Pop And Country Great Olivia Newton-John Passes

Olivia Newton-John. Photo: Michelle Day

Grammy and CMA award winning Olivia Newton-John has died at age 73, following a long struggle with cancer.

Husband John Easterling announced her passing on social media yesterday. She died at her Southern California ranch on Monday, August 8.

Olivia Newton-John had seven top-10 country hits, including “Let Me Be There” (1973) and “I Honestly Love You” (1974). Newton-John was the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974. Her pop smash “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (1978) was drawn from the soundtrack of her much-loved movie musical Grease. “Physical” was No. 1 on the pop hit parade for 10 straight weeks in 1981. She has sold more than 50 million records worldwide.

Olivia Newton-John was born in England in 1948, but her family moved to Melbourne, Australia when she was five. Her parents divorced four years later, and she was raised by her mother. At age 14, she began singing with three female friends in folk and jazz clubs. A year later, her older sister got her a job on a local TV show.

This led to winning a national talent contest. The prize included passage to London and a recording contract. Her debut pop single appeared in 1966. In England, she formed the duo Pat & Olivia with singer Pat Carroll. When Newton-john returned to solo singing, Carroll’s husband John Farrar became her producer.

Her early singles included versions of the American folk song “Banks of the Ohio” and Bob Dylan’s country tune, “If Not for You.” The latter became the title tune of her debut LP in 1971. The record also included versions of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

Executives at her record label decided to market her as a country singer. “Let Me Be There” hit the country top-10 in 1973, became a Gold Record and earned her a country-music Grammy Award. She followed it with the Gold-selling, back-to-back, top-10 country smashes “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” and “I Honestly Love You” in 1974. The latter won the Grammy as Record of the Year, plus a pop Grammy. She was named the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.

This created controversy in Nashville. Johnny Paycheck, Billy Walker, Jean Shepard, Bill Anderson, Barbara Mandrell and others objected to Newton-John, John Denver, Marie Osmond, Bonnie Tyler, Pia Zadora and other pop acts being embraced by country radio. Newton-John confessed that when she was told she was being marketed as “country,” she had no idea what that meant.

When the CMA voters chose her over Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker, the pot boiled over. Dissidents formed an anti-CMA organization called the Association of Country Entertainers (ACE) in protest.

“Have You Never Been Mellow” became another Gold Record country smash for the singer in 1975. Olivia Newton-John moved to the U.S. in 1976 and successfully courted Nashville when she recorded in Music City. The totally countrified “Please Mr. Please” became another Gold Record, and she recorded the works of such Nashville songwriters as Mickey Newbury, Dolly Parton, Rory Bourke and Bob Morrison. She also began to write songs, herself.

In 1976, she took Linda Hargrove’s “Let It Shine” into the country top-10. “Every Face Tells a Story” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” also became country hits that year. The latter became the title of her first Nashville-recorded album, as well as her 2018 autobiography.

She was 29 when she was reluctantly cast as teenager “Sandy” in the 1978 movie Grease. It became the most successful movie musical of all time. “You’re the One That I Want” was a duet with costar John Travolta that earned a Platinum pop record. The soundtrack’s ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You” went Gold and became her last significant country-crossover hit.

She received the prestigious Order of the British Empire in 1979. Thus, she became Dame Olivia Newton-john.

The pop hits “Magic,” “Xanadu” (with the Electric Light Orchestra) and “Suddenly” (with Cliff Richard) emerged from the soundtrack of her 1980 film Xanadu. A year later, the Platinum-selling “Physical” became an aerobics-class staple and the biggest pop smash of her career. Olivia Newton-John’s other pop hits of the 1980s included “Make a Move on Me” (1982), “Heart Attack” (1982), “Twist of Fate” (1983) and “Soul Kiss” (1985). Elton John produced and co-wrote her 1988 single “The Rumour.”

By this time, she had racked up multiple accolades from the American Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music, ASCAP, NARM, the People’s Choice Awards, Billboard, Cashbox and Record World. She became a global touring attraction. Eight of her album earned Gold and/or Platinum certificates. She earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1983-92, she and Pat Carroll Farrar operated Koala Blue, a boutique chain selling Australian clothing and other products. She wed actor Matt Lattanzi in late 1984, and they had daughter Chloe in 1986. The couple divorced amicably in 1995.

