Producer and songwriter Billy Sherrill, whose hits for Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, David Houston and others earned him niches in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, died Tuesday morning (Aug. 4) in Nashville at the age of 78.
Born Nov. 5, 1936 in Phil Campbell, Alabama, the son of a preacher, Sherrill was playing the piano and singing in public by the age of 5 and touring with his family soon after. Proficient on six instruments, his specialties were piano and saxophone. After high school, he played in a string of rock and R&B bands. He moved to Nashville in the early ‘60s and opened a recording studio.
In 1963, he joined Epic Records’ A&R department, and it was at Epic over the next three decades that he would establish his reputation as a hit producer and songwriter.
His big break came in 1966 when David Houston took “Almost Persuaded,” a song Sherrill co-wrote with Glenn Sutton to the top of the country charts, where it remained for nine weeks. It also netted Sherrill the first of two Grammys. (The other was for Charlie Rich’s “A Very Special Love Song,” which Sherrill co-wrote and also produced.)
In the late ‘60s, his work as Tammy Wynette’s producer and co-writer took the young singer to the top of the charts via such memorable vehicles as “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “My Elusive Dreams” ( a duet with Houston) and “I Don’t Wanna Play House” — all of which Sherrill co-wrote.” Just ahead lay his hit singles for Tanya Tucker and Barbara Mandrell.
He presided over the fabled George Jones-Tammy Wynette duets of the early ‘70s. In 1980, he hectored Jones into recording “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which many now regard as the best country song ever written. Sherrill’s memories of producing the song demonstrated how close Jones came to spurning it altogether.
Sherrill, who had 18 No. 1 songs to his credits as a composer was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984.
In addition to the songs already cited, Sherrill also co-wrote the classics “Stand by Your Man,” “’Til I Can Make It on My Own,” “Another Lonely Song,” “Bedtime Story,” “Soul Song,” “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home.”
Sherrill was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010 and was presented the Academy of Country Music’s Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award in 2012.