Max D. Barnes, the co-writer of such hits as “Chiseled in Stone,” “Look at Us” and “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” died early Sunday (Jan. 11) of pneumonia at Baptist Hospital in Nashville. He was 67.
During his nearly 40 years as a professional writer, Barnes saw his songs recorded by George Jones, Vince Gill, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, the Kendalls, Randy Travis, Pam Tillis, Keith Whitley, Waylon Jennings, John Anderson and Eddy Raven, among others. His son is songwriter and producer Max. T. Barnes, with whom he wrote Gosdin’s 1983 hit, “Way Down Deep.”
Max Duane Barnes was born July 24, 1936, in Hardscratch, Iowa. When he was still young, his family moved to Nebraska. He began learning to play guitar when he was 11. At 16, he left school and began singing in an Omaha nightclub. After that, he formed his own band, the Golden Rockets, whose lead singer soon became his wife, Patsy. While cultivating his musical skills, Barnes supported his family as a truck driver, lathe operator, carpenter, deckhand, bartender, carnival worker, car salesman and foreman of a lamp factory.
“Country music is for ordinary people,” he said after he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1992. “That’s what I am, and I don’t ever want to get above that. I try to trim every excess word. A song is like a mini-drama.”
In 1966, Barnes scored his first songwriting success when Tree Music published his “Uncanny Connie From Calgary.” He came to Nashville in 1971 and made his first recording. The self-penned song, “Ribbons of Steel,” was released on Jed Records but did not chart. Two years later, Barnes moved to Nashville. His composing career got its first big boost in 1974 when Charley Pride recorded two of his songs.
Barnes first son, Duane, was killed in an auto accident in 1975. The tragedy inspired the song “Chiseled in Stone,” which became a Top 10 hit for Gosdin in 1988 and next year won the Country Music Association’s song of the year prize. In accepting the award at the CMA ceremonies, Barnes dedicated it to Duane. Working hard to establish himself as a recording artist, Barnes managed to chart six singles on the Polydor and Ovation labels between 1977 and 1981. None, however, made it into the Top 50.
In 1979, Conway Twitty delivered Barnes his first No. 1 song with the recording of “Don’t Take It Away.” Among the hits that followed were “I Can’t Love You Enough” (for Lynn and Twitty), “Red Neckin’ Love Makin’ Night” (Twitty), “Thank God for the Radio” (the Kendalls), “Joe Knows How to Live” (Raven), “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” (Jones), “I Won’t Need You Anymore” and “If I Didn’t Have You” (Travis), “Look at Us” (Gill), “Don’t Tell Me What to Do” (Tillis) and “I’ve Got It Made” (Anderson). Several of Gosdin’s most successful singles came from Barnes’ pen. Besides the two cited above, there was also “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right)” and “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.”
In 1992, Barnes won his second CMA song of the year trophy with “Look at Us,” a tribute to enduring love he co-wrote with Gill. At the time of his death, Barnes’ catalog of songs numbered over 500.
Barnes is survived by his wife, Patsy, daughter, Genevieve Kephart, and son, Max Troy. Visitation hours are from 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 14) at the Hendersonville (Tenn.) Memory Gardens Funeral Home. Funeral services will be held Thursday at 11 a. m. at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Hendersonville. Burial will be in the Hendersonville Memory Gardens.