The star’s commitment to animal welfare and ecological responsibility resulted in her 1990 appointment as the goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environmental Program. Her 1989 LP Warm and Tender contained lullabies inspired by her daughter. The record was packaged in recycled cardboard and contained tips on how to help the environment.

Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. After successful chemo, alternative medicine, a partial mastectomy and spirituality, she became a tireless advocate for breast-cancer awareness. She founded a women’s cancer center in Australia. In 1994, she released the album Gaia: One Woman’s Journey, which chronicled her ordeal.

She resumed recording country music in Nashville in 1997. She co-wrote with Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Annie Roboff, Chris Farren, Steve Seskin and other Music Row tunesmiths. Her resulting Back With a Heart CD was released the following year. The album’s “Love Is a Gift” won Newton-John a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Song after it was featured on the soap As the World Turns.

She teamed with Shaw, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Bryan White, Billy Dean, Neal McCoy and Michael McDonald on 1998’s “One Heart at a Time.” The record was a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Tis the Season, a Christmas album with Vince Gill, was marketed by Hallmark in 2000. Her 2006 album Grace and Gratitude coincided with the marketing of her line of women’s wellness products, both by Walgreen’s. In 2008 she wed businessman John Easterling via an Inca ceremony in Peru.

Her cancer returned in 2013, but she again persevered. In 2016, she teamed up in a female trio with Nashville’s Beth Nielsen Chapman and Canada’s Amy Sky. The album was titled Liv On. All three singer-songwriters were breast-cancer survivors. Newton-John returned to Music City to sing for Chapman at the latter’s 2016 induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed again in 2018, and this time she found that the cancer had metastasized to her back. She withdrew from performing and sought alternative forms of treatment. She advocated cannabis therapy; her daughter established a marijuana farm in Oregon.

In addition to her husband, Olivia Newton-john is survived by daughter Chloe Lattanzi, sister Sarah, brother Toby and 15 nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Beloved Music Industry Veteran Ed Hardy Passes

Ed Hardy

Music industry veteran Ed Hardy, who served as President of Great American Country (GAC) for eight years, died on Sunday (July 31). He was 73.

Hardy was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Edward B. and Rita M. Hardy. He studied communications and journalism at Kent State University and spent 20 years as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he attained the rank of Major.

Hardy started his career working at local radio stations throughout Ohio. He spent much of the mid-’90s building Deschutes River Broadcasting from a single AM/FM radio in Tri-Cities, Washington, to a collection of 19 stations, operating in markets across the Pacific northwest. When he sold his radio group, it led to the growth of Citadel Radio.

In 2000, Hardy became president of MeasureCast, the internet-streaming broadcast audience measurement company. He was also a consultant to MediaBlue/Nox Solutions, the top provider of web design, hosting and fulfillment products for nationally syndicated and network radio talk show hosts.

Hardy became President of GAC in 2004 when Scripps Networks acquired the network. In his eight years with GAC, he led the network through a move to Nashville and oversaw a complete brand transformation. He announced his retirement in 2012.

Pictured (L-R): Troy Tomlinson, Sarah Trahern, Ed Hardy. Photo: Courtesy of the CMA

Hardy was a very involved Music Row executive. He served on the CMA Board of Directors from 2005 to 2017 and the CMA Foundation Board from 2014 to 2021. Hardy also acted as CMA’s interim CEO in 2013, as well as president of the Board of Directors at W.O Smith Community Music School in Nashville. He also found time to spend five years as a reserve police officer.

Hardy was the current Chairman of Music City Inc. (the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp Foundation Board). He was also active with Operation Song, which connects his military experience with his passion for music.

He received the CMA Chairman’s Award in 2013 for his outstanding service to the organization. In 2014, he was given the President’s Award from the Country Radio Hall of Fame.

Ed Hardy is survived by his wife Kim Susan Hardy; daughter Stephanie (Hardy) Kasbrick and son-in-law Jacob Kasbrick; grandchildren Emmie Jeanne and Bear Weller; and cousins Patrick M. Hardy, Thomas A. Hardy, Catherine A. Hardy and John J. Hardy.

