Country Great Freddie Hart Passes

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Freddie Hart passed away in Burbank, California, on Saturday, Oct. 27, at age 91.

Hart is best known for his country mega hit “Easy Loving” of 1971. It was named Song of the year by both the ACM and the CMA in 1971, and it repeated the accolade a second time at the 1972 CMA Awards.

His songs were also recorded by Carl Smith, Porter Wagoner, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Billy Walker, Waylon Jennings, Eddy Arnold, Loretta Lynn and dozens of other country stars. As a recording artist, his career stretched from the early 1950s into the present century.

He was born Frederick Segrest on Dec. 21, 1926, one of 15 children of Alabama sharecropper parents. When he was 5, an uncle fashioned the boy his first guitar out of cigar box and some wire. Hart ran away from home for the first time at age 7. His schooling ended with the second grade. By the time he was 12, he was so rebellious that his parents put him into the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Freddie Hart lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines at age 14. He was in combat during World War II at Guam and Iwo Jima. But he also entertained in servicemen’s clubs. After the war, he drifted from job to job, working as a cotton picker, sawmill worker, dishwasher, pipeline layer and nightclub bouncer.

He hitchhiked to Nashville in 1949 and met his idol, Hank Williams. Hank’s songwriting advice to the youngster was, “Set people to music.” Hart’s first taste of songwriting success came when George Morgan recorded his “Every Little Thing Rolled Into One” later that year.

He met Lefty Frizzell in 1950 and became the star’s opening act. Capitol Records signed Hart in 1952, but none of the ensuing singles charted. Hart remained with Frizzell until 1953. In that year, Freddie Hart joined the cast of the Los Angeles country TV show Town Hall Party. He appeared regularly on the program for the next three years.

Hart was a physical-fitness aficionado who earned a black belt in judo and taught self-defense classes during his early years on the West Coast. He reportedly even trained the Los Angeles Police Department.

He had his first hit as a songwriter when Carl Smith took his “Loose Talk” up the charts in 1955. The song has also been recorded by Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Hank Locklin, Jean Shepard and more than 40 others. It became a hit a second time in 1961 via a duet version by Buck Owens and Rose Maddox.

As a singer, Freddie Hart began to make the charts on Columbia Records in 1959-61, initially by recording the Harlan Howard songs “The Wall,” “Chain Gang,” “The Key’s in the Mailbox” and “Lying Again.” He made his first appearances on the Grand Ole Opry during this period.

A stint at Monument Records in 1963-64 proved fruitless. He was absent from the country charts before reappearing on Kapp Records in 1965. He wrote his Kapp singles “Hank Williams’ Guitar” (1965) and “Togetherness” (1967). Following another “dry spell,” Hart re-signed with Capitol Records in 1970. He was also signed as a singer-songwriter by Buck Owens’s publishing and management companies around that time.

Lacking any top-10 hits as a recording artist, he steadily provided songs to others throughout the first two decades of his career. These included “Farther Than My Eyes Can See” for Frizzell (1959), “Blue” for The Louvin Brothers (1959), “Lovin’ in Vain” for Patsy Cline (1961), “My Tears Are Overdue” for George Jones (1965) and “If the Shoe Fits” for Waylon Jennings (1967).

“Willie the Weeper,” sung by Billy Walker (1962) and “Skid Row Joe” by Porter Wagoner (1966) were both top-10 hits written by Freddie Hart. Joe Simon made the soul-music charts with Hart’s “Too Many Teardrops” in 1966.

Other notable early Hart tunes included “Sing the Girls a Song, Bill” for Jennings “Who Done It” for Burl Ives and “It Takes One to Know One” for Jimmy Martin.

Hart’s evergreen “Drink Up and Go Home” was recorded by Mitchell Torok, Carl Perkins, Johnny Bond, Tex Ritter, Bobby Bare, The Wilburn Brothers and himself.

The singer-songwriter’s big breakthrough as a recording artist finally occurred with “Easy Loving.” Written and recorded by Hart, it became his first top-10 hit and first No. 1 hit in 1971. At age 44, he became a star.

“Easy Loving” garnered him two Grammy Award nominations. It earned a Gold Record, a BMI Two-Millionaire award and a Billboard honor as the No. 1 country single of the year. Hart swept the Academy of Country Music Awards for 1971, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Album and Single as well as Song of the Year as a result of this song’s huge impact.

In 1972, he scored the biggest hit of his career with his self-penned “My Hang-Up Is You.” His next four Capitol singles also made No. 1 – “Bless Your Heart” (1972), “Got the All-Overs for You” (1972), “Super Kind of Woman” (1973, the only one he didn’t write) and “Trip to Heaven” (1973), Hart wrote and sang three more top-10 smashes, “If You Can’t Feel It,” “Hang In There Girl” and “The Want-To’s,” in 1973-74.

His toured extensively behind those hits. During his career, Hart appeared in every state in the union as well as in Germany, Holland, England, Thailand, China, Japan, France and Saudi Arabia.

In 1975, he turned to other songwriters for his next three top-10 hits – “My Woman’s Man,” “I’d Like to Sleep ‘Til I Get Over You” and “The First Time.” He wrote his final top-10 hit of 1975, “Warm Side of You.”

Freddie Hart’s songs also continued to be successful for others during this era. Buck Owens & Susan Raye turned “Togetherness” into a hit duet in 1970. Raye released Hart’s “Greatest Gift of All” as a solo in 1972. Charlie Rich issued Hart’s “I’m Not Going Hungry Anymore” in 1973 and revived “Too Many Teardrops” in 1974. Bobby “Blue” Bland turned Hart’s “If Fingerprints Showed Up on Skin” into an r&b song in 1975.

As a singer, Hart returned to the country hit parade with 1976’s “You Are the Song,” “She’ll Throw Stones at You” and “That Look in Her Eyes..” His co-written “Why Lovers Turn to Strangers” became a top-10 hit late in that year.

Freddie Hart’s last top-20 country hits were “Thank God She’s Mine” (1977), “The Pleasure’s Been All Mine” (1977) and “Sure Thing” (1980). He continued to make the charts regularly until 1988. By then, he had placed 48 titles on the country hit parade, earned 22 top-20 hits and scored six No. 1 singles.

Among his later songs, Hart’s co-written “While the Feeling’s Good” was particularly successful. It made the charts for Mike Lunsford in 1976, for Kenny Rogers in 1976 and for Tammy Wynette & Wayne Newton as a duet in 1989. It has also been recorded by B.J. Thomas (1981), Rex Allen Jr. (1976), J.J. Barnes (1999) and Vince Hill (2004), among others.

Leland Martin enlisted Hart to sing on their songwriting collaboration “Freddie’s Heart” in 2002. “Drink Up and Go Home” was revived by Jerry Garcia, Larry Cordle, Audie Blaylock, Sleepy LaBeef and Dave Evans.

While he was riding high, Freddie Hart established his Hartline trucking company, formed a song-publishing company, bought 40 acres of plum trees, acquired 200 breeding bulls and opened a chain of martial arts studios. He also founded a school for disabled children in California.

In the 1990s, he began issuing gospel albums and entertaining at Branson, Mo. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. Hart is also a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the Colorado Hall of Fame and the Idaho Hall of Fame.

His classic songs continued to be recorded by a new generation of stars in recent years. Among those who have revived Hart’s works are Carlene Carter, Lorrie Morgan, Raul Malo, The Gibson Brothers, John Prine, Jesse Winchester, The Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Deke Dickerson and Rosie Flores.

In addition to many brothers and sisters, Hart is survived by his wife of 61 years, Ginger and sons Freddie Jr., Andy, Joe and Victor. 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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