Jerry Kennedy explores his career as a recording artist, guitarist, producer, and label executive in this wide-reaching interview, held February 16, 2008, at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
During the program, part of the Museum’s Nashville Cats series, Kennedy shares his experiences in sessions with Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Tammy Wynette, and many others, and looks back on his early days, taking guitar lessons from Tillman Franks in Shreveport, Louisiana, launching a career as a teenaged recording artist (billed as Jerry Glenn), and playing sessions in Shreveport.
Mercury Records promotion executive Shelby Singleton heard Kennedy play at the “Louisiana Hayride” in Shreveport and “demanded,” as Kennedy recalls, that he come to Nashville after graduation. Even as Kennedy continued to record in Nashville, Singleton gave him work as a producer and later appointed him as a talent executive at Mercury Records.
At the same time he was producing and playing guitar on country recordings, Kennedy performed on R&B recordings in the 1960s with artists such as Brook Benton, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino, Ivory Joe Hunter, Clyde McPhatter, and Dusty Springfield.
Kennedy went on to become Mercury’s top Nashville executive. He spoke about working with Roger Miller, a songwriter he met when Mercury shared an office building with Miller’s publisher, Tree Publishing. Signed to Mercury, Miller wanted to move to Los Angeles and needed $1,600 to do so. The label agreed to give him the money if he cut sixteen songs, at $100 a side. With Kennedy producing, Miller did three sessions over two days. The work captured included such classics as “Dang Me,” “Chug-a-Lug,” and “Do-Wacka-Do.”
Later, host Bill Lloyd lists the legendary artists Kennedy produced—including comedian George Burns, Tom T. Hall, Jerry Lee Lewis, Reba McEntire, Johnny Rodriguez, and the Statler Brothers—and the producer quickly credits the artists themselves. When Lloyd heralds Kennedy’s contributions on guitar—the memorable intro to Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” or the famous riff running through Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”—the guitarist praises the session players surrounding him.
The audience is also treated to clips of Kennedy playing guitar on Elvis Presley’s “Good Luck Charm” and Dobro on Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.”
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