[Updated]: LifeNotes: Songwriting Great Paul Craft Passes

Paul Craft

Paul Craft

[Updated, Oct. 21, 2014]: A memorial service for Paul Craft will be held in Nashville on Tuesday, Oct. 21, at West End United Methodist Church (2200 West End Ave.) with visitation from 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and the funeral at 1:00 p.m.

 

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[Original content, Oct. 20, 2014]:

Newly honored Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Paul Craft has died at age 76.

Famed for such country hits as “Dropkick Me Jesus,” “Hank Williams You Wrote My Life” and “Brother Jukebox,” Craft was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Oct. 5. He came to the banquet at the Music City Center, greeted well-wishers and was photographed with his statuette. But prior to his official induction, he experienced breathing problems. An ambulance transported him to St. Thomas Midtown Hospital, where he passed away on Saturday, Oct. 18. He had been plagued by deteriorating health for several years.

Paul Craft was born in Memphis in 1938 and spent part of his early life on his parents’ 2,000-acre cotton, bean and rice farm in nearby Proctor, Arkansas. Fascinated by country radio, he got a harmonica at age 10, an accordion at age 11 and a ukulele shortly thereafter, which led to playing guitar and banjo.

He developed a lifelong love for bluegrass music and eventually performed for a time with Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys. He also later became the writer of a number of bluegrass evergreens.

Craft served a stint in the Coast Guard, graduated as an English major from the University of Virginia and attended one year of law school in Memphis. He belonged to the Mensa Society, whose members have IQ’s in the top two per cent of the population.

After working for his stepfather’s Memphis printing company, operating a music store and performing in the Memphis group The Settlers, he began to focus on his songwriting. His first successes came in 1968, when Skeeter Davis and Sam the Sham recorded his songs “Somewhere with Me Sometime” and “Let it Eat,” respectively.

Paul Craft at the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions. Photo: Moments by Moser

Paul Craft at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions. Photo: Moments by Moser

He moved to Nashville in 1975 and had 35 of his songs recorded during his first year in town. His “Dropkick Me, Jesus,” recorded by Bobby Bare, and “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” recorded by Moe Bandy, brought him the unusual distinction of having both nominated for country-song Grammy Awards in the same year, 1976.

Paul Craft created wickedly humorous fare such as “It’s Me Again, Margaret” (Ray Stevens, 1985) as well as mainstream country hits such as “Blue Heartache” (Gail Davies, 1980), “Brother Jukebox” (Mark Chesnutt, 1991) and “Come As You Were” (T. Graham Brown, 1989).

Among his other well-known songs are “When the New Wears Off of Our Love” (Jody Miller, The Whites), “Honky Tonk Waltz” (Ray Stevens), “His and Hers” (John Anderson), “Too Bad You’re No Good” (Trisha Yearwood) and “Backslidin’” (Joe Stampley).

Craft’s catalog also contains several much-recorded “standards,” including “Midnight Flyer” (The Eagles, The Osborne Brothers, etc.), “Keep Me From Blowing Away” (Linda Ronstadt, The Grascals, Willie Nelson, etc.) and “Teardrops Will Kiss The Morning Dew” (Alison Krauss, The Osborne Brothers, etc.).

Others who recorded Paul Craft songs include Jerry Lee Lewis, Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears, Charlie McCoy, Don Everly, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, David Ball, Jack Greene, Cledus T. Judd and J.J. Cale.

He was one of Music Row’s most prolific providers of songs to the bluegrass world. Among his 200 songs recorded by bluegrass artists are ones by Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, The Lewis Family, Claire Lynch, Larry Sparks, Charlie Sizemore, Carl Jackson and The Nashville Bluegrass Band. The Osborne Brothers have recorded 10 Craft tunes; The Seldom Scene has recorded nine.

Most of Craft’s songs were solo written, rather than collaborations with others. He was distinctive among Nashville songwriters in that he was always self-published rather then being on the songwriting staff of a major company.

He also published “The Gambler” and several other hit songs he did not write. Writers whose works he published and promoted include Mark Germino, Bruce Burch, Jon Ims, Tim O’Brien, John Starling and Don Schlitz.

Paul Craft was also a recording artist. He appeared on the country charts several times during the 1970s. Signed by Chet Atkins to RCA, he charted for the label in 1977-78 with “We Know Better,” “Lean on Jesus” and “Teardrops in My Tequila.” He actually had a bigger hit with “It’s Me Again, Margaret” than Ray Stevens, although it became one of the latter’s “signature” songs.

His albums include Warnings (1986), Brother Jukebox (1998), Raised by the Railroad Line (2006) and Too Bad You’re No Good (2007).

Funeral arrangements had not been announced at press time.

Paul Craft is inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

Paul Craft is inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

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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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