Dennis Linde

Songwriter for Elvis Presley


Dennis Linde, songwriter: born Abilene, Texas 18 March 1943; married Pam Beckham (one son, two daughters); died Nashville, Tennessee 22 December 2006.

With its chugging tempo, which owed a lot to the swamp rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tony Joe White, and "I'm just a hunk-a-hunk-a burnin' love" ad lib at the end, "Burning Love" - written and originally demoed by Dennis Linde - became one of the best songs in the Elvis Presley repertoire of the Seventies and a mainstay of his live set in the Aloha from Hawaii period.

"Burning Love" was first released commercially, along with three other Linde compositions, by Arthur Alexander on the eponymous album the country-soul pioneer made for Warner Brothers in Memphis in late 1971. Alexander and Linde had both become staff writers at Combine Music, joining the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan and Wanda Jackson on the books of the Nashville-based publishing company.

Alexander's version of "Burning Love" was quickly eclipsed by Presley's, which made the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic and narrowly missed the No 1 spot in the United States in October 1972.

Linde had already issued a solo album, Linde Manor, on the Mercury subsidiary Intrepid in 1970, and parlayed his success as a songwriter into a new deal with Elektra (Dennis Linde, 1973) and then Asylum (Trapped in the Suburbs, 1974), though his most critically acclaimed release was Under the Eye for Monument (1977).

However, though his well-crafted, vivid lyrics and uptempo material also worked in the blues, pop and rock idioms (as demonstrated by the Top Ten hit Shakin' Stevens scored in the UK in 1984 with the Linde composition "A Letter to You"), he was best known for the hit songs he wrote for country stars such as Roger Miller ("Tom Green County Fair", 1970), Don Williams ("Walkin' a Broken Heart", 1985, co-written with Alan Rush; "Then It's Love", 1987), Garth Brooks ("Callin' Baton Rouge", 1993), the Dixie Chicks ("Goodbye Earl", 1999) and Alan Jackson ("The Talkin' Song Repair Blues", 2005).

Something of a recluse, Linde was tagged "Nashville's best-kept songwriting secret" and hardly ever attended any show-business ceremonies though he made a rare public appearance in 2001 when he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside the Everly Brothers, one of the many acts he had worked with over the years.

Born in Abilene, Texas, Linde (pronounced LIN-dee) grew up in San Angelo, Texas, Miami and St Louis and was given a $14 guitar by his grandmother in his teens. He quickly worked out the basic chords he needed to play the standards of the day. In the Sixties, he combined a day-job delivering dry-cleaning with gigs with the cover bands the Starlighters and Bob Kuban and the In-Men, until he lost his driving licence for six months after collecting too many speeding tickets. "How much time can you kill when you can't drive around? So I started writing songs," he recalled.

Drawing on the influence of writers such as Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger and John Steinbeck, composers such as George Gershwin and Cole Porter and the rock'n'rollers Little Richard and Fats Domino, Linde developed the quirky, idiosyncratic, individual style which would lead him to write colourful hits such as "Bubba Shot the Jukebox" and "It Sure is Monday" for the country singer Mark Chesnutt, and "Queen of My Double Wide Trailer" for Sammy Kershaw, another country star, in the early Nineties.

In 1969, Linde moved to Nashville and came to the attention of Bob Beckham, who was at the time running Combine Music. He joined the publishing company and placed "Long Long Texas Road", his first major country hit, with Roy Drusky the following year. Linde found his niche at Combine, and flourished alongside writers and artists like Mickey Newbury and Dolly Parton. He married Beckham's daughter and greatly increased the profitability of the company through the worldwide success of "Burning Love".

Presley recorded two more Linde compositions - "For the Heart" and "I Got a Feelin' in My Body" - and the songwriter did some guitar overdubs on three tracks the King cut during sessions at the Stax studio in Memphis in 1973.

Though Linde would set himself challenges like writing a series of songs starting with each letter of the alphabet - which explains why his catalogue includes puzzling titles like "X Marks the Spot" and "Zoot Suit Baby" - his outlook and approach remained unpretentious. "If you can last through the down spells and don't get wiped out by the up spells, you can stay there. And that's what I want to do," he said.

Pierre Perrone

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