Tandy Rice, a talent booker and manager instrumental in the careers of Dolly Parton, Tom T. Hall, Jim Ed Brown, comedian Jerry Clower and others, died Monday (Aug. 3) in Nashville of respiratory failure. He was 76.
Born Aug. 16, 1938 in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee, Tandy C. Rice Jr. graduated from the Citadel in 1961 and went on to serve as an information officer in the U.S. Air Force.
He brought some of his military background to the entertainment business when he returned to Nashville in 1963, always dressing sharply, being forceful as a salesman and negotiator and demanding punctuality and detailed record-keeping from his subordinates.
Rice began his career as a publicist and continued by persuading television stations to carry the syndicated country music shows then being produced by Show Biz Inc. Among these was The Porter Wagoner Show, which became a major vehicle for exposing new talent, most notably that of Dolly Parton.
He bought the Top Billing booking agency in 1971, which represented Parton. But the man who turned out to be one of Top Billing’s biggest clients — and a perfect counterpart to Rice — was a big, blustery former fertilizer salesman from Mississippi named Jerry Clower.
Rice groomed and promoted the flamboyant Clower into one of the most popular country comedians of all time. Clower became a major concert draw, a member of the Grand Ole Opry and sold hundreds of thousands of albums.
Others prominent on the Top Billing roster were Hall, Brown, Helen Cornelius and Jeannie C. Riley.
Seeing opportunities where others did not, Rice also helmed the short-lived careers of such pop culture oddities as Billy Carter (President Jimmy Carter’s feckless but colorful younger brother) and Cornelia Wallace (the former wife of Alabama’s segregationist governor, George Wallace).
Rice’s flair for the dramatic and relentless salesmanship earned him such sobriquets from the press as “the fastest mouth in the South” and “huckster extraordinaire.”
Later in his show business trajectory, Rice also became a local radio personality in Nashville, a driving force in the country music industry through his leadership in various trade organizations and a fundraiser for an array of worthy causes.