Of Hardy’s death, CMA CEO Sarah Trahern shares, “They certainly broke the mold with Ed Hardy, and I am greatly saddened by his loss. One of my favorite memories working with Ed was when he led a coalition of us, including GAC and Scripps Networks, the NCVC and the Opry to host a nationwide telethon to help Nashville recover from the devastating 2010 floods. Thanks to his dedication, passion and refusal to take no for an answer, he made it happen and raised millions in relief. With a relentless competitive spirit, Ed aimed high and challenged those around him to do the same. He was fiercely loyal to friends, old and new, and carried an unwavering love of country music. My deepest condolences go out to his friends and family during this difficult time.”

Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp CEO Butch Spyridon shares, “Ed Hardy served this organization in so many ways–first as a broadcast partner, then a sponsor, then a board member and then chairing both the NCVC board of directors and the board of our foundation. Through that, we developed a deep friendship that transcended work. It is very unusual to have a boss, mentor and friend all at the same time. He leaves a huge void and will be missed.”

More details to come regarding a celebration of Hardy’s life to be held at the W.O. Smith School of Music.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor can be made to W.O. Smith School, Daniel’s Center at MTSU, and Operation Song.

Services This Weekend For Nashville Sax Great, Walter Riley King

Walter Riley King

Funeral and burial services will be held Saturday (July 30) for Nashville saxophonist Walter Riley King. He died on July 19 at age 71.

The musician toured with blues great B.B. King for more than 35 years and created arrangements for the superstar’s band. He recorded with country stars Roy Clark, Mac Davis and The Oak Ridge Boys, as well as with Etta James, Eric Clapton, Albert King, Z.Z. Hill, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Ocean, Hot, Joe Tex, Denise LaSalle and others.

Walter Riley King was born in Mississippi and raised near Memphis as the eldest of 19 children. He came to Nashville to attend Tennessee State University, where he performed in “The Aristocrat of Marching Bands” for three years.

Following graduation, he became a music educator working with the bands at Goodlettsville High School and Pearl High. He also entertained in the Nashville R&B groups The Tyrone Smith Revue and the Jimmy Church Band, among others.

In addition to B.B. King, he went on to perform with The Temptations, The Dells, Hot, Gladys Knight, Dr. John, U2, Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, The Muscle Shoals Horns and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

In the studio, he worked with such top-ranked producers as Quincy Jones, Phil Ramone, Glen Frey, Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett.

Walter Riley King was a longtime resident of Omaha and served as guest conductor of the Omaha Youth Symphony. He was also a songwriter, actor, flutist and black-belt Karate master.

He is survived by partner Brenda King and by sons Christopher King, Brandon King and Walter Burns, as well as by six grandchildren and 12 siblings.

There will be a viewing today (July 29) at Highland Hills Funeral Home, 2422 Brick Church Pike. Visitation will be tomorrow (July 30) from noon to 1 p.m. with the funeral service to follow at Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, 2416 Clifton Ave. The interment will be at Greenwood North Cemetery.

Memorial Set For Singer / Philanthropist Saundra Steele

A celebration of the life of Nashville singer Saundra Steele will be held on Friday (July 29) at the Belle Meade Country Club.

Steele died on May 30 at age 72 following a battle with ovarian cancer. She was noted as a major-label recording artist, a touring backup vocalist, a prolific demo singer, a Nashville nightclub headliner, an avant-garde art patron, a philanthropist and a designer.

Born Saundra Joyce Rucker in 1949, she was a child and teen entertainer in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic states at fairs and festivals. She became a three-time “Star of Tomorrow” winner on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier and performed on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour on CBS-TV.

She moved to Music City in 1967 at age 18. During the 1970s and 1980s, Steele recorded as a pop and/or country vocalist for the labels Royal American, Monument, United Artists and EMI. Her one prominent album was Saundra Steele, released on UA in 1980.

She married prominent Nashville businessman William Alexander Steele III in 1975. They became stewards of “Owl’s Hill,” a Williamson County modern-architecture mansion, grounds and nature sanctuary.

In the music business, Saundra Steele toured as a backup singer for George Jones, Johnny Rodriguez, Ronnie Milsap, Johnny Tillotson, Boots Randolph and the Stamps Quartet. She also became a Music Row demo singer.

