LifeNotes: Country Songwriting Great Wayne Kemp Passes

Wayne Kemp

Wayne Kemp

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Wayne Kemp, who wrote hits for such superstars as George Strait, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and George Jones, died Monday morning, March 9, in Lafayette, Tenn.

Kemp, who was 74, had multiple ailments and was on kidney dialysis at the time of his passing. He was a native of Greenwood, Ark. As a youth, he was an auto racer.

He first rose to prominence in Music City as the writer of the 1965 George Jones hit “Love Bug.” His “Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double” was recorded by both Jones and Emmylou Harris. Conway Twitty took Kemp’s “Next in Line” to No. 1 on the country charts in 1968, scored with the songwriter’s “The Image of Me” that same year and also hit with “Darling You Know I Wouldn’t Lie” (1969) and “That’s When She Started to Stop Loving You” (1970). Johnny Cash took Kemp’s “One Piece at at Time” to the top of the charts in 1976. Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 “outlaw” tune “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised)” was also a Wayne Kemp creation.

Kemp continued to write big hits in the 1980s and 1990s, including “I’ll Leave This World Loving You” (Ricky Van Shelton, 1988), “The Fireman” (George Strait, 1985), a remake of “Love Bug” (George Strait, 1994), “Tell Ole I Ain’t Here He Better Get on Home” (Moe Bandy & Joe Stampley, 1980) and “Who’ll Turn Out the Lights in Your World Tonight” (Mel Street, 1980). Strait also recorded Kemp’s “I Should Have Watched That First Step,” “Haven’t You Heard,” “Hot Burning Flames,” “That’s Where My Baby Feels at Home,” “She Knows When You’re on My Mind” and “Won’t You Come Home and Talk to a Stranger.”

Others who recorded his songs include Faron Young, Patty Loveless, Hank Williams Jr., Ronnie McDowell, Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn, Jack Greene, Ronnie Milsap, Charlie Walker, David Allan Coe, Mickey Gilley, Elvis Costello, Michelle Shocked, Tom Petty, Charley Pride, Doug Sahm and The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Kemp was also a recording artist. Between 1969 and 1986, he placed 24 singles on the country charts. His biggest hit as a singer was 1973’s “Honky Tonk Wine.” He recorded for Decca, MCA, United Artists, Mercury and Door Knob.

He died at Macon County General Hospital. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Anderson & Sons Funeral Home in Lafayette, TN. Kemp is survived by wife Patsy, son Robert, daughters Paula Hosale and Natalie Hudgins, 10 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, a brother and six sisters.

Visitation with the family will be on Thursday, 10 a.m. – 1:45 p.m. with graveside services to follow at 2 p.m. at Anderson Memorial Park.

His medical bills are substantial. The family would welcome contributions c/o Anderson & Sons Funeral Home, 997 Highway 52, Bypass East, Lafayette, TN 37083.

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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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