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BMI Legend Harlan Howard Dies

Posted in News on March 4, 2002

By Robert K. Oermann

Legendary BMI writer Harlan Howard, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, died suddenly on Sunday evening , March 3, in Nashville. He was 74.


photo: Beth Gwinn

In a career that spanned six decades, Howard penned more than 100 Top 10 hits. The man behind such timeless songs as "I Fall To Pieces," "Busted," "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail" and "Heartaches By the Number" was once dubbed "the Irving Berlin of country music" because of the size of his catalog of classics. A BMI writer for over 45 years, Harlan Howard provided hit songs to several generations of stars, from Kitty Wells to Patty Loveless, from Patsy Cline to Reba McEntire, from Mel Tillis to Pam Tillis. A who's-who of the country music world has sung his compositions: ? George Jones, Buck Owens, Waylon Jenning, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, the Judds, Jimmy Dickens, Ray Price and Conway Twitty, to name just a few. But his songs have also enjoyed R&B and pop interpretations by a variety of artists such as Ray Charles, Joe Simon, Shirley Caesar, Brenda Lee, The Kingston Trio, Kay Starr and Burl Ives.


At the 1994 BMI Country Awards: Patty Loveless, Kostas, Sony/Tree's Donna Hilley, BMI's Roger Sovine, Harlan Howard, and BMI"s Frances Preston celebrate Song of the Year "Blame It On Your Heart"

Among his numerous accolades were 45 BMI Country Awards, 4 BMI Pop Awards and two BMI R&B Awards. BMI President & CEO Frances Preston, who met Howard almost 40 years ago, remembered, "When Harlan was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame several years ago, he said he was surprised he was being honored by people in New York when he so rarely crossed Tennessee’s Cumberland River. Harlan himself may have stayed close to his Nashville home, but his songs were his ambassadors to the rest of the world and the world loved him for it.


Greeting Roger Miller and Waylon Jennings at the 1990 Harlan Howard Birthday Bash

"He understood the spirit of creative collaboration and was willing to share his melodies and his words with other songwriters -- those who were his contemporaries and those who came to "the master" to learn the art. He was generous with his gifts and another generation of successful songwriters is grateful to him for showing them the way.

"Harlan was my friend and I will miss him," concluded Preston.


With co-host Tammy Wynette and Mark Knopfler at the 1990 Birthday Bash

Harlan Perry Howard was born September 8, 1927 in Detroit, Michigan. After a difficult childhood in a number of foster homes, he dropped out of school in the ninth grade and became a manual laborer. After military service, he settled in Los Angeles in 1955 and began driving a forklift in a printing factory.


At the 1961 BMI Country Awards: BMI's Frances Preston and Robert J. Burton, Harlan Howard, Joe Allison and Buck Owens

As a boy, he'd been captivated by the music of Ernest Tubb and had begun writing song lyrics. In California, he socialized with other country-music lovers; one of his early writing partners was Buck Owens. His first publishing deal came courtesy of cowboy stars Tex Ritter and Johnny Bond.


With Buck Owens at the 1998 Birthday Bash

Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Walker launched Howard's hit writing career in 1958 with "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down." The following year, "Heartaches B y the Number" topped both the country and the pop hit parades in versions by Ray Price and Guy Mitchell.

After writing for Kitty Wells, Warren Smith and Jan Howard (his wife from 1957 to 1967), Harlan Howard moved to Nashville in June 1960. Along with fellow BMI writers Bill Anderson, Boudleaux & Felice Bryant, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, Danny Dill, Marijohn Wilkin, John D. Loudermilk and Roger Miller, he was among the first full-time songwriting professionals in the city.

Working at Pamper Music, he collaborated on songs with Hank Cochran, with whom he cowrote Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces" and George Jones' "You Comb Her Hair." At one point in 1961 Harlan Howard had 15 songs on the country popularity charts at the same time , a feat not equaled since. BMI gave him 10 songwriting awards that year of the 39 songs on the "most performed" list and he was named Billboard magazine's songwriter of the year in 1962 and 1963.

Prominence as a writer led to recording his own albums in 1961, 1965, 1967 and 1971. But the finest collection of his songs came with a 1967 tribute LP by Waylon Jennings, titled Waylon Sings Ol' Harlan. During his career, Jennings recorded more than 40 of Howard's songs, far more than any other artist.

