sing. Goebel Reeves began singing in the Baptist Church at an early age and also was able to play the guitar, trumpet, and piano.
When Reeves was a teenager, his father was elected to the Texas State Legislature, and son Goebel worked there as a page. The family relocated to Austin where Reeves reportedly met a homeless man who made such an impression on the boy that Reeves soon became fascinated with the “hobo” lifestyle. While spending time around some of these homeless men, he met vaudeville artist Al Wilson who taught Reeves to yodel.
In 1917 Reeves enlisted in the United States Army where he served as a bugler. He was wounded on the front lines while fighting in Europe during World War I and was later discharged. Upon returning to the United States, Reeves began living the itinerant lifestyle that would earn him the nickname the “Texas Drifter,” writing and singing songs about traveling as a vagabond. Although he never achieved great success as a songwriter, he did pen “Hobo’s Lullaby,” which became a very popular song for acclaimed folksinger Woody Guthrie. Apparently Reeves did spend time around legendary country singer Jimmie Rodgers, but Reeves’s claim that he taught Rodgers how to yodel cannot be confirmed. Reeves earned a reputation for telling tall stories and bending the truth.
He joined the Merchant Navy in the early 1920s but was living in Galveston by the late 1920s. Reeves made his recording debut with OKeh Records in San Antonio in 1929. Throughout the 1930s he made approximately thirty-five recordings for a variety of labels, mixing together yodeling, comedic pieces, romantic ballads, and insightful “hobo commentaries.” He used the names “George Riley,” the “Texas Drifter,” and the “Broadway Wrangler” among others. He performed throughout the United States and Canada and appeared on such popular radio programs as The Rudy Vallee Show and the Grand Ole Opry. He was married for a short time in the 1930s, but the union did not last. Reeves made his final recording in 1938 for the MacGregor Company based in Hollywood.
Following World War II, Reeves, by this time a recluse, rarely ever performed in public. During the 1950s, he developed heart problems, and on January 26, 1959, he died of a heart attack in the Long Beach, California, Veteran’s Hospital. He was buried in the Veteran’s Cemetery there. In the decades following his death several albums of his recordings were released including Goebel Reeves—Hobo’s Lullaby on the Bear Family label in 1994.