She worked in the studio with Garth Fundis, Ralph Murphy, Allen Reynolds, Roger Cook, Bobby Wood and her longtime musical partner, steel guitarist Lloyd Green. As an entertainer, Steele developed local popularity as a performer in such Printers Alley nightspots as the Western Room and Carousel.

Coinciding with her residency at Owl’s Hill, she became a collector of avant-garde artwork. She designed decor for the Symphony Ball, co-chaired the inaugural Opera Gala at the War Memorial and worked on the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon.

Saundra Steele is survived by her daughters Britt Genevieve and Olivia Ruth Steele, by her granddaughter and by three siblings.

Her ashes will be interred alongside her husband in the Steele family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Franklin, as well as in the Rucker family plot in Webbville, Kentucky. In lieu of flowers, donations to Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary, 545 Beech Creek Road South, Brentwood, 37027; Cheekwood, 1200 Forrest Park Drive, Nashville, 37205; and, Alive Hospice, 1718 Patterson Street, Nashville, 37203 are welcome.

“All who loved her are invited to join and share a Saundra story!” is the invitation to Friday’s event. Billed as “a celebration of her whimsical and and extraordinary life,” it will be held on Friday, 3:00pm to 6:00pm at the Belle Meade Country Club.

Iconic Mastering Engineer Glenn Meadows Passes

Glenn Meadows

Music Row’s most renowned and respected mastering engineer passed away on Thursday (July 7).

Glenn Meadows died in Nashville at age 68, following a brief illness.

During his career, Meadows worked on thousands of hit records — from Randy Travis to Taylor Swift, from Steely Dan to Merle Haggard. He earned two Grammy Awards.

A Tennessee native, Meadows was an industrial engineering graduate of Georgia Tech who started his career at The Sound Pit in Atlanta.

Based in Music City since 1975, he ran Masterfonics beginning in 1989. In 2011, he joined Mayfield Mastering.

Over a 40+ year career, Meadows mastered the albums of Jimmy Buffett, Shania Twain, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Dan Fogelberg, England Dan & John Ford Coley, LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire and hundreds of others.

During the vinyl era, he was a lacquer cutting engineer who signed his work with Glenn, Glen, GAM or GM etched in the runout area of the disc.

In 2019, the Nashville chapter of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) honored Glenn Meadows with the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award for excellence in Mastering Engineering. The honor took place at an awards ceremony held at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum.

Funeral arrangement have not been announced.

Beloved Producer/Engineer Bil VornDick Passes

Bil VornDick

Music Row veteran Bil VornDick died on Tuesday (July 5) at age 72, less than a week after he’d been diagnosed with cancer.

He was a producer/engineer who was renowned for his recording-studio skills, particularly in folk, bluegrass, Americana and acoustic-music circles. VornDick worked on albums that earned more than 40 Grammy nominations and nine wins.

His clients included Alison Krauss, Doc Watson and Charlie McCoy. He had served two terms as the chairman of the Nashville chapter of Audio Engineering Society (AES).

Born William Thomas VornDick, he was raised in northern Virginia. While still a student and playing guitar in rock bands there, he sold some songs to Cedarwood Publishing on Music Row. Chet Atkins urged him to move to Nashville and helped him enroll in Belmont University.

In 1979, he became an early graduate of Belmont’s music-business program. Country superstar Marty Robbins heard him working on demos for Loretta Lynn’s publishing company and hired him as his studio’s chief engineer.

VornDick subsequently became the chief engineer at Stargem Studio, the founder of The Music Shop and the owner of Music Row Audio and Mountainside Music Group Productions.

He became particularly associated with the “new acoustic music” genre that emerged in the 1980s. He worked with Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Craig Duncan, Alison Brown, Mark O’Connor, Vassar Clements, Edgar Meyer and David Grier, among others.

Following his Grammy-winning work with Alison Krauss, he worked with a bluegrass who’s-who, including Peter Rowan, The Dillards, The Country Gentlemen, New Grass Revival, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Del McCoury, Doyle Lawson, Claire Lynch, Rhonda Vincent, The Earls of Leicester, Dan Tyminski, Laurie Lewis, Larry Cordle, The New Coon Creek Girls and IIIrd Tyme Out.

