Ronald C. “Ronnie” Gant, the music publishing visionary who pitched the song “Elvira” to The Oak Ridge Boys, died Saturday (Jan. 4) at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville. He was 69.
The Nashville native and younger brother of singer and producer Don Gant worked for the Acuff-Rose music publishing company for 22 years, then moved on with the company for another three years after it became a part of the Opryland Music Group. While with Acuff-Rose and Opryland, he signed such writer-performers as Patty Loveless and Skip Ewing and the songwriting team of Mike Geiger and Woody Mullis.
Subsequently, Gant joined Japanese-owned HoriPro Music and eventually became the head of its Nashville operations. He briefly ran his own publishing firm, the R. Gant Music Group, one of whose copyrights was “Friends in Low Places.”
In his book American Journey: A Look Back Over 30 Years With the Oak Ridge Boys, the Oaks’ Joe Bonsall recalled how Gant helped launch the group’s spectacular career in country music:
“‘Elvira’ was the kind of music phenomenon that only comes around once in a great while, and it wasn’t even a new song. Dallas Frazier, who wrote it, had a marginal hit with it in the early ’60s, and it had been recorded by several acts, including Rodney Crowell and, ironically, Kenny Rogers & the First Edition.
“A song plugger for Acuff-Rose Music and a good friend of the Oaks named Ronnie Gant was in a bar in Texas and heard a house band sing the song when his wheels started to turn. Acuff-Rose published the song, and he thought of the Oaks immediately. The Boys had never cut anything like this, and he thought it could provide something a bit different.”
The song went No. 1 on the country and No. 5 on the pop chart and won the Oaks a Grammy for best country performance by a duo or group with vocal in 1981.
Gant is survived by his wife, Gale, daughter, Heather, and sons, Bret and Brian.
Visitation will be Saturday (Jan. 11) at Cole & Garrett Funeral Home in Goodlettsville, Tenn.