Buddy Killen Dies

Buddy Killen, a music publisher, songwriter and record producer who helped launch the careers of Dolly Parton and Bill Anderson, died Wednesday. He was 73.

Killen, one of the most influential figures in the Nashville entertainment business, was recently diagnosed with liver and pancreatic cancer, according to his spokeswoman Betty Hofer, who announced the death.

In 1951, Killen joined forces with Jack Stapp, founder of Tree International, to create a music publishing empire. He recruited such songwriters as Parton and Roger Miller. After Stapp died in 1980, Killen became Tree’s sole owner. He sold it in 1989 to CBS, now Sony/ATV, then created his own company, the Killen Music Group.

As a record producer, he worked with Parton, Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Tex, Dottie West, George Jones, Carol Channing and Fats Domino. Killen produced the Tex hit “I Gotcha” in 1972.

Killen himself wrote hundreds of hits. His most recorded was “Forever,” a hit for the Little Dippers in 1960. Conway Twitty had a No. 1 country hit in 1979 with Killen’s “I May Never Get to Heaven” and Buck Owens hit No. 1 with “Open Up Your Heart” in 1966.

“Buddy Killen will live in my heart and memory like a classic song,” Parton said in a statement.

Parton said she was 15 when Killen produced her first record for Mercury Records — and even played bass on it.

“He was one of the very first people to see my dream. And not only did he see it, he tried to help make it come true,” she said. Referring to one of her most famous songs, Parton said, “Buddy, I will always love you.”

Anderson, who like Parton is a Country Music Hall of Fame member, said he owed his career to Killen.

“He taught me to become a professional songwriter,” Anderson said. “He helped secure my first recording contract, introduced me to the powers-that-be at the Grand Ole Opry, and even played bass behind me on my first Opry appearance. We wrote songs together, and he was my record producer for five years. But above all that, he was my friend.”

W.D. Killen was born in Florence, Ala., and began his music career the day after his high school graduation by going to work as a bass player at the Grand Ole Opry. He went on to work numerous road shows with Hank Williams Sr., Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves and Ray Price.

Associated Press