He also had credits with mainstream Nashville country artists. VornDick worked on records by Lynn Anderson, Trace Adkins, Jo-El Sonnier, Janie Fricke, Marty Stuart, Gene Watson, Asleep at the Wheel, Jimmy C. Newman and Sweethearts of the Rodeo, in addition to Robbins.

Bil VornDick was an active participant in the Nashville music community. He did advisory and/or instructional work for MTSU, Belmont, Folk Alliance, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), the Recording Academy, MerleFest, Telluride, South Plains College, AES, Kerrville Folk Festival, Vol State and more.

He campaigned to save RCA Studio A from demolition, promoted popularity charts for roots music and championed health insurance for music people.

In recent years, he became widely admired in the Americana field. That genre’s Jim Lauderdale, Maura O’Connell, T-Bone Burnett, Jesse Winchester, The Fairfield Four, John McEuen, Leon Redbone, Robert Earl Keen, Webb Wilder, Robin & Linda Williams, Hazel Dickens and Charlie Haden all worked with him.

In 1998, he produced the epic Clinch Mountain Country, a 36-song tribute that featured legendary Ralph Stanley dueting with Bob Dylan, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, Porter Wagoner, Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith, the Kentucky HeadHunters, Diamond Rio, Joe Diffie, George Jones, Vern Gosdin, John Anderson, Hal Ketchum, Gillian Welch, BR549, Junior Brown and more. It was named Rolling Stone’s Top Country Album of the Year, got nominated for a Grammy and earned two trophies from the IBMA.

Bil VornDick was cherished for his personality as well as his studio skills. He was invariably kind, wise, welcoming, gentle and generous.

Yesterday, social media was alive with praise from folks who’d known him or worked with him. Among the hundreds posting tributes were O’Connor, Andrea Zonn, Mike Bub, Garth Shaw, Alison Auerbach, Steve Marcantonio, Yarn, Sharon Corbitt, Wally Wilson, Wanda Vick, Marcy Marxer, Tim McFadden, Louisa Branscomb, Steve Betts, Michael Snow and Rodney Dillard.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Memorial Set For Flora-Bama Legend Joe Gilchrist

Joe Gilchrist

The iconic Flora-Bama nightclub on the Gulf Coast will host a Celebration of Life on Sunday (June 26) to honor the legacy of its longtime owner, Joe Gilchrist.

The venue’s godfather passed away on May 25 at age 80. The Flora-Bama has long been a mecca for the Nashville songwriting community. Gilchrist founded the annual Frank Brown International Songwriting Festival at the venue, and it has endured for nearly 40 years.

Gilchrist and the Flora-Bama were the subjects of the documentary film Stories in Rhyme: The Songwriters of the Flora-Bama Lounge. The movie had its premiere at BMI on Music Row in 2019.

“There didn’t seem to be any separation between how Joe ran his business and how he lived his life,” says Mullet Wrapper newspaper editor Fran Thompson. “He was always about community service and being fair to everybody….What made Joe different from the beginning was not his willingness to lose money by paying musicians on slow nights. He was different because he encouraged them to play their own songs.”

Adds Stories in Rhyme director Lynn Raybren, “Joe built a legacy and culture around treating others with kindness and respect….His love of songwriters and music would earn him the title ‘Patron Saint of Songwriters.’”

Regulars at the Flora-Bama have included Jimmy Buffett, John Prine, Dean Dillon, Jimmy Hall, Gove, Larry Jon Wilson, Alan Rhody, Red Lane, Hank Cochran, Gatemouth Brown, Wet Willie and Billy Joe Shaver. Gilchrist often ended the evening by buying a last-call round of drinks for the house.

Kenny Chesney staged his Flora-Bama Jama national TV special there in 2014. It attracted more than 40,000 fans to the venue’s beach.

Joe Gilchrist bought the Flora-Bama from his childhood friends Bubba and Connie Tampary in 1978. Officially named The Flora-Bama Lounge & Package, it is located on the stretch of beach on the Gulf border between Alabama and Florida.

