DIARY - 8 FEBRUARY 2005 - MERLE KILGORE RIP
KILGORE RIP AT 70
HIT WRITER AND MOVIE STAR FAREWELL
WYATT MERLE KILGORE
AUGUST 9, 1934 - CHICKASHA - OKLAHOMA
DIED MEXICO - FEBRUARY 6, 2005.
born actor and singer Merle Kilgore, whose career began at 14 as a
guitar roadie for the late Hank Williams, has died at 70 after a spirited
battle with cancer.
The prolific hit writer for artists diverse as Johnny Cash, Claude
King, Webb Pierce and Tommy Roe died from congestive heart failure
Merle died while having experimental treatment for his cancer.
Kilgore joked in a letter to fans about his battle after being embroiled
in a furore over plans to use his hit Ring Of Fire in a marketing
campaign for Preparation H - a lotion for hemorrhoid-relief.
and fighting my way back to the top,'' Kilgore said in 2004 after heart
surgery, two back surgeries and a lung cancer diagnosis.
''Man, I had to get a room at Saint Thomas just for the flowers. It makes
a difference when people care enough about you to come and see you. If
you're a real (jerk), nobody comes by. That must be real depressing.''
The iconic raconteur was a key link between three generations of the famed
Merle was long time manager and opening act for hell raiser Hank Williams
Jr whose daughter Holly was on tour here in Bunbury with Kasey Chambers
when he died.
Kilgore had 273 original songs listed on the BMI publishing site and was
an honorary Tennessee Senator.
Merle was voted the Country Music Association's first-ever Manager of
the Year in 1990 and inducted into Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame
He was also a member of the CMA Board of Directors, served as vice president
of the CMA and member of the Screen Actors Guild.
a 14 year-old newsboy in Shreveport in 1948 when he learned that Hank
and other country stars arrived at the local radio station before dawn
to perform on the famed Louisiana Hayride.
"I'd ride my bicycle down every weekend and help them carry those
instruments up those steps," Kilgore revealed in a 2004 interview.
"So I talked to the Bailes Bros bass player Leon. I said 'Leon, how
do you get into show business?' He took a big drag off his cigarette and
blew smoke in my face and said ' hang around someone famous, kid."
So when young Hank drove up to KWKH-AM in an old beat up Town And Country
Chrysler with rotted wood panelling and a motor pouring smoke for his
Hayride gig, the stage was set.
"I thought 'that can't be Hank Williams, he's a star,'" Kilgore
Kilgore told Williams, riding high with Move It On Over but afflicted
by a chronic back condition, that he would carry his axe.
"I said listen, Hank, the elevator doesn't work until 7 o'clock.
You're gonna have to walk up two flights of stairs.' 'He said OK, hoss,
By 1950 Kilgore was a regular performer on the Hayride - the entrée
to the Grand Ole Opry - and working as a DJ on local station KRUS to pay
his college fees.
TEXAN ON TV
singer was then offered $100 a week to appear as the Tall Texan host
of Ouachita Valley Jamboree show on KFAZ-TV in Monroe, Louisiana.
Merle wrote his first hit at 18 en route to the TV show when girlfriend
Ginger gave him an ultimatum - her or TV.
More And More (I'm Forgetting About You) enjoyed a 10-week reign at
#1 for Pierce who shared his hometown of Monroe with latter day country
acts Andy Griggs and Kevin Gordon.
Pierce helped Kilgore obtain a contract with Imperial Records in 1953
and More and More was also cut by Guy Lombardo, Mickey Gilley, Johnny
Duncan and others.
It was even recorded as a duet by Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.
more tunes while working as a DJ on other Louisiana stations before heading
for Nashville in 1962.
His own recordings
failed to impact during five years on Imperial or D Records, but in 1959
Johnny Horton got a Top Ten hit with Johnny Reb - another Kilgore song.
Kilgore's recordings for Imperial included pop sessions in New Orleans
with producer Dave Bartholomew, best known for his work with Fats Domino
and Smiley Lewis. Teenager's Holiday - a collection of his early
recordings - was released in November 2004 by German-based Bear Family
It was only when he signed with Starday Records that Kilgore began generating
hit recordings of his own, beginning with #10 hit Dear Mama early in 1960.
