Top Producer/Publisher Kelso Herston Dies

Kelso Herston

Multi-talented Music Row great Kelso Herston died on Tuesday (Dec. 4) at age 87.

He was a label chief, record producer, song publisher, jingle creator and ace session musician during the 1960s and 1970s. As a guitarist, Herston was honored with 10 Super Picker awards from the Recording Academy between 1961 and 1975. As a producer, he worked with Sonny James, Wanda Jackson, Ferlin Husky, Bobbie Gentry and many others.

Born Kelton Dean Herston, he was an Alabama native who entered the music business in Florence/Muscle Shoals. He formed his Tune Records and publishing business there in 1956.

Florence native Sam Phillips hired Herston to establish a Nashville office in 1959 for the Sun Records publishing divisions Hi-Lo and Knox Music. Herston also worked closely with Sun Records star Carl Mann (“Mona Lisa,” “Pretend”).

Once in Nashville, he established himself as a top session musician. Kelso Herston can be heard on either bass or guitar on discs by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bobby Bare, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Kenny Rogers, George Morgan, Lesley Gore, Clyde McPhatter, Charlie Rich, Vikki Carr, Freddie Hart, Jean Shepard, Mother Maybelle Carter, Lefty Frizzell and hundreds more.

In the early 1960s, he went to work for Mercury Records. He brought Jerry Lee Lewis to the label, renewing the rocker’s career as a chart-topping honky-tonk stylist.

United Artists Records hired him to establish its first Nashville office in 1963. He began his production career there with a string of hits for Del Reeves (“Girl on a Billboard,” “The Belles of Southern Bell,” etc.). He also worked with Bobby Goldsboro and The Oak Ridge Boys and recorded instrumentals for the label, himself.

Herston assumed the leadership of the Capitol Records Nashville office in 1967. While there, he produced 13 No. 1 hits for future Country Music Hall of Fame member Sonny James. He also worked with Capitol’s Billie Jo Spears, Gentry, Husky and Jackson, among others. Also while at Capitol, Kelso Herston was hired as the music director for TV’s hit series Hee Haw.

Her served on the board of the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy in 1969 and 1970.

He formed Kelso Herston Productions in 1971. This firm soon became one of the most successful ad jingle companies in the industry. Herston produced classic ads for such companies as Budweiser, Pepsi, Burger King, 7-Up, Oscar Meyer, RC Cola, Sears, Quaker Oats and McDonald’s. One of his Pepsi ads was honored with a Clio Award.

He was re-hired by United Artists in 1973. He signed Crystal Gayle to the label, launching her hit-making career. In 1976, he again began concentrating on his jingle company, as well as his music-publishing firm, Kelso Herston Music. Among the hits he published is Ronnie Milsap’s chart-topping “Don’t You Know How Much I Love You.”

He also continued to work as an independent record producer for such labels as Columbia, Musicor and King. Kelso Herston was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1997.

He is survived by son Alexander Herston, two grandsons and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Visitation was held on Saturday, Dec. 8, at Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, followed by services. Burial followed at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton cemetery.

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About the Author

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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