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Neal Merritt
Born:  November 10, 1930
Died:  April 17, 1975
KCIJ Shreveport, LA
KDAV Lubbock, TX
KENS San Antonio, TX
KHEY El Paso, TX
KONO San Antonio, TX
WENO Nashville, TN
KPCN Grand Prairie, TX (1966)

Neal Merritt was a native of Texas, born and raised in San Antonio. His musical career did not really begin until he got of the military service after two years in the Army during the Korean War. But had been singing and playing the guitar since he was 16 years old. Neal mentioned in an article he wrote in 1966 that he started writing, recording and spinning records in 1954.

A 1961 article featuring the on the air personalities from radio station KENS in San Antonio gives some details about Neal's career.

In that article they mention that he formed his first band when he was 18 years old - "The Bandera Ranch Hands" and enjoyed quite a following around the south Texas area.

During his service in the Korean War, he earned the medal of merit.

After leaving the service, he started his disc jockey career at an unnamed station in Pleasanton, Texas. It didn't take long for Neal's talents to get noticed, he began to find work in larger markets. He then began appearing on the famed Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana as a singer and also as an alternate piano player.

Neal's show over KENS back then had him doing the show from a unique location. KENS had a studio that shoppers could see in the center of the North Star Mall in San Antonio. KENS at that time had quite a talent lineup. Future Grand Ole Opry star, Charlie Walker was working there. A Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Famer, Bill Mack, was also on the staff. Others included Joe Simpson, Herb Carl Skoog, Charles W. Keller and Bill Shomette.

During his career, he has recorded for the Sarge record label, Starday and Manco Records. In 1964, he and his wife Alice took a trip to Nashville to try and land a recording contract. It only took two months before Central Songs signed him as an exclusive songwriter. He began to do demo recordings of his tunes so the publishing company could pitch them to various artists. One of those 'dubs' was heard by the A&R chief at Capitol Records, Ken Nelson. Reportedly, Ken didn't have to hear all of Neal's songs - he said, "Sign him up...he's money in the bank."

He record his first side for Capitol in January of 1964. The record was not released until May 25th of that year. The tunes were "Your name's Become A Household Word" b/w "A Wet Bird Never Flies". Neal's record was delayed by Capitol as were most artists on the label at the time. You see, there was a new group that was taking the country by storm and Capitol was doing all it could to press their recordings. That group was the Beatles.

A 1965 article spotlighting a couple of DJ's found that Neal was then program director at radio station KDAV in Lubbock, Texas. He was also a recording artist - having just signed a contract with Capitol Records the previous year. He was also a prolific songwriter as we will see.

By 1966, Neal was recording with the Bragg Records label and working as a disc jockey over KPCN in Grand Prairie, Texas.

We mentioned that Neal was a prolific songwriter. He wrote a tune that quickly became a classic and associated with WSM Grand Ole Opry star, Little Jimmy Dickens. It was a tune called "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose". A 1966 article credited to Neal gives him a chance to tell fans how that song came about.

I really like the Johnny Carson TV show and I watch it all the time. Johnny always uses a saying "...may the bird of paradise.." something or other. Like when the Minnesota Twins lost the world series, Johnny said, "may the bird of paradise lay a wreath on the Minnesota Twins." He uses the saying a lot. I wrote that song in 20 minutes back in April of 1965.

It's sort of a left-handed insult to a guy who is a real tight-wad. He gives a beggar a penny and doesn't tip a taxi driver. It's my one and only hit.

I didn't have anybody in mind to sing it. I just wrote it for Central Songs and Happy Willson brought it to a Jimmy Dickens session.

The dub was made by Stan Hitchcock and it came off real good. He's a real good friend of Happy's and Hap is a Nashville manager of Central Songs. I've been with Central for two years. I wrote the chorus for "Bird" first, and used my guitar to work out a melody. It came real fast. The mood hit me. I usually use a piano to write but I didn't have one at the time.

I was going to put in the line "may your babies be born without clothes" but that was too common so I kept it out.

Jack Reno wrote in his "Radio Row" column in 1968 that Neal was working at WENO in Nashville at the time, entertaining the fans from 6:00pm to Midnight each day. Jack mentioned that Neal was also on the Boone record label, a label Buddy Starcher was on as well.

Jack told his readers that Neal wrote a few other hit songs for artists besides Jimmy Dickens that "...put more jam in the jar around the Merritt household." Tunes such as "Gettin' Any Feed For Your Chickens", a hit by Del Reeves that was on the charts for 37 weeks and reached Number 5. Then there wass "Sorry ABout That, Chief". Another hit was "The Only Way Out Is To Walk Over Me", a tune recorded by Charlie Louvin that was on the charts for 12 weeks and peaked at number 36 in 1967.

The BMI database shows 80 songs attributed to Neal Merritt.

Credits and Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank the nephew of Neal Merritt, Ron Arnold, for contacting us and providing us with some biographical details of Neal's career and helping us start the process of getting a write-up done.
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 73; May 1961; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 89; August 1965; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 93; April 1966; Charlton Publishing Corporation; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 109; July 1968; Charlton Publishing Corporation; Derby, CT
  • Top Country & Western Records 1949-1971; Joel Whitburn; Record Research; Menomonee Falls, WI; 1972

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Recordings
 
Capitol
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  5182 A A Wet Bird Never Flies
  5182 B Your Name's Become A Household Word
  5329 A I Got Fooled
  5329 B Too Close To Home
 
Sarg
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  111 A There's An Hour to Every Minute
  111 B Sweeping Up The Ashes
 
Starday
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  237 A What's The Difference
  237 B You Had To Do Me Wrong
  260 A No One But You
  260 B Someday You'll Pay
  281 A I've Got To Cry
  281 B The Funniest Feeling
 
Stop
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  ST 233 A Bartender Sell Me The Bar
  ST 233 B I Like To Booze It
 
Boone Record Co.
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  1053 A Ain't Love A Hurtin' Thing
  1053 B Gentlemen Be Seated
 
Bragg
Rec. No. Side Song Title
  217 A Safer Than Loving You
  217 B The End of My Rope


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