BILLY SHERRILL (By Shaun Mather)

Born Billy Norris Sherrill, 5 November 1936, Phil Campbell, Alabama.
Died 4 August 2015, Nashville, Tennessee.

Billy Sherrill is one of the most celebrated and successful producers/ songwriters in country music history. Although his taste has a sweet tooth, strings with everything seemed to be a one time motto, he did produce some of the purest country music to ever hit the charts. His artists constantly hit the country charts and he was fairly prolific at crossing over to find success in the pop charts. The one notable exception here being honky tonk legend George Jones (whilst the instros behing George were more pop than Pappy Daily had used, Sherrill had the good sense to keep George's vocals country to the core). During the 60s and 70s he turned Epic into one of the foremost labels in country music.

He was a preacher's son who played around the south in travelling shows, playing a variety of instruments. He was a teenager during the early rock 'n' roll days and had a few unsuccessful singles in the genre. In 1959 he signed with Tree Publishing and moved to Nashville in 1961 to set up a small recording studio with a friend. He spent a time as a producer at Sam Phillips' Nashville studio before signing with Columbia/Epic as a staff producer in 1963. He enjoyed massive success producing David Houston's Livin' in a House Full of Love and then as co-writer and producer of Almost Persuaded in 1966 and never looked back again. In '67 he recorded an unlikely album of Buck Owens covers called Classical Country using strings.

His influences are alleged to include composer Johann Strauss and rock's Phil Spector. Spector's Wall of Sound involved layer above layer of sound, something which Sherrill did with country. Regardless of what "real country music" was supposed to sound like, Sherrill was more than willing to add strings and vocal choruses, if it helped build the sound he wanted. Artists that used his songs and finger twiddling included Tammy Wynette (Stand By Your Man, I Don't Wanna Play House, Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad), George Jones (The Grand Tour, The Door, He Stopped Loving Her Today), Bob Luman, Glen Campbell, Johnny Paycheck, Tanya Tucker, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, David Allen Coe, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash.

His work that has been most heavily criticised is with Charlie Rich. The strings were alien to Charlie, who was a late-night three piece jazz kind of a guy, but what Sherrill may have lost in the sound, he gained with exposure. Their work together was the most successful of Charlie's career - no other producer/label had managed to chart regularly with the genius that was the Silver Fox. For what it's worth, I love their work together - tracks like My Elusive Dreams, The Most Beautiful Girl and Every Time You Touch Me I Get High are brilliant.

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These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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