Former record label executive Richard “Rick” Blackburn died Friday (Nov. 30) at his home in Franklin, Tenn., at age 70.
Born Nov. 16, 1942, in Cincinnati, Blackburn entered the record business soon after graduating from college. After working in promotion and merchandising for various labels in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, he moved to Nashville in 1974 to become general manager of Monument Records.
However, it was as an executive at CBS Records, which he joined in 1976, that he had his greatest successes with rosters that included Johnny Cash, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Merle Haggard, Bobby Bare, Rosanne Cash, Exile, Ricky Skaggs, Ricky Van Shelton, Larry Gatlin and Janie Fricke. (Blackburn would later be vilified as the man who dropped Johnny Cash from the label, although, in truth, Cash was in the doldrums, chartwise, when Blackburn let him go in the mid-1980s.)
Following the sale of CBS Records to Sony in 1987, Blackburn formed a short-lived music publishing, management and production company. In 1989, he established Atlantic Records’ country division and was instrumental in launching or furthering the careers of Tracy Lawrence, John Michael Montgomery, Neal McCoy and Confederate Railroad.
He had been retired for several years at the time of his death.