In the early days, he borrowed money to get his employees through the winter. The club’s Friday-afternoon Happy Hour crowd grew when Gilchrist made it a popular place for construction crews to cash payroll checks. He also ran shuttles for sailors to and from the area’s nearby Naval stations.

Ken Lambert became the Flora-Bama’s first musician. Darrell Roberts, Jimmy Lewis, Rock Killough and others soon followed. Killough invited his Music Row songwriting buddies to the club.

This led to the founding of the Frank Brown International Songwriting Festival in 1984. Gilchrist named it after his club’s doorman. A who’s-who of Nashville songwriting has performed there. Tanya Tucker, Jim McBride, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band members, John Rich, Midland and other contemporary figures have appeared in recent years.

Gilchrist and the Flora-Bama have long been noted for community involvement, hosting everything from weekly religious services to military-appreciation galas. Proceeds from the festival go to local music education.

Today, the Flora-Bama is surrounded by high-rise condominiums, but much like The Station Inn in Nashville, it continues to be an island of rootsy authenticity. The club is still noted for hundreds of bras hanging from the ceiling of one room, its tent for Sunday-morning services and its annual “Mullet Toss” on its beach. Gilchrist served on the board of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade.

The Joe Gilchrist Celebration of Life will take place on Sunday at the Flora-Bama tent stage from 2-6 p.m. The event will continue with music in the main room from 6-10 p.m. and with a full day of music in the main room on Monday, 2-10 p.m. As always at the legendary, laid-back Flora-Bama, the vibe will be informal.

Andy Haynes, the director of the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, reports that he is pursuing some kind of recognition in Nashville for the widely loved entrepreneur.

Country Radio Hall Of Famer ‘Eddie Edwards’ Drennan Passes Away

Country Radio Hall of Fame personality and programmer “Eddie Edwards” Drennan passed away on Sunday (June 19) at the age of 75.

A San Diego native, Drennan was introduced to radio through his father, who performed in bands on radio shows throughout the West Coast. His first radio job was in Barstow, California, which led him to career stops at XEPRS-AM in San Diego, WMC-AM in Memphis, WSIX in Nashville, KLAC-AM in Los Angeles, KAJA in San Antonio and KEBC in Oklahoma City.

Drennan spent 25 years as Program Director at WNOE in New Orleans. He exited the station in 2017 and had since been covering mornings at WUUU in Covington, Louisiana—a station that reports to the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart.

Drennan was named the ACM Personality of the Year in 1986 as well as the CMA Medium Market Personality of the Year in 1987. He was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2013.

No memorial arrangements have been announced at this time.

Music Row A&R Veteran Al Cooley Passes

Longtime Nashville music executive Al Cooley died on Thursday (June 9) at age 76.

He is perhaps best known for his tenure at Combine Music, the publishing home of such Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members as Dennis Linde, Kris Kristofferson, John Scott Sherrill, Bob DiPiero, Larry Gatlin and Bob Morrison, among others.

Cooley was also an authority on the career of Elvis Presley and had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular-music history, particularly Nashville’s. He was one of Music Row’s great characters and an intense music enthusiast. These qualities made him successful.

“He was the classic picture of a song plugger,” recalls former Combine writer Woody Bomar. “When he believed in a song he was relentless until he got it from the writer’s room to the radio.”

Born Al Bianculli, he was raised in the Bronx and retained a strong New York accent throughout his Music Row career. He first came to Nashville as a music journalist. Cooley was the editor of Zoo World: The Music Megapaper. Published in 1972-75, the bi-weekly periodical was designed as a competitor to Rolling Stone. He profiled the “Nashville underground” in a 1973 edition of Zoo World. In 1975, he wrote liner notes for Billy Swan’s album Rock ’N’ Roll Moon.

His outgoing personality appealed to the industry leaders on Music Row. He was hired by Combine in 1976, and became its widely liked song plugger. He advanced at the publishing company throughout his decade there. The staff songwriters included Bomar, Swan, Thomas Cain, Tony Joe White, Pat McManus, Debbie Hupp, Patti Ryan, Mark Germino and Tim Krekel, as well as the Hall of Famers listed above. Cain became a BMI executive. Bomar now runs Green Hills Music.

