CHARLES JESSUP: RADIO PREACHER AND COCK FIGHTER

By Jim Linderman 

Radio BroadcastRev. Charles Jessup was a border radio fixture for years on a powerful station operating just across the Mexican border (and just outside U. S. regulations) at the same time as Wolfman Jack. One could hear Jessup beg for money all the way to Wisconsin on a good night, and surely God cleared the heavens so the signal could travel that far. Del Rio radio never sounded as crisp as when Charles Jessup was pitching for dollars in his commanding sacred voice. Reverend Charles Jessup was also married to a 15 year old girl while still married to his third wife, but that was generally left out of his sermons.

A Stirring MessageThings haven’t changed much since Charlie was braying from Mexico. Religious preaching on the airwaves is still big business. A market so large it rivals the size of the snack market during the Superbowl. According to a 2013 poll from Harris, fully 58 percent of Americans believe in the Devil. If you get in your car right now and drive to the store, more than half of those coming towards you believe there is a man in a red suit with a pitchfork living underground in a lake of fire waiting to poke you for sinning. No wonder so few drift across the dividing line. Whenever I hear that debunked, yet still pervasive “72 virgins” crap from the media I think: “Oh? Well guess who thinks they are going to be met by a troop of angels when they die?” The answer? More than believe in Darwin, at least in this country.

Jessup BibleAt the age of 12, young Charles began preaching. There isn’t much more annoying than a child preacher, except one who has a bunch of brothers who can help him. Jessup’s posse was pretty big. Shown here are his peckerwood brothers from Alabama. They were the blessed offspring of Reverend “Daddy” Jessup of Kentucky and Maude Spribling of Mississippi. The states of Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky make up a holy trinity of religious caterwauling. The Jessup’s begat nine children and at least four of them followed in Daddy’s golden slippers to become preachers.

There is also a family tradition for circus performers, and sure enough several years later young Charles purchased a used revival tent from the Ringling Brothers. Show Business! Robert Duvall cited Jessup as an influence on his film The Apostle, and others have compared him to Elvis, but then the King was never convicted of mail fraud and using ill-gotten contributions from loyal listeners for cock-fighting. That’s right. The right reverend sorta served time for cock-fighting. Some of God’s creatures apparently wear metal talons. It was part of the dirt dug up on him for his conviction of mail fraud.

Jessup BrosJessup barnstormed God’s airways with mountain music, a squeaky voice and an insatiable sexual appetite. Taking in ten million dollars (while claiming was to help the Mexican people) he “llenarse los bolsillos,” which is Spanish for “line your own pockets.” There are folks who worry about Mexicans coming here? Maybe they should close the border to US! Cars, Seaplanes, real estate… whatever supposed pleasures awaited his followers in the afterlife, he was taking full advantage of in the present. Jessup cared not who sent in the money… he preferred it green, but fake Christian beggars can’t be choosers.

Not to be outdone by his own brother’s double-neck guitar, shown in a photo here… he ordered a custom made THREE neck guitar from the Mosrite Factory which surfaced a few years ago. Three necks! I am not sure what he used to play it with, but perhaps his young wife can tell us.

Preach The WordSeveral photos of Jessup and his posse with a scan of their 78 rpm record (which unfortunately I have not heard as God has not yet provided me with a working turntable, but he will, I believe).

Jimmy Donley - The Shape You Left Me InAs music was another of Jessup’s fraud activities,  his worst sin may have been stealing rights to the songs of Cajun singer Jimmy Donley. Donley was a naive but fantastic early rocker you likely haven’t heard. One of those “sign here” on the hood of a car in a juke-joint parking lot deals… from which Jimmy never recovered. It is said Jessup implied that as a personal friend of God, he would give the recordings a fast track to the heavens of the pop charts. He did, by way of Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis, both who recorded Jimmy’s songs, but Jessup alone reaped the financial benefits. Donley never recovered, and committed suicide by sucking from an automobile exhaust pipe in 1963, a bible at his side. If Charles Jessup was really a faith healer, maybe he could have soothed Donley’s fevered brow and cured him of depression. His song “Think it Over” is here and the rest are available on the Bear Family compilation cited below. Great stuff and far superior to anything the Jessup brothers came up with on their own.

The RevThe three most notable dates in the Jessup chronology are 1965, when the crook was indicted for mail fraud, 1968 when he was convicted and 1993 when he died. I hope Jimmy Donley was there to meet him at the gate with a posse of heavenly angels.

Amazingly, Jessup continued to appear on other evangelist’s programs after serving his sentence (at least one of which still operates in my home state) and they welcomed him as an inspiration! Now THAT is faith.

I am sure there are Jessup offspring around, and perhaps I should be scared. In 1948, Jessup was accused of beating one Mary Reynolds near death as she emerged from a motion picture theater in Gulfport. Her mistake was making the claim Jessup and his ministry was a sham, so he and his posse roughed her up a bit.

NOTES:  Photo excerpts from “Heaven and Hell” and “A Stirring Message on Death” all circa 1945-1950 by J. Charles Jessup, and “Preach the Word/I’ll Meet you in the Morning” by Jessup Brothers on Jessup Brothers records, 78 rpm. All Collection Jim Linderman. A magnificent profile of Jessup written by Peter J. Boyer at The New Yorker is HERE. The Find a Grave website always does just that, and the entry which reveals where Charles Jessup eternally rests is HERE. “Golden Slippers” is a phrase which derives from the song “Oh Dem Golden Slippers.” While today it is a bluegrass standard (and commercial for Golden Grahams cereal, nothing is sacred here) it was composed as a gospel song by African-American writer James A. Bland and made popular by the African-American gospel group The Fisk Singers. It has also been used in a Pokeman game. The magnificent recordings of the troubled Cajun singer Jimmie Donely (certainly not the first or last naive rock and roll recording artist) are available HERE. They are exceptionally composed songs, and the The Bear Folks package is highly recommended HERE.  The Harris poll which provides data on your neighbors’ religious beliefs is HERE.  Robert Duvall channels Jessup in the clip below from The Apostle. He is far more convincing in the role than Jessup ever was.

Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 500,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture. 

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