LifeNotes: Music Business Vet Jimmy Key Passes

1969 BMI Country Awards. Pictured (L-R): Jimmy C. Newman, Ed Cramer, Tom T. Hall, Jimmy Key, and Bob Jennings (Photo by Bill Preston: Property of the BMI Archives)

1969 BMI Country Awards. Pictured (L-R): Jimmy C. Newman, Ed Cramer, Tom T. Hall, Jimmy Key, and Bob Jennings (Photo by Bill Preston: Property of the BMI Archives)

Veteran country song publisher and talent agency executive Jimmy Key died on Friday, Aug. 1.

His Newkeys Music — a partnership with the late singers Jimmy C. Newman and Dave Dudley — discovered Country Music Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall. The company published songs recorded by Bobby Bare, Johnny Wright, Faron Young, Flatt & Scruggs, George Jones and Burl Ives, as well as Newman, Dudley and Hall.

Among Newkeys’ most famous copyrights was Hall’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a pop and country smash for Jeannie C. Riley in 1968.  “I can’t help thinking – if there had been a lot more guys like Key around, more writers and performers might have made it through the rough, crazy years,” an appreciative Tom T. Hall wrote in his autobiography. Key, who published Hall’s songs in 1963-70, also got the songwriter the Mercury Records contract that made him a singing star. Key also arranged for Hall to become a Grand Ole Opry member.

In addition to Hall, the company’s staff songwriters included Kim Morrison, Roy Beham, Ronnie Rogers, Jeff Young, Hillman Hall, Chuck Wells, Jeff Elliott and Mike Morgan.

Key was the president of the publishing company. He also owned Jimmy Key Talent, which booked concerts by Newman, Dudley, Hall, Bare, Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, Merle Kilgore, Claude King and Shirlee Hunter, among others. Key Talent was the first agency in Nashville to open an office in Las Vegas.

In 1967, he formed Rice Records. Among those who were signed to the label were Billy Grammer, Helen Carter, Al Terry, Linda Manning and Chase Webster.

Born Emmit Martin Key in Cullman Country, Alabama in 1927, Jimmy Key started his career as a member of Big Jim Folsom’s Strawberry Pickers band in his home state. After several years as an entertainer and radio personality, he moved to Nashville.

He learned the live-performance business while working for the J. Hal Smith Artist Bureau. Then he formed his own Jimmy Key Talent agency in 1963.

Jimmy Key worked in the Country music business for more than 50 years. He died at age 87.

He is survived by sons Rick and Jack, daughter Gail Levine, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Nashville Funeral and Cremation handled the arrangements.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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