Country Music Hall of Fame member Billy Sherrill passed away today (Aug. 4) at age 78.
As a record producer, his name is on some of the most iconic singles ever created on Music Row — Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” and Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” among them. As a songwriter, Sherrill earned BMI Awards for 52 of his compositions. His contributions to the country repertoire include “Too Far Gone,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “Til I Can Make It On My Own,” “The Most Beautiful Girl,” “Soul Song” and “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” as well as “Stand By Your Man.”
His co-written “Almost Persuaded” and “A Very Special Love Song” both won Best Country Song Grammy Awards. “Til I Can Make It On My Own” and “The Most Beautiful Girl” were both CMA Song of the Year winners. He cowrote 18 songs that became No. 1 country hits and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. As a record executive, he headed the Nashville office of CBS (Columbia and Epic Records) and discovered Wynette, Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, Lacy J. Dalton and Shelby Lynne.
Billy Sherrill was born and raised in north Alabama as the son of an evangelical preacher. He played saxophone and piano in area rock ’n’ roll and R&B bands, such as The Fairlanes (with future producer/publisher Rick Hall). After trying his hand as a pop recording artist, he moved to Nashville in 1962. Sam Phillips hired him to run the Sun Records office in Music City. The following year, Billy Sherrill joined the artists-and-repertoire department of Epic Records.
He produced early breakthrough gospel albums for The Staple Singers on Epic in 1965-67. He produced “Lullabye of Love” as a 1966 pop and soul hit for The Poppies, which included future solo star Dorothy Moore (“Misty Blue”). He also produced the rock group Barry & The Remains. Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore’s renowned LP The Guitar That Changed the World (1964) was also a Billy Sherrill production.
Sherrill said that he disliked country music, but he became wildly successful in the format. He initially struck pay dirt by producing David Houston’s version of the Sherrill co-penned “Almost Persuaded” in 1966. He also produced and cowrote 22 of the singer’s other hits, including “Livin’ in a House Full of Love” (1965), “A Loser’s Cathedral” (1966), “With One Exception” (1967), “My Elusive Dreams” (a duet with Wynette, 1967), “Already It’s Heaven” (1968), “My Woman’s Good to Me” (1969) and “I Do My Swinging at Home” (1970). He had even bigger success with Wynette. In addition to “Stand By Your Man” (1968), “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” (1967) and “Til I Can Make It On My Own” (1976), Sherrill produced and cowrote more than 20 other Wynette hits, including “I Don’t Wanna Play House” (1967), “Take Me to Your World” (1968), “Singing My Song” (1969), “He Loves Me All the Way” (1970), “My Man” (1972), “Another Lonely Song” (1973), “Woman to Woman” (1974) and “You and Me” (1976).
He took over record production for established star George Jones in the early 1970s. Sherrill produced the landmark Jones/Wynette duet records as well as a long string of Jones solo classics for the next 15 years, including “A Picture of Me (Without You)” (1972), “The Grand Tour” (1974) and “Bartender’s Blues” (with James Taylor, 1978). The Sherrill-produced 1980 Jones mega hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is frequently cited as the greatest country record of all time.
As he had done with Jones, the producer took Charlie Rich to new heights by producing and/or cowriting a string of classics for the artist in 1968-78. He also produced successful records for Joe Stampley, David Allan Coe, Jody Miller, Marty Robbins, Johnny Duncan, Johnny Rodriguez, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Barbara Fairchild, Bobby Vinton, Jim & Jesse, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, Mickey Gilley, Freddy Weller and Moe Bandy, among others. His production style was dubbed “countrypolitan,” which was somewhat controversial at the time. Purists felt that it took the country sound too far “uptown” and made the genre too slick. Sherrill countered that millions of people loved it and bought the records.
By the time he retired from the record business around 1990, Billy Sherrill was unquestionably country music’s major sonic architect of his era. His influence remains a part of the genre to this day. He was publicity shy and did not care for awards or accolades. Nevertheless, Billy Norris Sherrill was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008, and two years later, he entered the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Billy Sherrill was the 1st producer to give me a push to start my own records, as he and CBS President Bruce Lundvall talked me into signing that 1st contract. I was a busy backup singer and was not sure about going solo. I will hold dear those precious memories of magical studio productions with Billy, and will miss him greatly,” says Janie Fricke.
He is survived by his wife Charlene, daughter Catherine Lale, son-in-law George Lale and grandchildren Samantha and Matthew.
Funeral services for Billy Sherrill were held at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home. Visitation was scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. A Graveside Service followed Friday’s visitation at 5:00 p.m. at Woodlawn Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Nashville Humane Association, nashvillehumane.org or Nashville Alive Hospice, alivehospice.org.
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