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Who Billy Sherrill
What Legendary producer Billy Sherrill dies
When August 4, 2015
Where Nashville, TN

Legendary producer, songwriter, arranger and Country Music Hall of Famer Billy Sherrill died in his home late Tuesday morning after a short illness. He was 78.

Mr. Sherrill's contributions to country music were numerous, and his impact on the genre was immeasurable. He was a pioneer of the smooth "countrypolitan" sound and its lush, layered musical arrangements that drew comparisons to Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." Mr. Sherrill worked with artists ranging from Ray Charles to Jim and Jesse to Elvis Costello, but he is perhaps best known for producing hits such as Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" (which they co-wrote), Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors," Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It" and George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today," considered by many to be the greatest country song of all time.

"I loved his sense of humor. He was a funny, funny man, and very dry," said friend and collaborator Norro Wilson (the two won the Best Country Song Grammy Award in 1975 for "A Very Special Love Song", recorded by Charlie Rich). "He was a very intelligent person, a very sensitive fella, and as a personality, he could be considered understated. He was on the quiet side, (but) he'd get rambunctious when he got into a song. Heíd get excited."

Billy Norris Sherrill was born Nov. 5, 1936, in Phil Campbell, Ala. As a child, he took an interest in music and often accompanied his evangelist father on the piano at revivals; the knowledge of Scripture and the love of Southern Gospel he cultivated there remained with him for the rest of his life.

In 1962 Mr. Sherrill moved to Nashville after being hired by Sun Records' Sam Phillips as a producer-engineer. A year later, he began producing for Epic Records, where he worked with acts such as the Staple Singers and bluegrass duo Jim and Jesse.

"Billy was a great help to us," says Jesse McReynolds. The duo worked with Mr. Sherrill at Epic in the mid-1960s. He encouraged Jim and Jesse to push their musical boundaries, approaching them with an armful of Chuck Berry records and the suggestion to transform those rock 'n' roll songs into a bluegrass album, "Berry Pickin' in the Country."

In 1967 Mr. Sherrill also brought them the song "Diesel on My Tail," telling the duo that if they recorded the song, it would be a hit, McReynolds remembers. It was one of their most popular songs, and their only single to become a Top 20 hit on the country charts.

One of Mr. Sherrill's first major successes came in 1966 when David Houston's recording of "Almost Persuaded," which Mr. Sherrill co-wrote with Glenn Sutton and produced, spent nine weeks atop Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart. It would go on to win three Grammy Awards: Best Country and Western Song, Best Country and Western Recording and Best Country and Western Vocal Performance: Male.

"Billy Sherrillís productions had a voice of their own that were as distinctive as the singers he worked with," said producer Buddy Cannon. "Thereís never been another producer in country music whose records have such an identity. ... I was in awe every time I was in his presence. Iíll treasure every minute I ever got to be with him."

One of Mr. Sherrill's most notable partnerships was with Tammy Wynette. In 1966 he signed the unknown singer to Epic Records and suggested she adopt "Tammy" as her stage name.

Though Wynette's debut, "Apartment #9," failed to crack the Top 40, her second single, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," peaked at No. 3. From there Wynette strung together a series of hits. More than three dozen of her Sherrill-produced, and frequently Sherrill-penned, songs made the Top 10, and 20 topped the charts.

"Stand By Your Man," which they co-wrote, spent three weeks at No. 1, crossed over to the pop charts and became a career-defining song for Wynette, who later entered the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Mr. Sherrill also spent 19 years producing hits for George Jones, beginning with Jones' collaborations with Wynette and including several of the Possum's now-classic songs such as "The Grand Tour," "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Mr. Sherrill reportedly had to convince Jones to record that song because the singer thought it was "too morbid."

"Billy Sherrill is a genius," the Hall of Famer told The Tennessean in 2008. "He knew how to put these things together. He was behind so much of my success."

In 1980, Mr. Sherrill became vice president-executive producer at CBS' Nashville office. The following year he produced "Almost Blue," a country covers album released by Elvis Costello. Mr. Sherrill left five years later to work as an independent producer.

Mr. Sherrill has been inducted into three local Halls of Fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010. At the time of his death, he had been in retirement for several years.

He leaves behind his wife of 54 years, Charlene; his daughter, Catherine Lale, and her husband, George; and two grandchildren, Samantha and Matthew. Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.

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Contact Juli Thanki
The Tennessean


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