Legendary producer, songwriter, arranger and Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill
died in his home late Tuesday morning after a short illness. He was 78.
Mr. Sherrill's contributions to country music were numerous, and his impact on the genre was
immeasurable. He was a pioneer of the smooth "countrypolitan" sound and its lush, layered
musical arrangements that drew comparisons to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." Mr. Sherrill
worked with artists ranging from Ray Charles to Jim and Jesse to Elvis Costello, but he
is perhaps best known for producing hits such as Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man"
(which they co-wrote), Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors,"
Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It" and
George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today," considered by many to be the
greatest country song of all time.
"I loved his sense of humor. He was a funny, funny man, and very dry," said friend and collaborator
Norro Wilson (the two won the Best Country Song Grammy Award in 1975
for "A Very Special Love Song", recorded by Charlie Rich). "He was a very
intelligent person, a very sensitive fella, and as a personality, he could be considered understated.
He was on the quiet side, (but) he'd get rambunctious when he got into a song. He’d get excited."
Billy Norris Sherrill was born Nov. 5, 1936, in Phil Campbell, Ala. As a child, he took an
interest in music and often accompanied his evangelist father on the piano at revivals; the knowledge
of Scripture and the love of Southern Gospel he cultivated there remained with him for the rest of
In 1962 Mr. Sherrill moved to Nashville after being hired by Sun Records' Sam Phillips as
a producer-engineer. A year later, he began producing for Epic Records, where he worked with acts such as
the Staple Singers and bluegrass duo Jim and Jesse.
"Billy was a great help to us," says Jesse McReynolds. The duo worked with Mr. Sherrill at Epic
in the mid-1960s. He encouraged Jim and Jesse to push their musical boundaries, approaching them with
an armful of Chuck Berry records and the suggestion to transform those rock 'n' roll songs into
a bluegrass album, "Berry Pickin' in the Country."
In 1967 Mr. Sherrill also brought them the song "Diesel on My Tail," telling the duo that
if they recorded the song, it would be a hit, McReynolds remembers. It was one of their most popular
songs, and their only single to become a Top 20 hit on the country charts.
One of Mr. Sherrill's first major successes came in 1966 when David Houston's recording
of "Almost Persuaded," which Mr. Sherrill co-wrote with Glenn Sutton and
produced, spent nine weeks atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. It would go on to win
three Grammy Awards: Best Country and Western Song, Best Country and Western Recording and
Best Country and Western Vocal Performance: Male.
"Billy Sherrill’s productions had a voice of their own that were as distinctive as the singers
he worked with," said producer Buddy Cannon. "There’s never been another producer in country
music whose records have such an identity. ... I was in awe every time I was in his presence.
I’ll treasure every minute I ever got to be with him."
One of Mr. Sherrill's most notable partnerships was with Tammy Wynette. In 1966 he signed the
unknown singer to Epic Records and suggested she adopt "Tammy" as her stage name.
Though Wynette's debut, "Apartment #9," failed to crack the Top 40, her second
single, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," peaked at No. 3. From there Wynette strung together
a series of hits. More than three dozen of her Sherrill-produced, and frequently Sherrill-penned,
songs made the Top 10, and 20 topped the charts.
"Stand By Your Man," which they co-wrote, spent three weeks at No. 1, crossed over to
the pop charts and became a career-defining song for Wynette, who later entered the Country Music
Hall of Fame.
Mr. Sherrill also spent 19 years producing hits for George Jones, beginning with Jones' collaborations
with Wynette and including several of the Possum's now-classic songs such as "The Grand Tour,"
"Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Mr. Sherrill
reportedly had to convince Jones to record that song because the singer thought it was "too morbid."
"Billy Sherrill is a genius," the Hall of Famer told The Tennessean in 2008. "He knew how to put
these things together. He was behind so much of my success."
In 1980, Mr. Sherrill became vice president-executive producer at CBS' Nashville office. The following
year he produced "Almost Blue," a country covers album released by Elvis Costello.
Mr. Sherrill left five years later to work as an independent producer.
Mr. Sherrill has been inducted into three local Halls of Fame: the Nashville Songwriters
Hall of Fame in 1984, the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Country Music Hall of
Fame in 2010. At the time of his death, he had been in retirement for several years.
He leaves behind his wife of 54 years, Charlene; his daughter, Catherine Lale, and her husband, George;
and two grandchildren, Samantha and Matthew. Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.
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