CR027/PH13 – Billy Sherrill’s Nashville Sound

1200 630 Cocaine & Rhinestones

Billy Sherrill's Nashville Sound



What if the first serious opinions that millions of rock music fans formed about country music were based on a few massive errors which then got passed down to future generations? How long do you think it would take for society to build a fundamentally flawed history of an entire genre on top of such a foundation? Fifty years? Well, that’s exactly what happened.

Billy Sherrill’s name means nothing to many country music fans. Some recognize it from the album credits of a few of their favorite country artists. Others manage to cast him as an enemy of the genre. But anyone who hears the name Billy Sherrill and thinks anything less than “he’s one of the most important producers in the history of Nashville, who made some of the greatest and most influential records of all time in any genre” has not been given enough information about the man or the music. That changes today.


Contents (Click/Tap to Scroll)

Primary Sources

The primary sources for this episode can be found on The Main Library and the Season 2 Library pages.


Transcript of Episode

As part of my agreement with Simon & Schuster to publish a book adaptation of Season 2, the transcripts that have been freely available for over a year will be temporarily removed from this website. Please consider ordering a copy of Cocaine & Rhinestones: A History of George Jones and Tammy Wynette through your favorite local bookstore or requesting that your local library order a copy you can check out.


Liner Notes


Excerpted Music

This episode featured excerpts from the following songs, in this order [with links to purchase or stream where available]:


Excerpted Video

These videos were excerpted in the episode. For any number of reasons, YouTube (or DailyMotion) may remove them in the future but here they are for now:




Commentary and Remaining Sources

As with all of the intros, this was not meant to be a comprehensive history of drag or ballroom or sumptuary laws. These are just pieces of things I think a person should know if they’re interested in learning what country music is and the world it comes from. Usually, rather than direct attention toward things most people are already aware of, what I’m trying to do is fill in the gaps and point out connections. So while I didn’t directly reference, for instance, Stonewall in this intro, what I was trying to do is tell the rest of the story about how that situation arose for all of you who already know the story of Stonewall to see how it fits into everything I discussed here. My hope is you find that more interesting than listening to me say a bunch of things you already know. (If you don’t know what Stonewall is and you enjoyed learning the history in this intro, I would encourage you to go learn about Stonewall.) Similarly, there were, of course, gay women and trans men who ventured out into the Old West, though to a lesser degree and usually not without above-average shooting skills for what I’d think would be readily apparent reasons.

I should point out fashion-centric sumptuary laws are not the only kind of sumptuary law. When Alexander Hamilton proposed the whiskey tax, those who opposed it said he was trying to implement a sumptuary law intended to disproportionately target the poor, etc.

As for sources, I did watch all the documentaries mentioned in the intro. RuPaul’s Drag Race is extremely entertaining but it is also only one facet of drag and I would encourage any fans who haven’t seen The Queen or Paris Is Burning to watch those. There is a lot of upsetting stuff in both – especially Paris Is Burning – both psychologically and viscerally (and there are quite a few people who have problems with who the director of Paris Is Burning was and what she chose to focus on) but all the footage of actual ballroom is priceless and mandatory viewing for anyone interested in this subject.

As for Billy Sherrill, he was a hard nut to crack. There are so many instances of his actions not lining up with the tough, intimidating reputation he gained by saying controversial things. He always told Emily Mitchell (a secretary who was eventually promoted up to executive level) that he hated cats but then she noticed every time a stray started hanging around the streets near the office Billy wouldn’t be able to stop worrying about the cat until they found it a home. When he saw a homeless person in the area he made sure food was sent over to them. There are so many examples of this stuff. It seems the most accurate thing to say is Billy was an equal opportunity offender and, as I’m sure many of us have grown used to in recent years, anyone who took specific offense to a certain thing he said or did was likely to then project all sorts of other negative traits onto him as well, which is really the only explanation I can come up with for how in the same interview where Bob Allen asked Billy Sherrill about rumors he was a Nazi, Bob Allen also asked Billy Sherrill about rumors he was a Communist.

