LifeNotes: Songwriter-Keyboardist Bobby Emmons Passes

Bobby Emmons

Bobby Emmons

Renowned songwriter and session keyboardist Bobby Emmons died Monday night (Feb. 23) at age 72.

The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis reports that Emmons passed away of undisclosed causes at a Nashville hospital. As a member of The Memphis Boys, he is a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame.

Bobby Emmons is equally well known on Music Row as the co-writer of such BMI award-winning hits as Waylon Jennings’ “Women Do Know How to Carry On” and “The Wurlitzer Prize,” Tanya Tucker’s “Love Me Like You Used To,” George Strait’s “So Much Like My Dad,” B.j. Thomas’s “Help Me Make It to My Rocking Chair” and Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love.)”

Born in Corinth, Miss., Bobby Emmons first gained prominence as a member of The Bill Black Combo in Memphis in the late 1950s. His skills on piano and organ made him a key member of the band that formed under producer Chips Moman at American Studios in Memphis in the 1960s.

The studio group also included guitarist Reggie Young, bass players Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech, pianist Bobby Wood and drummer Gene Chrisman. They were collectively known as The Memphis Boys.

The session musicians backed Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”), Neil Diamond (“Sweet Caroline”), Joe Tex (“I Gotcha”), B.J. Thomas (“Hooked on a Feeling”), Merrilee Rush (“Angel of the Morning”) and Elvis Presley (“Suspicious Minds”), among others. Memphis recordings by The Box Tops, Roy Orbison, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Womack, Irma Thomas, Herbie Mann, Delbert McClinton, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, John Prine, Petula Clark and dozens more all feature his keyboard playing.

In later years, The Memphis Boys often reunited to perform during Elvis Presley Week activities.

Pictured (L-R, from back): Museum Editor Michael Gray, Gene Chrisman, Bobby Emmons and Weldon Myrick; (front row) Bobby Wood, Chips Moman and Reggie Young

Pictured (L-R, from back): Museum Editor Michael Gray, Gene Chrisman, Bobby Emmons and Weldon Myrick; (front row) Bobby Wood, Chips Moman and Reggie Young

Bobby Emmons found a second career after moving to Nashville. He continued to work as a session musician for Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Larry Gatlin, Johnny Paycheck, Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, The Highwaymen, Earl Scruggs, The Oak Ridge Boys and other stars.

He also blossomed as a songwriter in Music City. Among the Nashville artists who have recorded his tunes are Billy Swan, Ray Price, Jimmy Dickens, Ricky Skaggs and Johnny Russell. In addition to the titles listed above, notable Bobby Emmons compositions include “Cowboys Don’t Shoot Straight Like They Used To” (Tammy Wynette), “Staring Each Other Down” (Brenda Lee, Willie Nelson), “Cactus and a Rose” (Gary Stewart), “It’s Midnight, Do You Know Where Your Baby Is” (Sandy Posey), “May I Borrow Some Sugar From You” (Billy Joe Royal, John Wesley Ryles, Waylon Jennings), “Partners After All” (Willie Nelson) and “Say It With Love” (Dan Penn).

Funeral arrangements have not been announced. A memorial service is in the planning stages, according to The Commercial Appeal.

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About the Author

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

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