Friday, January 20, 2012
"...Kenny and Larry and Me...."
Songwriter and musician Larry Butler, who produced several of Kenny Rogers' biggest hits, died Friday (Jan. 20) of natural causes at his home in Pensacola, Fla., at age 69. A Pensacola native, Butler began playing piano at age 4 and performed in a band in Florida before moving to Memphis to become a member of the Gentrys, who scored a Top 10 pop hit in 1965 with "Keep on Dancin'." In Nashville, Butler was a top session musician, playing piano on hits such as Conway Twitty's "Hello Darlin'" and Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey." He produced records for Capitol and CBS before being named head of United Artists Records' Nashville division in 1973. At United Artists, he signed Dottie West and Crystal Gayle to the label and played a major role in launching Kenny Rogers' solo career by producing hits such as "Lucille," "She Believes in Me," "The Gambler," "Love or Something Like It," "You Decorated My Life" and "Coward of the County." He and co-writer Chips Moman won a Grammy in 1975 for best country song for "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song," a major hit for B.J. Thomas. Butler won another Grammy in 1979 for overall producer of the year in the nonclassical division. After leaving United Artists, he formed an independent production company and worked with acts such as Charlie Rich, Mac Davis, Don McLean and John Denver. In recent years, Butler continued his work as a producer in Pensacola.
In the course of twenty odd years (as opposed to an odd twenty years)knocking around Nashville in search of fame, fortune and a "regular" status at Pancake Pantry, I had the privilege of being a paragraph or two in Larry Butler's life story.
Paragraph one occurred when a song that Cyril Rawson and I had written was taken to Larry via our publisher Micki Foster who, like us, believed said song was a proverbial "out of the box" smash for Kenny Rogers, still working with Larry at the time. Low and behold, Larry was of the same mind and played the song for Kenny smack in the middle of a recording session. Kenny, consummate artist that he was, listened to the song and totally agreed with Larry, that the song was a monster. One little variation on the theme, though. Kenny just didn't see it as a monster for him. Larry did his best to talk Kenny into it, to no avail. Truth be told, that was one of the first signs of the beginning of the end of my own songwriting days as I realized that if the guy who found, and produced, "Lucille", "The Gambler", "Coward Of The County" and a half dozen other Kenny megahits couldn't convince Mr. Rogers that the song belonged in his neighborhood then I had to face the very real probability that mega hit song success simply wasn't in my own deck of cards.
And it was time to know when to fold them.
The second paragraph was written when I had the pleasure of doing a freelance interview (some time prior to the Kenny adventure) with Larry for a Nashville based songwriter trade magazine. Mr. Butler was cordial and comedic, offering wonderful anecdotes along with a healthy dollop of sage songwriting advice.
One pearl he offered up was the notion that young songwriters needed to be aware of a basic, and key, truth when it came to pitching their wares to producers, publishers, the assorted movers and shakers who can move or shake in such a way as to put a young songwriter into a higher tax bracket, sometimes overnight.
"When pitching", Larry said with a wise smile, "remember that the producer, artist, publisher, as the case may be, isn't looking for a reason to say yes...
...they're looking for a reason to say no".
"So don't give them one."
Kenny Rogers peeing in my Cheerios notwithstanding, advice well heeded.
Thanks for the chat, Larry.
And your best effort to convince Kenny of the error of his ways.
Godspeed, music man.