Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Norro Wilson died at age 79 on Thursday, June 8.
Wilson was the producer of hit records for Charley Pride, George Jones, Kenny Chesney, Tammy Wynette, Con Hunley and Keith Whitley, among others. He was an executive at several publishing and record companies.
He was also widely loved on Music Row for his twinkling wit, clever imitations and quirky sense of humor. But his most important legacy is the stunning song catalog he leaves behind.
Norro Wilson’s co-written “The Grand Tour” has been a hit three times. George Jones introduced it in 1974. Aaron Neville revived it in 1993. It is currently a hit single and video for Tony Jackson. The song has also been recorded by Sammy Kershaw, Joe Stampley, Dwight Yoakam and Dale Watson, among others.
“A Very Special Love Song,” which was a 1974 Charlie Rich hit, won Wilson a Best Country Song Grammy Award. “A Picture of Me Without You” topped the charts for both George Jones (1972) and Lorrie Morgan (1991).
Wilson also co-wrote such classic songs as “Soul Song” (Joe Stampley 1972), ”The Most Beautiful Girl” (Charlie Rich 1973), “Another Lonely Song” (Tammy Wynette 1973) and “He Loves Me All the Way” (Tammy Wynette 1970).
Wilson was named BMI’s Country Songwriter of the Year in 1973, 1974 and 1975.
Born Norris Denton Wilson in 1938, he was a native of Scottsville, Kentucky who learned piano and sang barbershop harmonies as a youth. He began his music career as the tenor singer in the gospel act The Southlanders Quartet. He migrated to Nashville with the group in 1957.
He continued to sing with the quartet until 1960. Wilson then formed a vocal duo with fellow future Music Row song publisher Don Gant (1942-1967).
As a songwriter, Norro Wilson signed with Acuff-Rose in 1962. He joined Al Gallico Music in 1967, initially working for the company as a song plugger.
But he continued to harbor an ambition to be a recording artist. Wilson recorded for Monument, Smash (the 1969 LP Dedicated to Only You), Mercury (1970’s “Do It to Someone You Love,” his only top-20 country hit), RCA, Capitol and Warner Bros. He also worked as a session backup singer for Faron Young, Ferlin Husky and others.
Meanwhile, Gallico had him pitching its writers’ songs to country recording artists on Music Row. In the late 1960s, Wilson began collaborating with the company’s tunesmiths.
Among his early songwriting successes were “Baby Baby (I Know You’re a Lady)” (David Houston 1969), “I’ll See Him Through” (Tammy Wynette 1969), “Then He Touched Me” (Jean Shepard 1970), “My Man (Understands)” (Tammy Wynette 1972), “Bring It On Home (To Your Woman)” (Joe Stampley 1973), “I Love My Friend” (Charlie Rich 1974) and “The Door” (George Jones 1974). These are in addition to several of the classics listed above.
Warner Bros. Records hired him to work in its A&R department in 1975. He retired his recording career two years later. In 1982, he joined RCA Records, also as an A&R executive.
“Still a Woman” (Margo Smith 1979), “Never Been So Loved” (Charley Pride 1981), “Surround Me With Love” (Charly McClain 1981), “Night Games” (Charley Pride 1983) and “You’ve Got Something on Your Mind” (Mickey Gilley 1985) continued his hit songwriting streak. But Wilson always emphasized that he was merely a collaborator, rather than a songwriting star. Among his frequent songwriting partners were Glenn Sutton (1937-2007), Billy Sherrill (1936-2015), Carmol Taylor (1931-1986), and George Richey (1935-2010).
As his songwriting career waned, Norro Wilson became CEO of the Merit Music publishing company in 1987. He then started Norro Productions in 1990, signing Kershaw as one of his first clients. He and Buddy Cannon began co-producing Jones and Chesney and formed Bud Ro Productions in 1998.
Wilson continually evolved as country music modernized in the 1980s and 1990s. He became a producer for Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, John Anderson, Chely Wright, John Michael Montgomery, Craig Morgan and Sara Evans, among others.
Norro Wilson was elected into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996. He joined the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2008. He was saluted by the Country Music Hall of Fame in its “Poets & Prophets” spotlight series in 2011.
The songwriter, producer, publisher, record-label executive and performer had been in ill health for some time, although he did attend last fall’s Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in the Music City Center.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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