Songwriting Great Harlan Howard Dead at 74

Harlan Howard, the “dean of Nashville songwriters” and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Sunday (March 3) at his home in Nashville.

Howard suffered from arthritis and heart trouble, but his death was unexpected, his widow Melanie Howard told the Associated Press. “It was sudden,” she said. “He had some health problems but continued to rock on. I guess God wanted him there to see Waylon [Jennings] and all of his other buddies.”

Howard’s many country and pop hits include “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Busted” and “Blame It on Your Heart” (see the link below for a fuller list). He was 74.

Howard was born in Detroit, lived in Los Angeles for a time and moved to Nashville in June 1960, after writing hits for Charlie Walker (“Pick Me Up on Your Way Down”) and Ray Price and Guy Mitchell (“Heartaches by the Number.”) He joined the staff of Pamper Music, a publishing company partly owned by Price, whose ranks included Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran.

“I am devastated by the loss of my friend and old writing partner,” Cochran said Monday in a statement. “He was the master of the country song. …This town and country music will never be the same. I love him and will never forget the times we had together.”

Howard had one Top 40 country hit as a singer, “Sunday Morning Christian,” on the Nugget label in 1971.

His favorite recording of one of his songs was Melba Montgomery’s “No Charge,” about a mother’s love for her son. “Worldwide, overall, that was probably the biggest hit I ever had,” Howard once said, “and it totally had to do with the family thing.”

In his later years, Howard remained active as a songwriter, writing hits for Pam Tillis (“Don’t Tell Me What to Do”) and Patty Loveless (“Blame It on Your Heart”), among others. He also opened doors on Music Row for new star Sara Evans. “Harlan was a great friend, a true inspiration and mentor,” Evans said. “His talents were immense — he was an amazing songwriter who not only contributed to country music but to music as a whole. I am so grateful that I got the chance to know and befriend him. I will truly miss him.”

Howard provided inspiration and encouragement to a new generation of songwriters –- “juveniles” he called them — who gathered to celebrate his birthday with the annual “Harlan Howard Birthday Bash from 1983-95.

“The greatest thing about him was his quickness to make friends, and the love he instantly felt for anyone he’d meet,” said Brad Paisley, who considers Howard to be “the single most important songwriter in the history of country music.”

Country Music Hall of Fame member Frances W. Preston, president and CEO of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), said Howard understood the spirit of creative collaboration. “[He] was willing to share his melodies and his words with other songwriters — those who were his contemporaries and those who came to ‘the master’ to learn the art,” she said in a statement. “He was generous with his gifts, and another generation of successful songwriters is grateful to him for showing them the way.”

“If you were a songwriter and you were working hard at it, that’s all it took to get his respect,” said songwriter Pat Alger, whose credits include “The Thunder Rolls” and “Unanswered Prayers.” “He had this great love of writers, and he loved to share his own view.”

Visitation will be held 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Tuesday (March 5) and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday (March 6) at Roesch-Patton-Austin-Bracey & Charlton Funeral Services in Nashville. Private funeral services for the family will be held Wednesday. A public memorial service is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. March 19 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Some of Harlan Howard’s best known songs.