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Producer Billy Sherrill Brought Pop's Passion And Sheen To The Honky-Tonk
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Producer Billy Sherrill Brought Pop's Passion And Sheen To The Honky-Tonk

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Producer Billy Sherrill Brought Pop's Passion And Sheen To The Honky-Tonk

Producer Billy Sherrill Brought Pop's Passion And Sheen To The Honky-Tonk
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He discovered Tammy Wynette, revived the career of George Jones, and produced and co-wrote some of country's best-known hits, including Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." Sherrill died Tuesday at 78.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the most sought after producers in country music has died. Billy Sherrill was 78 years old. He discovered Tammy Wynette. He turned George Jones into a superstar. Blake Farmer, from member station WPLN, has this appreciation.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Billy Sherrill shunned the spotlight. He didn't spend much time on the award circuit unless he was being given one. When he was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008, he shared his thoughts about what makes a good producer - being a jack of all trades, knowing a little about everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILLY SHERRILL: But the main thing is to have an ear that you think that the public has. You have an ear like the public.

FARMER: Sherrill proved he had that through his record sales. He heard something no other producer did when a single mother showed up on his doorstep in 1966. Tammy Wynette went on to have 20 number ones working with Sherrill, who also co-wrote many of her best-known songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY YOUR MAN")

TAMMY WYNETTE: (Singing) Stand by your man, and show the world you love him.

FARMER: When Sherrill started working with Wynette's then-husband George Jones in the 1970s, the artist famously said this song would be a total flop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY")

GEORGE JONES: (Singing) He said I'll love you till I die.

FARMER: Too morbid, Jones said, but it became a chart topper and 40 years later was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HE STOPPED LOVING HER TODAY")

JONES: (Singing) He stopped loving her today and placed a wreath upon his door.

FARMER: Today, Sherrill's music sounds classic. But at the time, it was far more emotional than most of what was selling. Country Music Hall of Fame historian Michael McCall says Sherrill may not have been braggadocious, but he was confident.

MICHAEL MCCALL: He was a groundbreaker, you know? And you - and to be that kind of person, you have to have, you know, a sort of an innate confidence that you know what you're doing is going to work and take those chances.

FARMER: Sherrill took a chance on singer and songwriter Shelby Lynne when she was just 18. She calls him one of the greats.

SHELBY LYNNE: Because he changed the way music sounds in Nashville. He just made it sophisticated. He added a pop sensibility to it.

FARMER: Billy Sherrill steered Charlie Rich from pop into country, where he had several hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEHIND CLOSED DOORS")

CHARLIE RICH: (Singing) And when we get behind closed doors.

FARMER: Sherrill also veered outside the genre himself at times, working with Ray Charles and Elvis Costello. Billy Sherrill went for anything he thought would sell, saying, quote, "never let your personal feelings get in the way of what makes a hit record." For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

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