Jim Vienneau, whose record productions launched the careers of Hank Williams Jr., Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis and more, has passed away in Nashville at age 97. He was formerly the head of the MGM Records country division and an executive at Acuff-Rose.
A native of Albany, New York, Vienneau was born in 1926 as the son of a salesman and a silent-movie pianist. During World War II, he served in the Navy.
He was the nephew of legendary pioneering country producer and Columbia Records talent scout Frank Walker (1889-1963). Walker discovered dozens, including Bessie Smith and Hank Williams. In 1946, he co-founded MGM Records with Williams and Bob Wills as its flagship country artists.
Mentored by Walker, Vienneau went to work for MGM in New York in 1955. He first made his mark as the producer of such MGM pop hits as Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel” (1959), Conway Twitty’s “It’s Only Make Believe” (1958), Connie Francis’s “Vacation” (1962), Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater” (1958) and Roy Orbison’s “Ride Away” (1965).
In 1965, the label transferred him to Nashville to head its country-music division. Between 1965 and 1976, he produced 13 top-10 hits for the young Hank Williams Jr, including “Cajun Baby,” “Pride’s Not Hard to Swallow” and “I’ll Think of Something.” He began producing Tillis in 1970 and their work together resulted in “I Ain’t Never,” “Sawmill,” “Memory Maker’ and 10 other top-10 hits. Vienneau also produced Jeannie C. Riley’s 1972 comeback hit “Give Myself a Party.”
His other MGM artists included Jimmy C. Newman, Marvin Rainwater, Lois Johnson, The Stonemans, Floyd Cramer, Bob Gallion, Ben Colder, Tony Booth, Sherry Bryce and Tompall & The Glaser Brothers. In 1972, Billboard named him its Country Producer of the Year. During the 1970s, MGM launched Marie Osmond (“Paper Roses”), Jim Stafford (“Spiders and Snakes”) and C.W. McCall (“Convoy”) and signed Eddy Arnold, Billy Walker and Jerry Wallace.
MGM Records was sold to PolyGram, which folded the imprint in 1976. Following a brief stint at 20th Century Records, Jim Vienneau joined Acuff-Rose Publishing in 1982. He worked with the firm’s writers Lorrie Morgan, Aaron Tippin and Kenny Chesney, all of whom later became recording stars. He was also involved with the company’s writers Buddy Brock and and Donny Kees.
Over the years, Vienneau produced such artists as Bob Luman, Charlie Walker, Roy Acuff, Melvin Endsley, Donna Fargo, Wayne Newton and Narvel Felts. He retired in 1998.
Jim Vienneau died at his Nashville home on Nov. 9. He is survived by his wife of 71 years, Joan Preston. He is also survived by daughters Nancy Neill, Carole Zeller and Barbara Green; son James; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A private ceremony will be held at the Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery. A celebration of life will be scheduled for a later date. Harpeth Hills Memory Garden & Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Tim McGraw Delivers ‘Downright Inspirational’ New Track - November 30, 2023
- Hit Producer & MGM Exec Jim Vienneau Dies At Age 97 - November 20, 2023
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Mickey Guyton Gives ‘A Thrilling Take’ On Tina Turner Hit - November 16, 2023