Howard was Jennings' songwriting mentor and his bonds with other artists were equally strong. Harlan Howard helped Bobby Bare obtain an RCA recording contract and lobbied for Conway Twitty's transition from teen pop idol to country superstar. He also opened doors on Music Row for current star Sara Evans.

Howard's peers began calling him "Mr. Songwriter" after Ray Charles won a Grammy Award with "Busted" in 1963. Originally recorded by Johnny Cash, that song is one of a number of Harlan Howard compositions that have been recorded multiple times. Others include "Life Turned Her That Way," "The Chokin' Kind," "Yours Love," "Above and Beyond," "I Fall To Pieces," "The Key 's In the Mailbox" and "Too Many Rivers."

In 1982, Opry star John Conlee revived "Busted" and introduced "I Don' t Remember Loving You" and "Nothing Behind You (Nothing in Sight)". Thereafter, a new generation of Nashville stars began singing his songs. Reba McEntire ("Somebody Should Leave"), The Judds ("Why Not Me"), Highway 101 ("Somewhere Tonight") and others extended Howard's hit streak through the 1980s.

In the 1990s Pam Tillis ("Don't Tell Me What To Do"), Doug Stone ("These Lips Don' t Know How To Say Goodbye"), Collin Raye ("All I Can Be") and more had hits with Harlan Howard songs. Trisha Yearwood and Aaron Neville won a Grammy Award for their 1994 revival of "I Fall To Pieces." At the 1994 BMI Country Awards banquet, Howard's "Blame It O n Your Heart," co-written with Kostas and recorded by Patty Loveless, was named BMI Country Song of the Year.

His presence on Music Row was such that that for a dozen years (1983-95 ) the community celebrated the "Harlan Howard Birthday Bash," an all-star concert staged in the BMI Nashville parking lot as a benefit for songwriter organizations. Declining health forced him to discontinue these events after 1995. He and fifth wife Melanie Howard continued to run his song publishing business, however, and they aided such developing writers as Jackson Leap and Bobbie Cryner.

Harlan Howard was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973 and, in 1997, both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Survivors, in addition to his wife, Melanie Howard, are sons Perry Howard (BMI Nashville Associate Director, Writer/Publisher Relations) and Carter "Corky" Howard, daughters Clementine Howard and Jennifer Howard Carmella, granddaughter Michele Carmella, and brother Milton Howard.

Visitation at Nashville's Roesch-Patton-Austin-Bracey & Charlton funeral home (1715 Broadway) is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5 from 11am - 2pm and 6pm - 8pm and again on Wednesday, March 6 from 11am - 2pm. There will be a private family service on Wednesday.

A memorial service has been set for Tuesday, March 19th, from 2-4 p.m. at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Howard family has requested memorial donations to The Harlan Howard Music Scholarship Fund, SunTrust Bank, 1206 17th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212. (reference account number 7021676536).

