LifeNotes: Bill Ham, Founder Of Hamstein Music, Passes

Bill Ham

Bill Ham

Bill Ham, a veteran manager, producer, songwriter and publisher, passed away in his sleep in Austin, Texas, on June 20. He was 79 years old.

Although he was best known as the longtime manager, producer and publisher of ZZ Top, Ham also made his mark in country music by managing Clint Black and publishing his songs through Hamstein Music. He was instrumental in Black’s signing to RCA Records in 1989, although the business partnership between the two men landed in court after a 1992 dispute about royalties and publishing rights.

Ham was born in 1937 in Waxahachie, Texas. He began his music career as a record promoter for Bud Dailey Distributing in Dallas before encountering a Houston-based group called Moving Sidewalks, which was opening a concert for the Doors in 1968. Ham formed Lone Wolf Management to manage them.

Soon after the band’s dissolution, Billy Gibbons, their front man, founded ZZ Top with Bill Ham continuing his role as manager. After some personnel changes, the band’s enduring line-up of Gibbons (guitar) bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard solidified and continues to this day.

Ham’s vision for what ZZ Top could become was an instrumental trigger to the band’s massive success. His role was critical in shaping their image as “that little ol’ band from Texas.” A 1970 contract with London Records ensued and he became the group’s producer in the studio as well as, on occasion, a songwriting partner.

Ham’s business relationship with ZZ Top ended in 2006. Upon hearing of his death, the members of ZZ Top issued the following statement: “We were saddened to hear of Bill Ham’s passing. His early vision and continuing encouragement were invaluable; his efforts and energy will always remain deeply appreciated.”

In addition to owning the music publishing rights to ZZ Top’s catalog, Ham created Hamstein Music. Since 1987, Hamstein has accrued over 100 Top 10 singles in country music, which include 60 No. 1 records, all penned by writers signed to Ham’s company.

These writers include Clint Black, Hayden Nicholas, Frankie Miller, members of Little Texas, Tom Shapiro, Chris Waters, Rick Giles, Chuck Jones, Tommy Barnes, Stephen Allan Davis, Billy Kirsch, Tony Martin, Reese Wilson, Lee Thomas Miller, Monty Criswell, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others. In 2002, Ham sold Hamstein Music’s copyrights and publishing assets to Mosaic Media Group in a multi-million dollar transaction.

Ham’s latest venture had been a return to country music and the Nashville publishing business. He recently had launched Wolftracks Music Publishing Company and signed songwriters Presley Tucker and Spencer Bartoletti, professionally known as the group Reverie Lane. They are also signed to Lone Wolf Management.

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Craig Shelburne is the General Manager at MusicRow.

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