LifeNotes: Country Songwriter Richard Fagan Passes

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• August 6, 2016

 

Richard Fagan. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

Richard Fagan. Photo: Bev Moser/Moments By Moser

Hit Nashville songwriter Richard Fagan has succumbed to liver cancer.

He died Friday (Aug. 5) with his wife by his side, The Tennessean reported.

Working with a variety of collaborators, Fagan was responsible for such country hits as John Michael Montgomery’s “Be My Baby Tonight,” “I Miss You a Little” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” as well as George Strait’s “Overnight Male.”

As a writer, Fagan had six Top 10 hits, 20 charted songs and more than 65 recorded titles.

His songs were sung by Shania Twain, Hank Williams Jr., Neil Diamond, George Jones and The Blues Brothers, among many others. Albums containing his songs have sold more than 25 million copies. His works have appeared on the soundtracks of five feature films and in national television sports broadcasts.

Noted for his colorful lyrics and novelty numbers, Fagan was just as colorful as a personality. His high-strung personality often manifested itself in an irreverent sense of humor.

Richard Fagan was born in 1947. His father died of tuberculosis when the boy was 3, and he was raised in the housing projects of South Philadelphia. His mother cleaned homes and offices for a living. Fagan’s education was on the rough streets of his hometown.

He picked up the guitar at age 14 and began leading street-corner harmony groups shortly thereafter. Fagan was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he turned 21. His tour of duty included singing war protest songs, going AWOL, growing his moustache and being arrested for having subversive literature.

Following his discharge in 1968, he became a homeless vagabond. He married and had a son, but when the marriage ended in 1975, he sank into drug and alcohol abuse. He again became homeless.

But he also began writing songs. Philadelphia music entrepreneur Tom Oteri recorded Fagan singing his works in 1976 and began sending the tapes to industry tastemakers. Producer Bob Gaudio heard and liked one of them. Gaudio had famously worked with The Four Seasons, Diana Ross, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. He took Fagan’s “The Good Lord Loves You” to Neil Diamond, and it became an adult contemporary hit for the singer in 1980.

Guadio also got the songwriter a pop recording contract with Mercury Records and produced his debut LP Richard Fagan. It was released in 1979. But the follow-up LP was shelved by the label two years later and Fagan lost his recording contract. In 1985, he made his first exploratory trips to Nashville.

Up to this point, he had mainly written songs alone. In Nashville, he discovered he enjoyed co-writing. His collaborators over the ensuing years included Larry Alderman, Robb Royer, Ed Hill, Patti Ryan, Ralph James, Rich Grissom and Gordon Kennedy.

Fagan and Oteri moved to Music City in January 1986. Within a week, Con Hunley became the first country star to record one of his tunes, “Blue Suede Blues.” In 1988, Fagan had his first Top 10 success when Moe Bandy recorded his “Americana.” It became an official campaign theme song for President George H.W. Bush, who was a big country fan.

Next, Opry star Mel McDaniel had a Top 10 success with Fagan’s “Real Good Feel Good Song.” McDaniel also recorded 1989’s “You Can’t Play the Blues (In an Air Conditioned Room),” which was covered by The Blues Brothers in 1992. In the early 1990s, the songwriter also began providing novelty tunes to such comedy acts as Pinkard & Bowden, Ethel & The Shameless Hussies, Cledus T. Judd, Kacey Jones and his own band, Phillybilly.

In 1992, Strait included “Overnight Male” on the multi-million-selling soundtrack album of his movie Pure Country. Twain sang Fagan’s “Crime of the Century” on the soundtrack of the Nicolas Cage thriller Red Rock West the following year. Kevin Costner’s 1996 film Tin Cup included Patty Loveless singing the songwriter’s “Where Are You Boy.”

Meanwhile, Tom Oteri’s daughter, Cheri Oteri, gained national fame as a manic comic force on NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live in 1995-2000. She memorably lampooned Barbara Walters, Judge Judy, Kathie Lee Gifford and other celebrities and starred opposite Will Ferrell in the “Spartans Cheerleaders” segments.

During this same period in Nashville, Tom Oteri ran Fagan’s publishing company as Collin Raye, B.B. Watson, Jason Ringenberg, Ray Kennedy, Chris LeDoux, The Crickets, Jeff Carson, Shenandoah, Ricochet and others were snapping up the songwriter’s compositions. The team’s publishing company was called “OF music,” the “O” standing for Oteri and the “F” standing for Fagan.

The songwriter reached the peak of his success when John Michael Montgomery hit the top of the charts with a trio of his works in 1994-97. Clay Walker had a big 1996 hit with “Only on Days That End in ‘Y.’”

Fagan’s band Phillybilly released its self-titled CD in that same year. As the lead vocalist of a later group called Superfan, Fagan was widely heard singing the rocking “My House” promoting the 2002 Winter Olympics for eight months on NBC-TV. That song has subsequently been used in more than 30 major-league sports facilities nationwide.

Fagan had a comeback on the country charts with Hank Williams Jr. singing his “Why Can’t We All Get a Longneck” in 2004. He also had cuts with a number of independent-label artists.

Then old demons returned to haunt Richard Fagan. According to The Tennessean, he and Oteri drank heavily on Saturday, April 26, 2008 and had a huge argument around 9 p.m. Fagan slashed Oteri’s wrist with a pocketknife. They were roommates, business partners and longtime friends.

Oteri, 69 at the time, was not a big drinker and was noted for his congenial personality, fatherly manner and gentle disposition. He was not argumentative. He was also weak and ill at the time. Fagan had never been violent and was much loved by Oteri’s adult children.

At about 10:45 p.m. that night, Fagan was arrested on a D.U.I. charge while driving in East Nashville. He called a friend to check on Oteri. After entering the home, this friend called the police. Gaetano Thomas Oteri was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fagan was charged with homicide. He was ordered to enter an alcohol and drug treatment facility. Tom Oteri’s death was later ruled an accident.

Kacey Jones and Cledus T. Judd continued to record his songs, but mainstream country stars stopped recording his works. He reportedly had been ill for some time before he was correctly diagnosed.

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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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