KILLEN (1932 - 2006)
W.D. "Buddy" Killen, the music publisher, songwriter,
record producer and musician who became one of the most influential
figures in the Nashville entertainment business, has died at the
age of 73. He was recently diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer.
'Buddy Killen will live in my heart and memory like a classic song,'
Dolly Parton said in a statement. Parton said she was 15 when Killen
produced her for Mercury Records - and even played bass on it. 'He
was one of the very first people to see my dream. And not only did
he see it, he tried to help make it come true,' she said. Referring
to one of her most famous songs, Parton said, 'Buddy, I will always
Buddy Killen had a long music business career that covered both
the creative and business aspects. His name is connected with hits
by Elvis Presley, Joe Tex and Roger Miller, among many others. Killen
began playing bass for a comedy group that appeared on the Grand
Ole Opry. After the group broke up, he became a staff bassist with
the Opry while playing on recording sessions and singing on music
publishing demos. In 1953, Killen came to the attention of Tree
Publishing founder Jack Stapp, who asked him to produce some songs
on a young girl singer. Happy with the results, Stapp gave Killen
a job with the then up-and-coming Tree that paid $35 a week. The
music publishing company didn't have offices back then, so Killen
worked out of his home, doing business at the familiar hangouts
of the myriad songwriters, publishers, bookers, and others involved
in the vibrant country music industry. Tree's first office was a
small room Killen shared with a friend; the next was in the Old
Hill building at the corner of 7th and Church, between the offices
of radio station WSM on 7th and the Ryman Auditorium on 5th.
Killen was a song-plugger - he'd try to interest recording artists
in covering songs from the Tree catalog. His first success came
the next year in 1954 when "By The Law Of My Heart" was
recorded by Mercury Records bluegrass singer Benny Martin. The first
big break for Tree came in January 1956 when a young singer just
signed to RCA came to Nashville to record four songs at Methodist
Publishing Studios. At this session, produced by Chet Atkins, Elvis
Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel", a song written by
Mae Boren Axton and published by Tree. During spring 1956, "Heartbreak
Hotel" went platinum, was a hit on country and Billboard's
R&B (No.3) and pop (No.1 for eight weeks) music charts. The
success of this song allowed Tree to move into new offices in the
Cumberland Lodge Building in downtown Nashville.
In 1957, Stapp's friend and fellow owner of Tree, Lou Cowan, had
been named head of CBS Television and had to divest his outside
interests. Stapp bought Tree from Cowan and another partner Harry
Fleishman. Stapp gave Killen 30 percent of the company and made
him vice president. That same year, Killen was playing pinball at
Tootsie's Orchid Lounge when he met a young man and his wife. He
claimed to be a songwriter but was broke so Killen lent him $5 and
told him to come by the office and play some of his songs. Roger
Miller's songs were soon hits for a number of top acts: "Invitation
To The Blues" for Ray Price, "Home" and "Billy
Bayou" for Jim Reeves and "When Two Worlds Collide"
for Bill Anderson. In March 1964, Roger Miller went into the studio
to record his wacky, off-the-wall songs for Smash Records. His first
single "Dang Me" was a No.1 country hit and peaked at
No.7 on the pop charts in summer 1964. The follow-up "Chug-A-Lug"
went to No.1 country and No.9 pop in fall 1964.
Another Tree staff writer Curly Putman wrote the classic "Green
Green Grass Of Home", a No.4 country hit for Porter Wagoner
in 1965. The song was a 1966 No.11 pop hit for Tom Jones. Putman
would write other great hits: "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" for Tammy
Wynette; "My Elusive Dreams" for Marty Robbins, Bobby
Vinton, Charlie Rich, Roger Miller and George Jones; and "I
Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again" for T. Graham Brown.
1964 is the year Tree moved out of the Cumberland Lodge Building
and onto Music Row. "Music Row" was the name given to
the area on 16th and 17th Avenues between Division Street and Edgehill
where Owen Bradley had set up a studio in his Quonset Hut in 1955.
Tree purchased a building at 905 16th Avenue South, about a block
from Bradley's studio.
While honeymooning in Daytona Beach, Killen received a call from
his assistant Jerry Crutchfield, who excitedly explained that he'd
met this great singer named Joe Tex. When he returned to Nashville,
Killen met Tex and could see that he was a phenomenal talent. When
record labels passed on Tex, Killen formed Dial Records, a subsidiary
of Tree Publishing and began recording the singer. After a few unsuccessful
singles, Tex wanted out of the deal, but Killen convinced him to
let him produce one more session. One of the results of that session
was a song called "Hold What You've Got". Killen re-edited
the track and Dial got a distribution deal with Atlantic Records.
"Hold What You've Got" went to No.2 R&B and No.5 pop
in early 1965. It was quickly followed up by the double-sided hit
"You Got What It Takes" (No.10 R&B) b/w "You
Better Get It" (No.15 R&B). Tex went on to have 33 R&B
charting singles, 28 pop charting singles, including three No.1
R&B hits. Killen produced all Tex's self-written hits. The gleeful,
energetic singer died of a heart attack on August 13, 1982. Not
only did Killen miss his great talent, but also his friendship.
In 1968, Tree became an international company when it opened 13
overseas offices. This move was pioneered by Jack Stapp and Tree's
New York attorney Lee Eastman who set up business relationships
outside the United States to help Tree get exposure throughout the
world with its songs.
Tree's next major growth occurred when it purchased the Pamper
Music Publishing Company, which included songs by writers like Willie
Nelson, Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard. They had penned such standards
as "Crazy", "Hello Walls", "Make The World
Go Away", "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" and "Funny
How Time Slips Away". With this purchase, for $1.6 million,
the country catalogue doubled in size and overnight Tree became
the largest music publisher in Nashville and the largest country
music publisher in the world. Tree's next physical move occurred
in 1972 when they acquired the Lucky Moeller Talent Agency. Also
in 1972, Tree was named country music's number one publishing company
for the first time.
After 1974, Jack Stapp became Tree's Chief Executive Officer and
Board Chairman, while Killen became president retaining responsible
for the creative activities of the company. Stapp died on December
20, 1980, at the age of 67. At this point, Buddy Killen exercised
a buy/sell agreement he and Stapp had made earlier and purchased
the company and assumed sole ownership. Throughout the 1970s and
'80s, Tree acquired a number of publishing companies, including
those of Conway Twitty, Jim Ed Norman and the Blue Book catalogue
owned by Buck Owens, which contained many of the songs from the
Bakersfield group including Merle Haggard, Jim Reeves, Nat Stucky
and Jerry Chesnut. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame awarded Killen
the Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement in 1985.
In 1989, a new chapter in the history of Tree began when Sony/CBS
purchased the publishing company from Buddy Killen for $30 million.
After the sale of Tree to Sony/CBS, Buddy Killen remained head of
the company but by the end of the year had stepped down to pursue
other interests. During fall 1999, Killen released his own CD, "Mixed
Emotions", and his autobiography, "By The Seat Of My Pants",
co-written with Tom Carter and published by Simon and Schuster.
Survivors include his wife, two daughters, a stepson, two grandsons
and five sisters.
from an entry by Ed Hogan at All Music Guide)