Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Bill Rice died at age 84 in Florida last Saturday (Oct. 28).
During his career, Rice earned 73 ASCAP awards. Among the No. 1 country hits he co-wrote are “Lonely Too Long” (Patty Loveless, 1996), “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore” (Charley Pride, 1970), “Would You Take Another Chance on Me” (Jerry Lee Lewis, 1972) and “Ain’t She Something Else” (Conway Twitty, 1985). His songs were recorded by Hank Williams Jr., Sonny & Cher, Reba McEntire, Robert Goulet, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Bare, Bobby Blue Bland and Tammy Wynette, among many others.
He was born Wilburn Steven Rice in Arkansas in 1939. He began playing guitar at age 14 and was signed to his first recording contract at 18. The label was Fernwood Records, a Memphis imprint founded by guitarist Scotty Moore. Rice’s first success as a songwriter occurred in 1960, when Elvis Presley recorded “Girl Next Door Went A’walking.”
Relocating to Nashville, he teamed up with songwriter Jerry Foster, and the pair became an outstanding success story. Their early successes included 1968’s “The Day the World Stood Still” and “The Easy Part’s Over,” both sung by Pride.
The following year, Jeannie C. Riley’s recording of their “Back Side of Dallas” earned a Grammy nomination. Mel Tillis hit the top 10 with their “Heaven Everyday” in 1970, and Pride returned to No. 1 with “Wonder Could I Live There Anymore.”
In the 1970s, Bill Rice also pursued a singing career on Capitol, Epic and Polydor. Of his six charted singles 1971-78, only one of them achieved top 40 status, 1971’s “Travelin’ Minstrel Man.” His career as a country songwriter would be wildly more successful.
In 1972, alone, Rice co-wrote Johnny Paycheck’s “Someone to Give My Love To,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s iconic “Think About It Darlin’” and Bob Luman’s “When You Say Love.” The last-named was covered by both Lynn Anderson and Sonny & Cher. Lewis also topped the charts in that year with their “Would You Take Another Chance On Me.”
At the 1972 ASCAP Country Awards, Foster and Rice won an unprecedented 10 awards. They were publicized carrying the trophies in a wheelbarrow.
In 1974, they had 11 songs on the chart at the same time. One of them was Mickey Gilley’s “Here Comes the Hurt Again,” which earned the songwriters a Grammy nomination. Another was “I’ll Think of Something,” a top 10 hit for Hank Jr. Revived by Mark Chesnutt, the classic song hit No. 1 in 1992.
Both Rice and Foster were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994. By then, Bill Rice had formed another songwriting partnership. He and the award-winning Sharon Vaughn created 1982’s “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” for McEntire. Leon Everette introduced this team’s “Til a Tear Becomes a Rose” in 1985. Lorrie Morgan and the late Keith Whitley earned a CMA Vocal Duo Award with the song in 1992.
The two songwriters married one another. Success continued with 1992’s Patty Loveless smash “Lonely Too Long.” At the singer’s Country Music Hall of Fame induction last month, Vince Gill memorably performed the ballad. (The independently successful Vaughn joined her ex husband in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2019).
Bill Rice initially worked for Jack Clement and Bill Hall as his publishers on Music Row. When he became a song publisher, himself, Rice helped several up-and-coming writers. These included Roger Murrah, Jim McBride and Rich Alves. Rice also produced records.
The songwriter passed away in Merritt Island, Florida at his home, surrounded by family members. He is survived by granddaughter Melissa Mae (Clint) Hanes and several grandchildren, stepchildren and extended family members.
Arrangements are being handled by Ammen Family Cremation & Funeral Care (1001 S. Hickory St., Melbourne, FL 32901). No events are scheduled. The family suggests planting a tree in the memory of Wilburn Steven “Bill” Rice.
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