Personally, I was shocked while researching this episode to find how many instances there were of Billy Sherrill being misquoted by the media. He himself commented on this when asked about a statement he supposedly made regarding Robert Altman’s Nashville. The two most common versions of the quote that I’ve seen are “you don’t do the anatomy of a man and just show his ass” and “when you show the anatomy of a man, you should try to show something besides his tail.” Billy Sherrill denied saying this but also declined to clarify what he actually did say because he claimed the press usually came up with a better story than the truth and he didn’t care if people had incorrect ideas about him just as long as they were thinking about him. Since people are always asking for my opinion on Altman’s Nashville, I may as well take a second to say it is a surprisingly accurate portrayal of the country music business at its worst, though I would agree with those alleged Billy Sherrill quotes that it isn’t the entire business. My biggest problem with the movie is that most of the singing is unforgivably bad, particularly in the Grand Ole Opry segment. If that’s what Robert Altman thought country singers sound like then I’m not surprised he seemed to view the whole industry as net negative.

There was nowhere it made sense to mention it but for those of you wondering where you may have heard the song “Sweet and Innocent” before, years after the original recordings it sold millions of copies as Donny Osmond’s first hit record.

Speaking of child stars, I don’t believe Larry Collins has come up before on the podcast but for those of you who know the name, Larry is the principal songwriter on “Delta Dawn.” That song was recorded by other people before Tanya Tucker cut it. What I said in the episode is Bette Midler hadn’t yet recorded the song when Billy Sherrill decided to make it Tanya Tucker’s first single.

George Harrison wasn’t sued for plagiarizing “He’s So Fine” in “My Sweet Lord” until way later in the 1970s but it would blow my mind if Billy’s instrumentation on Jody Miller’s 1971 cut of “He So Fine” wasn’t a deliberate inside joke from him immediately recognizing the 1970 Harrison song as a ripoff. Or, since Pete Drake was on the Jody Miller session and he’d also been flown overseas to play on All Things Must Pass, then it’s entirely possible he was the one who clocked the shared melody and decided to make a joke about it. Whoever was responsible, there’s just no way that isn’t a conscious reference to George Harrison’s style of slide guitar.

Some readers may want to disagree with my characterization of the outlaw country movement being full of rock music fans new to country but the reason I know that’s a fact is because of how many outlaw country fans believe the outlaw movement was some kind of return to “real” and “traditional” country music, which is ridiculous because that is the polar opposite of the truth, as evidenced by what all the people paying attention to country music called those artists and their music prior to the term “outlaw” taking off. What they called it was “progressive country,” because of how many elements from other genres were being brought into the form. This is not to say that people who were fans of country music before outlaw country did not enjoy outlaw country. It is to say outlaw country was responsible for millions of people who never gave country music the time of day going from saying they hated country music to saying they loved it. If there’s one subgenre of country music I feel absolutely confident in speaking on without citing sources, it’s outlaw country but anyone who doesn’t want to take my word for it and researches the matter for themselves will ultimately find everything I said to be the truth.

Billy Sherrill and David Allan Coe had done a session or two together prior to the Human Emotions album but that was the first album fully produced by Billy. I have no idea why but a lot of people seem to think Billy was DAC’s producer the whole time he was on Columbia and he’s credited that way all over Wikipedia even though you can just look at the credits on the backs of the albums and see it was not him until 1978. There’s a chance it’s Warren Haynes singing the high harmony part on “I’m Gonna Hurt Her on the Radio” because he was in the room but it sounds a lot more like another Billy Sherrill harmony discussed later in the season than it does anything I’ve heard Warren do. I doubt anyone can say for sure because Billy rarely put parts on records while everyone was still in the studio: “Usually I play a lot on the records I cut, but after everyone’s gone and it’s just me and the engineer. Then I’ll overdub my parts.”

As for my sources, other than the primary sources found on the Season 2 Library page, they were all mentioned in the episode except for the archives at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Much of this episode was a product of the time I spent there and I would encourage you to visit the museum if you ever come to Nashville.

Alright, the reason it was appropriate to focus so much on Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill in these past few episodes is that most of what the public had communicated to them regarding George Jones in this period was through the more-famous Tammy Wynette and the albums produced by Billy Sherrill. For his part, Jones was mostly trying to disappear but wound up stumbling into the commercial peak of his career. So next we’re going to talk about that commercial peak, how it happened, what it meant and where it went. Place a wreath upon the door because when the podcast returns it’s with an episode on “He Stopped Loving Her Today” along with a whole mess of other stuff.