Born William Doyce Killen, 13 November 1932, Florence, Alabama
Died 1 November 2006, Nashville, Tennessee

Publisher / songwriter / producer / musician.

Buddy Killen was a driving force in Nashville's music industry for more than a half-century. He was born into a poor farming family in Florence, Alabama, where he lived until 1950. After graduating from high school in that year, he moved to Nashville and signed on as a bass player with the Grand Ole Opry. He soon picked up side gigs with country acts like Hank Williams, Jim Reeves and Ray Price, but he had trouble making ends meet. In 1953 Killen went to work for a fledgling music publishing company called Tree (for $ 35 a week) as a song-plugger, a salesman for music to which the company retained copyright, convincing performers and their managers to record the songs. He demonstrated a talent in this role, and music publishing became his main line of business.

His breakthrough deal came in late 1955 when he convinced Mae Boren Axton that she should assign her song "Heartbreak Hotel" to Tree Publishing. Enter Elvis Presley and the rest is history. The revenues from this megahit established Tree Music as a major player. In 1957 Killen was rewarded by his boss, Jack Stapp, with 30% ownership of Tree and the title of executive vice-president. He discovered many hit (singer-)songwriters, including Harlan Howard, Roger Miller, Curly Putnam, Bobby Braddock and Dolly Parton. He was also a prolific songwriter in his own right, with 197 entries in the BMI database. Most of these were in the country field, but he wrote also for the pop, rock n roll and R&B markets. Probably his most recorded composition is "Forever", which became a pop hit in four different versions : The Little Dippers (# 9, 1960), Billy Walker (# 83, 1960), Pete Drake and his Talking Steel Guitar (# 25, 1964) and Mercy (# 79, 1969). Big country hits include "Open Up Your Heart" (Buck Owens, 1966), "I Can't Wait Any Longer (Bill Anderson, 1978) "I May Never Get To Heaven" (Conway Twitty, 1979), "Watchin' the Girls Go By" (1981) and "All Tied Up" (1986), both by Ronnie McDowell.

Killen also wrote some out-and-out rock n roll songs, like "Hole In My Heart" for Esquerita and "I Betcha Gonna Like It", which was first recorded by Jeb Stuart on Phillips International (1962) and subsequently by Jerry Lee Lewis for Smash. These last two songs were co-written with Robert Riley, who had penned "Just Walkin' In the Rain" with Johnny Bragg in prison. Along with Shelby Singleton at Mercury and Fred Foster at Monument, Buddy Killen helped to convince the Nashville establishment that it should open its doors to R&B and then soul music. In 1961, Killen and Stapp were so impressed with rhythm and blues singer Joe Tex (who had already been recording since 1955, for King and Ace) that they started a record label, Dial, so they could market, produce and publish his product. After ten non-charting Dial singles, Tex wanted to move on to another label, but Killen persuaded Joe to let him produce one more session. The result was "Hold What You've Got", a # 5 pop hit (# 2 R&B) in early 1965, which was followed by 26 further pop chart entries by Tex on Dial. Joe Tex made a comeback on Epic in 1977 with "Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)" (# 12 pop), which was also written and produced by Killen.

In 1974 he was named president and chief operating officer of Tree, though in theory he still reported to Stapp, who was chairman of the board and chief executive officer. After Stapp died in December 1980, Killen purchased Tree and became the sole owner. Under his leadership, Tree had become the largest country music publishing company in the world. In 1989 he sold the company to Sony Music for $ 40 million. It is now called Sony / ATV Music Publishing Nashville, with around 40,000 copyrights.

In 1993, Killen wrote his autobiography, "By the Seat Of My Pants" (with Tom Carter), published by Simon & Schuster. After selling Tree, Killen launched the Killen Entertainment Group and went back into the publishing business. In 2000, he released his own CD as a singer, "Mixed Emotions", a mix of standards and his own compositions. He died of liver and pancreatic cancer at his Nashville home at the age of 73.

More info: http://www.spectropop.com/remembers/BuddyKillen.htm

Acknowledgements : John Broven (NDT obituary, December 2006), Ed Hogan (All Music Guide), Don Cusic (Encyclopedia of Country Music).


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