Among Al Cooley’s many accomplishments was giving future star Kathy Mattea her first recording sessions by hiring her as a Combine demo singer. In 1981, he helped David Ross launch MusicRow magazine as the periodical’s first columnist. He remained at Combine until 1986, when it was sold to SBK Entertainment (the catalog now resides at EMI).

Cooley also had stints at the MTM Music Group and at MCA Music Publishing. In 1991, he became the A&R Director at Atlantic Nashville Records. The company succeeded with Tracy Lawrence, Neal McCoy, Confederate Railroad, Robin Lee and John Michael Montgomery. He became vice president at the label in 1994.

In 2004, Cooley was named Manager of Koch Nashville’s publishing division. Koch/Audium was associated with such artists as Robert Earl Keen, Dean Miller, Gene Watson, The Tractors, Daryle Singletary, Dwight Yoakam, David Lee Murphy and John Anderson.

Cooley retired, but continued to be involved in the music business as a repertoire consultant for Tracy Lawrence and other acts.

In recent years, Al Cooley had been battling cancer. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

‘Lucille’ Songwriter Hal Bynum Passes

Hal Bynum. Photo: Dennis Wile / Warner Bros. Records

Award-winning Nashville songwriter Hal Bynum died June 2 at age 87.

He is best-known as the co-writer of the Kenny Rogers mega-hit “Lucille,” with collaborator Roger Bowling (1944-1982). Bynum was also a spoken-word recording artist and performer.

Harold Lynn Bynum was born in West Texas in 1934 and attended Texas Tech in Lubbock. He served in the U.S. Navy and began writing country songs as a young man. His first recorded song was “I’m Hot to Trot,” recorded by Terry Fell in 1953. George Jones recorded Bynum’s “The Old, Old House” in 1963, and the songwriter moved to Nashville five years later. “The Old, Old House” subsequently became a bluegrass favorite recorded by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, Peter Rowan, Country Gazette, IIIrd Tyme Out and Marty Stuart.

Country superstar Jim Reeves recorded Bynum’s “Nobody’s Fool” shortly before he died in 1964, and the song became a posthumous top-10 success for Reeves in 1970. The songwriter’s other notable event in 1970 came when Ray Price recorded “You Can’t Take It With You.” This song was also recorded by Wynn Stewart, Johnny Bush, Clinton Gregory and Kenny Price.

Johnny Cash recorded Bynum’s “Papa Was a Good Man” the following year, and it became a top-20 hit. In 1973, Jeanne Pruett recorded “I’ve Been So Wrong For So Long,” and a year later Diahann Carroll introduced “Easy to Love,” which was covered by Tom Jones.

During his career, Bynum wrote more than 200 songs. They were recorded by artists such as Merle Haggard, Ernest Tubb, Jimmy Dickens, Curtis Potter, T.G. Sheppard, Dave & Sugar, Charlie Rich, Diana Trask, Cal Smith, John Anderson and Roy Clark.

His songwriting career struck gold with “Lucille.” The song turned Kenny Rogers into a pop and country superstar, won him a Grammy, sold a million, became a country standard and earned Bynum and Bowling the CMA Song of the Year award for 1977.

This success was followed by “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang,” co-written with Dave Kirby. It rose to the top of the charts in a duet by Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash in late 1978.

Bynum co-wrote 1987’s “As If I Didn’t Know” with Mel Tillis, and it was recorded by Suzy Bogguss, as well as Lee Greenwood. One of the songwriter’s most frequent collaborators was Bud Reneau, with whom he wrote “Chains.” It topped the charts for Patty Loveless in 1990.

In the late 1990s, Hal Bynum began a second career as a spoken-word recording artist. Jim Ed Norman produced Bynum’s philosophical If I Could Do Anything (1998) on Warner Bros. Records. Bynum followed that with two more albums on his own label, The Promise (2002) and An American Prayer (2004). The Promise was also the title of his 2002 autobiography.

Hal Bynum passed away peacefully after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s and a final stroke. He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Rebecca Jan Bynum; his sons, Scott Thomas Bynum of Farmington, New Mexico and Christopher David Bynum of Brooklyn, New York and by two grandchildren and two nieces.

The family will gather at his home in Nashville to celebrate his life at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Urantia Fellowship in his name.