Love Has Made You Beautiful and Gettin' Old Before Your Time was a double-sided
hit, the A-side making the Top Ten.
- REB, HORTON AND CASH
with Johnny Cash & June
Reb was a million selling single for Johnny Horton who wed Hank's
second wife Billy Jean after she became a widow in 1953.
Horton and Williams both died in cars after doing their final gigs
at Austin's Skyline Club that was booked by Jack Ruby - a nightclub
boss who shot Lee Harvey Oswald after he allegedly shot JFK.
Kilgore joined the Grand Ole Opry in the early '60s, as other artists
- such as Frankie Miller - hit with us songs such as Baby Rocked
He also appeared
regularly on the Big 10 Jamboree and the Riley Springs Jamboree, out of
Arkansas and Texas.
Kilgore then wrote Wolverton Mountain with Claude King - who took
it to #1 as it sold 10 million copies for him and others including Bing
Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Tasmanian Kevin Shegog.
Merle then joined Cash as his opening act in a rebel uniform to sing Johnny
The Clifton Clowers in the song was Merle's uncle and appeared in the
movie with Merle at the age of 90.
Merle and Claude also wrote answer song I'm The Girl From Wolverton
Mountain and Montana De Wolverton.
When the tour ended June Carter Cash asked Merle to do some writing -
the result was Ring Of Fire.
"Johnny Cash came down and said 'I had a strange dream last night
- I dreamt I heard Ring Of Fire and I was singing it. And I said
'do it.' And he said 'I am. I knew it was an instant hit. We'd heard Columbia
Records were going to drop Johnny 'cause his sales were so bad for the
last couple of albums. But they weren't bad after that. Man, did he hit
a home run with that. Saved his career.''
The song was recorded by Cash and sold 16 million records for Johnny,
Frank Zappa, Social Distortion and Mark Collie who later played Cash in
an award winning short film.
Ray Charles, Olivia Newton-John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Blondie, Tom Jones,
Kitty Wells, Lynn Anderson, Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Burl Ives and others
also cut it.
The rest was history until the piles potion popped out four decades later.
Kilgore even followed Cash's path into the august surroundings of Carnegie
Hall in New York for a concert.
Another lesser-known song he wrote with June was Overalls Or Dungarees.
He then became a major draw in Las Vegas, while his albums, including
There's Gold in Them Thar Hills and Merle Kilgore, kept selling
By the mid-'60s, he moved to Mercury Records and appeared regularly on
the Grand Ole Opry and recorded for a while time as ''The Boogie King"
in outlandish stage outfits.
Williams Jr & Merle Kilgore
In 1964 Kilgore
left Cash and joined Hank Williams Jr as opening act and MC for 21 years
and manager for another 15.
When Buddy Lee and Hank's Jr's mother, the late Audrey Williams, put Merle
on the bill and on the road with him in the '60's there was a method to
The teenage Hank Jr. was growing up in a tough industry without the benefit
of his legendary father.
Kilgore believed he was at a crossroads - trying to decide whether to
continue as a recording artist or to manage Williams Jr.
According to Kilgore, the turning point came when Hank Jr. wrote down
a figure on a piece of paper, slid it across a table to Kilgore and said,
''This is what you'll be making each year managing me.''
Kilgore immediately renounced his own recording career and began a long,
loyal stint as Williams Jr.'s adviser, confidante and deal-maker.
"Merle was more to me than a manager," Williams said in a written
"He was a father figure, he was a mentor, he was my business adviser,
but most of all, Merle Kilgore was my best friend. He's shared the good
times with me and carried me through the bad - without judgment and without
hesitation. He had heart, soul, compassion, business savvy and a sense
of humour. He's the definition of gentleman and scholar. I shall never
know a greater man. The industry has lost an icon. I have lost a forever
blended his humour and business acumen as manager to Hank Jr.
When rap-rocker Kid Rock's manager called to express Rock's interest
in meeting and possibly working with Williams Jr., Mr. Kilgore stalled
the manager while thumbing quickly through a Billboard magazine until
he found a page that listed Rock's Cowboy at the top of the pop charts.
