LifeNotes: Country Songwriting Immortal Curly Putman Passes

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• October 31, 2016
Curly Putman

Curly Putman

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Curly Putman died Sunday morning, Oct. 30, at age 85.

Putman wrote or co-wrote such iconic songs as “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Green, Green Grass of Home.”

He was born Claude Putman Jr. on Nov. 20, 1930 in Princeton, Alabama. He was the son of a sawmill worker who grew up in the mountains of northern Alabama listening to broadcasts of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. His earliest professional experience in country music was playing steel guitar in bands around Huntsville.

Putman briefly attended junior college, then spent four years in the U.S. Navy aboard an aircraft carrier. Back in civilian life, he worked in a sawmill and sold shoes while developing as a songwriter.

Early forays into Nashville were not consistently successful, although Marion Worth scored a hit with his “I Think I Know” and the songwriter had modest success singing his own “The Prison Song,” both in 1960. Things began to look up after he moved to Music City in 1964. Fellow Alabaman Buddy Killen signed him to write and plug songs for Tree International.

In 1965, Putman broke through with “Green, Green Grass of Home.” The striking story song was recorded by Johnny Darrell, then became a big country hit for Porter Wagoner. Tom Jones recorded the song in 1966, and the following year it became a worldwide pop hit. It has subsequently been recorded by hundreds of others, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, Joan Baez, Gram Parsons, The Grateful Dead and Elvis Presley.

It developed that 1967 was a banner year for the songwriter. In addition to the Tom Jones hit, he also co-wrote “Just For You” for Ferlin Husky, “Dumb Blonde” for Dolly Parton, “You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too” for The Statler Brothers and the No. 1 hit duet “My Elusive Dreams” for David Houston and Tammy Wynette. In 1968, he co-wrote Wynette’s classic smash “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”

He also remained a successful song plugger at Tree, boosting the careers of Bobby Braddock and the company’s other fledgling songwriters. Putman helped Tree to grow into one of Music Row’s most powerful and successful publishing firms.

His own writing continued to enrich Tree, too. Signed by ABC Records, Putman released two LPs of his compositions, Lonesome Country of Curly Putman (1967, with liner notes by his fellow Tree scribe Roger Miller) and Curly Putman’s World of Country Music (1969).

In 1973, Putman provided Tanya Tucker with “Blood Red and Goin’ Down.” In 1974, he wrote Hank Thompson’s “The Older the Violin, the Sweeter the Music.” Both songs became top-10 country hits. He left plugging behind and focused exclusively on his writing beginning in 1974.

When Paul McCartney & Wings came to stay in Music City for six weeks in 1974, Curly Putman loaned his Wilson County home to the family. They reportedly trashed the place, but immortalized it in their 1974 pop smash “Junior’s Farm.”

Charlie Rich revived “My Elusive Dreams” as a big hit in 1975. In recognition of his remarkable song catalog up to that point, Curly Putman was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. He was far from finished as a tunesmith, however.

Putman resumed his hit-writing ways in 1978 with “When Can We Do This Again” for T.G. Sheppard and “It Don’t Feel Like Sinnin’ to Me” for The Kendalls. In 1979, his co-written Moe Bandy hit “It’s a Cheating Situation” won the ACM Song of the Year award.

Even bigger things awaited. In 1980, Putman and Braddock’s co-written “He Stopped Loving Her Today” became a career-defining hit for George Jones. It earned the songwriters Song of the Year accolades from the CMA, ACM and NSAI and is often cited as the greatest country song of all time.

Also in 1980, Mac Davis had a top-10 hit with “Let’s Keep it That Way,” and John Conlee did the same with “Baby You’re Something.” Plus, T.G. Sheppard scored a trio of hits with the Putman co-penned “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven” “Smooth Sailing” and “I’ll Be Coming Back for More.” Another Sheppard hit came with 1982’s “War Is Hell (On the Home Front Too).”

In 1986, T. Graham Brown scored with Putman’s co-written “I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again.”

The songwriter entered the next decade by co-writing Ricky Van Shelton’s 1990 hit “I Meant Every Word He Said.” In 1991, Lee Greenwood & Suzy Bogguss memorably duetted on Putman’s “Hopelessly Yours.” Doug Stone had a 1993 hit with “Made for Lovin’ You.”

Curly Putman also has the distinction of co-writing a modern Christmas classic. “There’s a New Kid in Town” has been recorded by dozens of artists, including Alan Jackson, Kathy Mattea, George Strait, Keith Whitley, Kelly Clarkson, The Oak Ridge Boys, Chris Young, Kenny Rogers, Blake Shelton and Trisha Yearwood.

Other notable charted songs of his include “As Long as the Wind Blows” (Johnny Darrell), “The Last Laugh” (Jim Ed Brown), “The Private” (Del Reeves), “That See Me Later Look” (Bonnie Guitar), “Set Me Free” (Charlie Rich), “Couldn’t Love Have Picked a Better Place to Die” (Clinton Gregory), “Ballad of Two Brothers” (Autry Inman), “I Thought You’d Never Ask” (Louise Mandrell & R.C. Bannon), “If You Think I Love You Now” (Jody Miller), “Little Boy Soldier” (Wanda Jackson), “Easy Look” (Charlie Rich), “A New Place to Hang Your Hat” (Ruby Wright), “Radio Lover” (George Jones) and “High and Dry” (Joe Sun).

He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1993. In 2009, Curly Putman was honored with a showcase at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Poets and Prophets” series, which is designed to spotlight country’s most legendary composers. To date, he has earned more than 25 BMI Awards for his songwriting.

Putman is survived by his wife Bernice, by son Troy, daughter-in-law Beth, two grandsons and a granddaughter.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

 

 

 

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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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