Harlan Howard's Hit Songs

1958: "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down" ? Charlie Walker
1959: "Heartaches by the Number" ? Ray Price
"Heartaches by the Number" ? Guy Mitchell "Mommy for a Day" ? Kitty Wells
1960: "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)" ? Buck Owens
"Above and Beyond" ? Buck Owens
"I Don't Believe I'll Fall in Love Today" ? Warren Smith
"The One You Slip Around With" ? Jan Howard
"I Wish I Could Fall in Love Today" ? Ray Price
"The Everglades" ? The Kingston Trio
"The Key's in the Mailbox" ? Freddie Hart
1961: "I Fall to Pieces" ? Patsy Cline
"Heartbreak U.S.A." ? Kitty Wells
"Under the Influence of Love" ? Buck Owens
"Foolin' Around" ? Buck Owens
"Foolin' Around" ? Kay Starr
"The Blizzard" ? Jim Reeves
"Odds and Ends" ? Warren Smith
"Three Steps to the Phone" ? George Hamilton IV
1962: "Call Me Mr. In-Between" ? Burl Ives
"Second Hand Rose (Second Hand Heart)" ? Roy Drusky
"Mary Ann Regrets" ? Burl Ives
"Sally Was a Good Old Girl" ? Hank Cochran
1963: "Busted" ? Johnny Cash
"Busted" ? Ray Charles
"You Comb Her Hair" ? George Jones
"You Took Her Off My Hands" ? Ray Price
"Don't Call Me from a Honky-Tonk" ? Johnny & Jonie Mosby
"Another Bridge to Burn" ? Jimmy Dickens
"The Deepening Snow" ? Johnny Darrell
1964: "I Won't Forget You" ? Hank Snow
"Your Heart Turned Left" ? George Jones
"Go Cat Go" ? Norma Jean
"Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming In" ? Johnny & Jonie Mosby
"It Takes One to Know One" ? Jimmy Martin
"Life Turned Her That Way" ? Jimmy Dickens
1965: "Too Many Rivers" ? Brenda Lee
"I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" ? Buck Owens
"I Wouldn't Buy a Used Car from Him" ? Norma Jean
"Someone's Gotta Cry" ? Jean Shepard
"She's Gone, Gone, Gone" ? Lefty Frizzell
"What Makes a Man Wander?" ? Jan Howard
"Take Him Fishing" ? Tex Ritter
"Meanwhile Down at Joe's" ? Kitty Wells
1966: "The Hurtin's All Over" ? Connie Smith
"The Minute Men" ? Stonewall Jackson
"Evil on Your Mind" ? Jan Howard
"Streets of Baltimore" ? Bobby Bare
"Look Into My Teardrops" ? Conway Twitty
"Time to Bum Again" ? Waylon Jennings
"Green River" ? Waylon Jennings
"It's All Over But the Crying" ? Kitty Wells
"I've Cried a Mile" ? Hank Snow
1967: "Heaven Help the Working Girl" ? Norma Jean
"The Chokin' Kind" ? Waylon Jennings
"Life Turned Her That Way" ? Mel Tillis
"Any Old Way You Do" ? Jan Howard
1968: "It's All Over But the Crying" ? Hank Williams Jr.
"He's a Good Old Boy" ? Arlene Hardin
"Baby Me, Baby" ? Johnny Duncan
"California Sunshine" ? Waylon Jennings
"Yours Love" ? Waylon Jennings
"I Wish I Felt This Way at Home" ? Dolly Parton
1969: "The Chokin' Kind" ?Joe Simon
"Yours Love" ? Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton
"Thinking �Bout You Babe" ? Billy Walker
"Odds and Ends" ? Tompall & The Glaser Brothers
1970: "Watermelon Time in Georgia" ? Lefty Frizzell
"She's a Little Bit Country" ? George Hamilton IV
1971: "Sunday Morning Christian" ? Harlan Howard
"He Called Me Baby" ? Candi Staton
1972: "The Key's in the Mailbox" ? Tony Booth
1973: "Streets of Baltimore" ? Gram Parsons
1974: "No Charge" ? Melba Montgomery
"She Called Me Baby" ? Charlie Rich
1975: "No Charge" ? Shirley Caesar
1978: "Toddy for the Body" ? Bobby Bare
1980: "Sally Was a Good Old Girl" ? Hank Cochran
"She's Gone, Gone, Gone" ? The New South
1981: "All Fall Down" ? Kris Kristofferson
1982: "Busted" ? John Conlee
"I Don't Remember Loving You" ? John Conlee
"Nothing Behind You (Nothing in Sight)" ? John Conlee
1984: "I Don't Know a Thing About Love" ? Conway Twitty
"You're a Hard Dog to Keep Under the Porch" ? Gail Davies
1985: "Why Not Me?" ? The Judds
"Somebody Should Leave" ? Reba McEntire
1987: "Somewhere Tonight" ? Highway 101
"Too Many Rivers" ? The Forester Sisters
"Never Mind" ? Nanci Griffith
1988: "Life Turned Her That Way" ? Ricky Van Shelton
"I Wish That I Could Fall in Love Today" ? Barbara Mandrell
"I'm Down to My Last Cigarette" ? k.d. lang
1989: "Above and Beyond" ? Rodney Crowell
"She's Gone, Gone, Gone" ? Glen Campbell
1991: "These Lips Don't Know How to Say Goodbye" ? Doug Stone
"Don't Tell Me What to Do" ? Pam Tillis
"The Key's in the Mailbox" ? Barbara Mandrell
"All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory)" ? Collin Raye
1993: "Blame it on Your Heart" ? Patty Loveless
1994: "I Fall to Pieces" ? Trisha Yearwood & Aaron Neville
1997: "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail" ? Sara Evans
1999: "I Fall to Pieces" ? LeAnn Rimes

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