''Oh, Hank loves Kid Rock,'' exclaimed Kilgore, who had never heard
of Kid Rock at the time of the conversation. ''He loves the song Cowboy.
Hank would love to work with Kid Rock.''
Jr with Kid Rock
Hank Jr. began working together, and Rock's hit-making friend Matt ''Uncle
Kracker'' Shafer wrote a song called Thunderhead Hawkins that referenced
Kilgore's affinity for wearing gaudy gold rings.
Tennessean wrote about Kracker's song, Mr. Kilgore said, ''My wife called
me when I was fishing and said, 'The newspaper says Kracker is attracted
to your bling bling.'
She said, 'Merle, what is bling bling?' I had to ask around. Turns out
it's hip-hop for jewellery.''
Kilgore negotiated the deal for Hank's performance at the opening of each
edition of Monday Night Football.
recording of Mister Garfield featured vocals by Johnny Cash and Hank Williams
Jr - his last chart single was Guilty in 1985.
Hank Jr and Merle also wrote Country Music - Those Tear Jerking Songs.
And on July 4, 1983, Merle introduced Hank Jr when I caught him perform
at Willie Nelson's star-studded picnic in Atlanta, Georgia.
His best-known songs included High And Pressurised for Hank Jr,
Tokyo, Yokohama, and When You Get On The Whiskey Let Someone
Else Drive for John Anderson.
The co-writer of the latter was the recently deceased Mack Vickery who
also wrote Action Speaks Louder Than Words with Merle.
Merle's other hits included Old Enough to Love for Ricky Nelson,
Folk Singer for Eddy Arnold and Tommy Roe, She Went A Little
Bit Farther (Faron Young & Lou DeWitt of Statler Brothers) and
Tiger Woman for Claude King.
became a prolific actor and singer in movies.
In 1963 he appeared in first feature film, Country Music on Broadway.
And in 1965 he starred in Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar before
his key role in 1966 gospel movie Sing a Song for Heaven's Sake.
He performed the title song and acted in 1966 Steve McQueen revenge movie
Merle joined Columbia Records in 1967 and also appeared in Henry Hathaway's
Five Card Stud (1967), starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum, and
Educated Heart in 1970.
He jumped labels in 1969 and then in 1973, ended back on Starday and appeared
as a bar owner in the 1970 movie Five Easy Pieces.
Then in 1974 he signed with Warner Bros. Records and appeared in the feature
film W.W. & the Dixie Dance Kings starring Burt Reynolds, Jerry
Reed and Mel Tillis. And in 1975 he appeared in the controversial Robert
Altman movie Nashville before being singing Host of George Jones'
Possum Holler Club in Nashville.
In 1979 he donated the original lyrics of Wolverton Mountain to
the Country Music Hall of Fame and appeared in the movie Roadie
with Hank Jr, Roy Orbison, Meatloaf and Asleep At The Wheel.
Merle also appeared in the 1980 Loretta Lynn movie Coal Miner's Daughter
with Sissy Spacek, Levon Helm and many more.
He also appeared as himself in the 1981 Living Proof - the story of
Jr. for NBC.
MESSAGE FROM MERLE
lost his sense of humour according to this message on his web site last
"Thanks to all of you who have sent e-mails and have prayed for me.
I appreciate it more than you could know. My heart is doing great and
I know it is due to prayer.
I would appreciate your continued prayers as I will have back surgery
on August 30th to fuse part of my spine. I will be in Baptist Memorial
Hospital East in Memphis.
I hope to be back out on the go and seeing you all within a few months.
My doctor told me I should be playing golf in 6 months. That's great,
because, I don't play golf!
I have a wonderful surgeon, supportive family and friends and prayers
from a lot of special people - all of you.
Thanks for your continued prayers and support.
behind wife, Judy, sons Steve and Duane, daughters, Pam Compton, Kim Pomeroy,
and Shane McBee, eight grandchildren and one great grand daughter.
Hendersonville Memory Gardens is handling funeral arrangements.
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