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Songwriting Great Felice Bryant Dies

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I was a weird kid and started reading songwriting and production credits on the very firs records I bought in the late ’60s. I thought names “Boudleaux and Felice Bryant” among the most exotic I had ever encountered when I saw them in conjunction with some of my favorite Everly Brothers songs. Boudleaux died in ’87, now Felice is gone:

    Felice Bryant, who with her late husband wrote “Bye Bye Love” and other Everly Brothers hits and the hand-clapping bluegrass standard “Rocky Top,” died Tuesday. She was 77.

    Bryant, who had been diagnosed with cancer, died at her Gatlinburg home, said Caroline Davis, spokeswoman for the songwriters licensing agency BMI.

    Her husband, Boudleaux, who died in 1987, and she wrote or co-wrote 800 recorded songs cut by more than 500 vocalists. Their songs have accounted for approximately 500 million record sales.

    Their other big hits include the Everlys’ “Wake Up Little Susie,” “We Could,” recorded by various artists including Jim Reeves and Al Martino, and “Raining in My Heart,” recorded by Buddy Holly, Dean Martin and Ray Price.

    Others who recorded songs by the Bryants included Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Simon & Garfunkel, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison and Sarah Vaughan.

    The couple began writing songs together when Boudleaux Bryant set his wife’s poetry to music. Their first major success was “Country Boy” by Little Jimmy Dickens in 1948.

    They were among the first in Nashville to make songwriting a full-time career. They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1991 and inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986.

    “Rocky Top,” written in 10 minutes in 1968 and recorded by the Osborne Brothers, became a state song in 1982, joining “Tennessee Waltz” and others. It has been the fight song for the University of Tennessee athletic teams since the early 1970s, whipping football crowds into a frenzy at Neyland Stadium.

    “We played it in a drill and the crowd loved it so much, we kept playing it,” W.J. Julian, the marching band’s former director, said Tuesday.

    The song, with a bouncy beat, is about a secluded spot in the Smoky Mountains where there’s no “smoggy smoke” or telephone bills. “Corn don’t grow at all on Rocky Top, dirt’s too rocky by far,” the song says. “That’s why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar.”

    ….Her husband did most of the melody writing and she provided the lyrics. Alone, Boudleaux Bryant also wrote “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Devoted to You,” both recorded by the Everly Brothers, and “Love Hurts,” recorded by Orbison. [AP]

Here is an excerpt from her Songwriters Hall of Fame bio:

    Boudleaux Bryant met Felice in Milwaukee. Although she had no musical training, she and her entire family sang and played instruments by ear. In her quiet hours, unknown to anyone else, she wrote song lyrics. It was only after their marriage in 1945 that they combined their magic talents and began writing songs that took the musical world by storm…. [see also their amazing list of song credits]

The bottom line is, with the help of producer Archie Bleyer and an extraordinary studio band, the Bryants help make the Everly Brothers the most important duo in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Don and Phil Everly were at least third generation folk and country singers from
central Kentucky. Father Ike was a guitar picker of some renown and friends with Chet Atkins. After traveling about performing live and on radio with
their parents, the Everlys ended up in Nashville. A deal with Columbia resulted in
less than zero, but eventually the duo ended up signed to Acuff-Rose as
songwriters. Despite the fact that Bleyer had turned down a Everly demo several
months before, when he made his trip to Nashville in the Spring of 1957, he
signed the Everly Brothers at the strong urging of Rose.

Much to everyone’s surprise, “Bye, Bye Love,” the Everlys’ first release on
Cadence, became a huge crossover hit that reached No. 2 on the pop chart and
No. 1 on the country chart. The song was written by veteran Acuff-Rose
songwriters Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. The Bryants had shown the song to
thirty different artists and had been rejected by them all. The boys heard
something though, and by grafting on the intro from a song Don had written
called “Give Me a Future,” a smash was created and a great career began.

There are obvious reasons why siblings or other close blood relatives (Andrews
Sisters, Beach Boys, Judds, Rank and File) would achieve a remarkable
harmonic blend: similar genes, similar environment, growing up singing together, but the Everlys and Cadence brought this phenomenon to its artistic apex by creating a crack creative and production team that included the Bryant’s songs, guitarist Atkins, and pianists Floyd Cramer and David Briggs backing the Everly’s acoustic guitars and vocals.

The team achieved a lightness and brightness that wove in and around the
Everly’s angelic tenors. “All I Have to Do Is Dream” is perhaps the most
wistful song ever recorded – with a love divine just out of the Everly’s reach,
tantalizing and forever perfect. The beauty and intimacy of the Everly’s best
ballads, “Love of My Life,” “Let It Be Me” [not written by the Bryants] “Dream” render potentially mawkish sentiments into undeniable TRUTH.

The uptempo “Bye, Bye, Love,” “Wake Up Little Suzie” and “Problems” proved that the acoustic guitar is a rock ‘n’ roll instrument, and paved the way for the power strumming of the ’60s. Artists as far flung as Bob Dylan, The Who, The Beatles, The Byrds, CSNY and Eagles are in debt to the Everlys and their remarkable team including the Bryants.

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