We lived in a one room rundown shack on the outskirts of New Orleans
We didn’t have money for food or rent to say the least we were hard pressed
Then mama spent every last penny we had to buy me a satin dancin’ dress
That’s Lynn Anderson taking a star turn on her runaway hit Fancy with Louisiana prodigy Glenn Sutton in the producer’s chair.
Sutton passed away on this day in 2007.
As a transplanted Louisiana kid growing up in Henderson, Texas, Glenn Sutton took to the country music business in earnest as a child. He started writing cowboy songs and pestering the local radio station KGRI til they gave the young man his own 15 minute Saturday morning show.
His theme song? The Bob Wills classic I Bet You My Heart I Love You
He was 16.
Like most young men of his era, Sutton did a bid in the military before mustering out and heading back to the Deep South where he quickly learned that it’s hard to earn a living working for Remington Rand as an electric razor repairman in the Mississippi of the 1950s.
Time to hit the stage.
Sutton starts playing around town at rough and tumble venues like the Wagon Wheel, and quickly draws the attention of ACE Records head honcho Johnny Vincent.
Vincent signs him to a deal, and the two hit the studio where Sutton lays down a couple forgettable 45s, and, oddly, an album’s worth of Hank Williams covers. Vincent releases the Greatest Songs of Hank Williams, (Teem LP-5000) and it sinks without a trace.
Young and full of moxie, Glenn joins forces with Murry Kellum, and the two play around town til they can scrape up $182 for a short, four side, studio session at Pepper Sound up in Memphis. They press a couple hundred 45s, and Kellum becomes a minor regional hit with his side Long Tall Texan which goes to number 50 before stalling out due to the Kennedy assassination. Texas references weren’t real popular at the time.
Come 1964, Sutton’s outgrown Jackson and sets off for the big city lights of Nashville. He hits the ground running, quickly selling Gonna Buy Me A Jukebox and Credit Card to Tommy Hill at Starday for the Willis Brothers to record. He gets a cold dose of reality though when his songwriting acumen only nets him a $50 a week salary.
He writes the Hank Williams, Jr. song Guess What, That’s Right, She’s Gone but he’s struggling.
But his big break was coming.
Glenn Sutton’s scraping together enough money on his wage to keep his nose above water but just barely. He’s in the Al Gallico Music Corporation office one day when the boss, Al, needs a lift over to RCA where Chet Atkins and Eddy Arnold are recording, and getting ready to start laying down tracks for their LP The Easy Way.
Chet asks Al if his new employee might be able to help them out on the record and overnight Sutton’s the author of the record’s title release 45. The flip? Just a little track called Make The World Go Away. The payoff for the young writer? “Ten or fifteen thousand dollars, and I’ve never owed a publisher a dime since that time”
The Nashville songwriting community was tiny in those days and Sutton was rubbing elbows with titans and future titans like Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran, Dallas Frazier and Curly Putnam.
At 812 16th Avenue South in Nashville there was a cluster of music industry businesses including Johnny Cash’s office, Bob Neal’s booking agency (Elvis’s old manager) the Aud-Lee Booking Agency (Hank William’s ex, Audrey and Buddy Lee) Al Gallico Music Corporation, and Epic where not-yet-legend Billy Sherrill was working.
Proximity and happenstance lead Sutton and Sherrill to start hanging out, and the two would would go on to form one of the most lucrative and famous songwriting partnerships in the history of country music.
It’s two in the morning and the fresh cohort has been plowing along mightily for several hours, drinking J&B scotch, and sharpening up a song they plan on pitching to Charlie Walker but ended up cutting with David Houston, a new-ish star who’s ready for the followup to his Mountain of Love hit from ’63.
They’re unable to come up with a song title til they spy a hymnal and straight up rip off the title from an old gospel song sheet. Writers through and through.
Almost Persuaded would drop in June of ’66, and go straight to number one where it stayed for nine weeks. A record.
Al Gallico calls his young charge next and tasks him with writing a song for the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis is coming off his first number one country hit Another Place, Another Time and Sutton immediately agrees but is stuck with monumental writer’s block. He hems and haws and manages to delay Al for several days til finally Gallico gets him backed into a corner, and Sutton, glancing at a newspaper beer ad for Schlitz, tells Al over the phone the new track will be called What Makes Milwaukee Famous
Sutton gets cracking that night, and by morning has finished what would go on to become a hit for the Killer, and one of his biggest-earning songs.
Now Sutton’s a hot property, and at the behest of Billy Sherrill gets hired as a staff writer for Epic Records where he would meet the California Horse Show Queen of 1966, Lynn Anderson
The beauty queen songstress was making some ripples in the country music pond via 45s Slim Williamson was dropping on his Chart label.
Williamson released her debut LP Ride Ride Ride, a fitting kickoff for a lil horse-loving country gal – and it included If I Kiss You Will You Go Away, her first top 10 hit.
Al Gallico introduces Glenn and Lynn at an awards ceremony, and Sutton begins flying out to California to visit the songbird to see if he can write some tunes for her. Lynn Anderson, in the late sixties was drop dead gorgeous so one imagines Glenn may have had ulterior motives.
Either way, the two fall in love and are married on May 4, 1968 at the First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, Tennessee with the Reverend Courtney Wilson conducting the ceremony.
Anderson quickly records Stay There Til I Get There a Sutton song for Columbia/Epic where it would crack the top ten, and cement her position at her new corporate home.
Meanwhile Slim Williamson at Chart has been putting out a big backlog of old Anderson songs, and earning a good living doing so.
Next, Lynn records Joe South’s Rose Garden with her husband sitting in the producer’s chair, and it turns into one of the biggest smash hits of the decade. Sutton hadn’t even wanted Anderson to cut the tune as he thought it was too masculine but she bulldozed him, and when company head Clive Davis heard it he pushed it to the moon. It went on to become a platinum smash earning Joe South two nominations for “Best Country Song” and “Song of the Year.”
Anderson walked away with a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
It was to be the high point of Lynn and Glenn’s cooperative powers.
The record industry is notoriously hard on marriages and the union between the beauty queen and the Louisiana country boy was not to last. They divorced in 1977. In an interview, Lynn mentioned that she still did a little recording but it was never the same without Glenn as my musical liaison.
Glenn Sutton had walked away from Columbia the year before, and the “architect of the countrypolitan” sound was nigh onto being finished with the record industry. He did a little more producing, including working with Lefty Frizzell, and struck out on his own and had minor success as a recording act doing country novelty songs but the height of his career had passed.
The hard-drinking wildman who went from small-town Louisiana to the heights of the country music industry just walked away saying “I’m very happy with the career I had…writing songs was just a great way to make a living”
Glenn Sutton was born on Sept 28 1937
He died of a heart attack on April 17 2007
At the time of his death he had 484 songs registered on the BMI publishing site.
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May I leave you with this from Glenn Sutton:
“Billy Sherrill had a Johnny Paycheck recording session booked for 6 p.m. and he called me at 2 o’clock and told me that he and Paycheck were having a beer together at a little joint and for me to come over and join them.
So I went over there and Billy started telling me that Paycheck is sort of known as an outlaw and crazy, and for me to try to come up with something with an outlaw thing to it—maybe even a prayer type thing or something. So I went back to my office and worked on it awhile and got the basics down. I met them at the studio at 20 minutes ’til six and showed it to them. Billy changed a few things in it and decided to put the melody to “Sweet Hour Of Prayer” behind it and Paycheck recorded it that night.”
Paycheck’s song would hit the charts on January 27th 1979. It peaked at number 27.