And yet again we mourn as another legend passes.
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Curly Putman died Sunday (10/30) in Lebanon, Tennessee (a suburb of Nashville) after a lengthy illness.
Claude Putman Jr. was born in Alabama and served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge in the Navy. Nicknamed "Junior" and later "Curly," Putman moved to Nashville in 1964 and was discovered by Roger Miller. Miller introduced him to Tree Publishing executive Buddy Killen, who signed Putman as a song plugger and a songwriter.
And oh, did he write songs. In 1966 his mournful ballad "Green, Green Grass of Home" was a huge hit in country for Porter Wagoner and in pop for Tom Jones. The brilliant story song was about a man celebrating his lovely hometown and his girlfriend only to awaken and discover that he was dreaming because he is a condemned man, getting ready to die at daybreak. At the conclusion of the song the man promises, "They'll all come to see me 'neath the shade of the old oak tree as they lay me 'neath the green, green grass of home."
If that wasn't powerful enough a song to unleash on country music, Putman also co-wrote (with Bobby Braddock) what many consider THE definitive sad song in country music: "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Braddock, the subject of a "Poets and Prophets" interview at the Country Music Hall of Fame in the mid-2000s, detailed how Putman helped on another classic song, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," saying that Putman told Braddock no one was interested in a song that sad with such an upbeat tempo and suggested that Braddock slow the song down. In return for the advice, Braddock listed Putman as co-writer.
Putman was great at story songs, many with a sad twist (such as Tanya Tucker's "Blood Red and Going Down," about a girl who is dragged along by her father on a vengeful hunt for the cheating wife, and the David Houston/Tammy Wynette duet "My Elusive Dreams," about a man who keeps the family moving and endures the death of their child). He also gave us songs such as Dolly Parton's breakout hit "Dumb Blonde" and T.G. Sheppard's "War Is Hell (On the Homefront, Too)."
Curly Putman also bears the distinction of being one of the very few, if not the only, country music songwriter to be the subject of a rock song. In 1974 Paul and Linda McCartney and their children visited Nashville for a recording session and stayed at Putman's farm. In celebration of his time there, McCartney named "Junior's Farm" after Putman. (That recording session in Nashville also yielded a minor country hit for McCartney, "Sally G.")
Putman was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. Sadly, his deserved Country Music Hall of Fame induction, when it comes, will have to be posthumous.
Farewell to Curly Putman, who was 85.