Larry Butler: The only country record producer to win a Grammy

 

At the Grammy Awards ceremony in February 1980, the Producer of the Year was Larry Butler, who had beaten off Mike Chapman, Quincy Jones, Ted Templeman and Maurice White. It is the firstand only time that a Nashville country music producer has had this honour. Butler might have lacked the inventiveness of Quincy Jones but his success was well deserved as he had produced a succession of major hit records and done much to revitalise the music.

Larry Butler was born in Pensacola, Florida in 1942 and he made a guest appearance singing with the Harry James Orchestra when he was six years old. He performed with various country stars as they passed through the state, and in his teens he was hosting both radio and television shows. He played in a beat group, Jerry Woodard and the Esquires. They made a few local rock'n'roll singles like "Boat Of Love".

In 1963 Butler went to Nashville and was signed by Buddy Killen for his music publishing company, Tree International. He settled in but made his first impressions as a pianist playing on Bobby Goldsboro's million-selling "Honey" (1968) and Conway Twitty's "Hello Darlin'" (1970). He worked on the road as Goldsboro's pianist and bandleader.

The Gentrys, a pop band was produced by Chips Moman, had a US hit with "Keep On Dancing" in 1965. Moman wanted to expand their sound and Butler was recruited to play organ from 1968 until they folded in 1970. He and Moman wrote "(Hey, Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song", a US No 1 for BJ Thomas in 1975, which was also recorded by Billie Jo Spears, the Chipmunks and Sammy Davis Jr.

In 1969 Larry Butler produced his first hit single, a country hit, "Seven Lonely Days" for the veteran performer, Jean Shepard. He produced Johnny Cash notably for the albums A Thing Called Love (1972) including the million-selling title track, Any Old Wind That Blows (1973) and Gone Girl (1979). He worked with Cash on stage providing him with amusing piano variations for "I Walk The Line". In 1973 Butler was asked to take charge of United Artists' country music catalogue and he established Billie Jo Spears with "Blanket On The Ground" and "What I've Got In Mind".

Butler's most inspired moment was in realising the potential of a fading rock singer, Kenny Rogers, and having him sing country. He found the perfect story-songs for Rogers' well-worn voice and "Lucille" (1977), the story of a farmer cuckolded at crop time, topped the UK charts. An even more unlikely No 1 was "Coward Of The County" (1979), a revenge song about a gang rape. Another of their hits, "The Gambler" (1978), became a film with Rogers in the title role. Butler also teamed Rogers with Dottie West ("Every Time Two Fools Collide") and Kim Carnes ("Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer").

Butler produced albums by Charlie Rich, Mac Davis and Jerry Jeff Walker as well as the British artist, Raymond Froggatt, whose album, Southern Fried Frog (1978), was well up to Nashville standards. He made his own album, Larry Butler And Friends, in 1977. He produced several albums for Don McLean as well as his UK No 1, "Crying" (1980), with the Jordanaires.

The workload was, however, sofar-reaching that he turned to cocaine to get him through. The hits dropped away and he left the business in 1982 to recover. In 1984 Butler formed his own publishing and production company and had success with records for George Strait, Mickey Newbury and Dean Dillon.

He tired of the business, though,and sold the company to Michael Jackson's manager, Frank Dileo. In 1995 he formed the low-key Nashville Music Consultants where he agreed to see new artists on a one-to-one basis and offer them advice.

Larry Butler, songwriter and record producer: born Pensacola, Florida 26 March 1942; married (one daughter); died Pensacola 20 January 2012.

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