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Billy Sherrill (born Phil Campbell, Alabama, November 5, 1936) is a record producer and arranger who is most famous for his association with a number of country artists, most notably Tammy Wynette. Sherrill and business partner Glenn Sutton are regarded as the defining influences of the countrypolitan sound, a smooth amalgamation of pop and country music that was hugely popular during the late 1960s and throughout the '70s. On February 23, 2010 Sherrill was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame along with Don Williams, Ferlin Husky, and Jimmy Dean. The actual induction will be held later in the year.

Born in rural Alabama, Sherrill became initially interested in music, particularly jazz and blues, learning to play the saxophone. During his teenage years, he led a blues band, and later signed a solo record deal, though this led to little success.

In 1962, Sherrill moved to Nashville, where he was initially was hired by Sam Phillips to manage the Nashville studios of Sun Records. When Sun sold its Nashville studio the following year, Sherrill moved to Epic Records, as an in-house producer. Given his limited exposure to country music up to that point, his production incorporated many elements of pop music production. (His sound has often been described as a country equivalent to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.) His first success was with country artist David Houston. Houston's recording of Sherrill's and Glenn Sutton's composition "Almost Persuaded" spent nine weeks at the top of the U.S. country charts in late 1965 and into early 1966.

His association with Wynette began in 1966, when the then-unknown performer auditioned for him. He signed Wynette to Epic, and involved himself in nearly every aspect of the aspiring singer's career, helping her choose her stage name (Sherrill felt her name at the time, Wynette Byrd, would not lend itself to a successful recording career, and suggested she adopt the name "Tammy"), and helping her to develop her stage persona. In 1968, Sherrill co-wrote with Wynette her most famous hit, "Stand By Your Man".

By 1971 George Jones had arrived at Epic Records. In fact, Jones' recording contract with Musicor Records was not even officially over in 1971 but a desire between both Jones and his then-wife, Tammy Wynette, to record together led to a buy-out of Jones' current contract with Musicor. Soon after, George and Tammy began recording together with Sherrill as the producer. Sherrill often played double duty as a songwriter usually in tandem with Norro Wilson and George Richey. Richey would become the future husband of Wynette. The success that Sherrill had with Jones proved to be his most enduring. Although Billboard chart statistics show that Sherrill had his biggest [[commercial] successes with artists like Wynette as well as Charlie Rich, with Jones, Sherrill had his most enduring and longest-lasting association. Sherrill, once he vacated as the head of CBS/Epic, continued to produce the recording sessions of George Jones throughout the 1980's. Sherrill appears in the music video of "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes", a 1985 George Jones classic, acting as the bus-driver. In total, Billy Sherrill is credited as George Jones record producer for 19 years, 1971-1990. All of the majestic, stellar recordings from Jones during that time period were under Billy Sherrill's control. Sherrill is responsible for the recordings of George and Tammy having a soap opera feel. He purposely found, wrote, or co-wrote material that seemed to mirror the two artist's off-stage life together. If the couple was going through a bad time you could be sure that either artist would have out a heartbreak ballad. If the couple were in wedded bliss you'd hear joyous recordings.

When news surfaced that the couple were in divorce proceedings, which would eventually last quite a few months, the song that capitalized on this the most was "The Grand Tour" which hit #1 for Jones in 1974. The song is about a man inviting the listeners to walk through a house with him as he tells about a divorce that took place. The woman left just about everything in the house except a couple of critical items we're told at song's end. When their divorce became final in early 1975 the appropriate songs by Jones released at the time were "These Days I Barely Get By", "Memories of Us", "I Just Don't Give a Damn". Wynette on the other hand had a huge hit during that time period with "Til I Can Make It On My Own". The duo continued to record through 1976, enjoying several more Top-10 and #1 hits together such as "Golden Ring", "Southern California", and "Near You" but the duo stopped recording together after the 1976 sessions and wouldn't team up in the studio again until 1979/1980 with their final hit song being, at the time, 1980's "Two Story House". Afterward they never recorded together or rarely appeared together for the next 14 years...embarking on a reunion tour in 1995 in support of their first duet album together in 15 years, One.

In 1991 when George left for MCA Records and recorded under the production of Kyle Leghning it marked the first time in 20 years that someone other than Billy Sherrill was in the control booth. Leghning became only the third record producer of George Jones. Pappy Daily produced all of George's recordings during 1954-1971 and then Billy Sherrill took over the role for the next 19 years. During Jones' stay at MCA almost every album would feature a different producer. Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon show up more often during the MCA years as Jones' record producers.

Another artist who benefited greatly from his association with Sherrill was Charlie Rich. Rich had been a marginally successful performer of blues and early rock and roll, scoring a minor hit with the tune "Lonely Weekends", but it was his early 1970s work with Sherrill, particularly the country-politan hits "Behind Closed Doors" and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World", that brought Rich to national prominence. Along with songwriter Norro Wilson, Sherrill won a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best Country Song for Rich's version of the song "A Very Special Love Song".[1]

Other artists with whom Sherrill has worked include Shelby Lynne, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Barbara Mandrell, Lacy J. Dalton, Ray Conniff, Bob Luman, Johnny Duncan, Jim and Jesse, Jody Miller, Joe Stampley, Charlie Walker, Johnny Duncan, Barbara Fairchild, Cliff Richard ("The Minute You're Gone") and David Allan Coe.

References

  1. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1999). The Billboard Book of #1 Adult Contemporary Hits (Billboard Publications), page 137.

Billy Sherrill, Don Williams, Ferlin Husky and Jimmy Dean were selected for membership in The Country Music Hall of Fame on February 23, 2010. The induction ceremony will be held later in the year.

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