Songwriting Legend John D. Loudermilk Dies at 82
John D. Loudermilk, the man behind classics like "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," "Tobacco Road" and "Indian Reservation," died on Wednesday (Sept. 21). The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member was 82 years old.
A solo artist in his own right, Loudermilk was best known for writing over two dozen songs throughout his 50-plus years in the music industry. Compositions by Loudermilk have been recorded by artists across many genres including pop singer George Hamilton IV, rocker David Lee Roth and country legend Little Jimmy Dickens.
"John D. left an incredible trail of mega hits over several decades, going back to the 1950s; country, pop, and R&B," wrote friend and fellow songwriter Bobby Braddock on Facebook after Loudermilk's passing. "His uncommon brain was filled with amazing words and powerful music -- or vice versa. He wrote most of his many hits by himself. His list of evergreens includes one of the best love songs ever written, 'Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.'"
Born on March 31, 1934 in Durham, N.C., Loudermilk learned how to play guitar as a young boy, but didn't find his calling as a writer until after a string of jobs throughout high school and college, including stints as a shoeshine boy, janitor, door-to-door Bible salesman, sign painter, grocery bagger, bulldozer operator, telegram delivery boy and radio entertainer. It was during his job as a handyman for a local TV station that Loudermilk would pen his first big hit "A Rose and a Baby Ruth." The song, written when he was 22, was originally a poem that he set to music and after Loudermilk played the song on air, fellow North Carolina native George Hamilton IV picked it up and turned into a Top 10 pop hit in 1956.
Although Loudermilk would seek his own career as a solo artist, he found the most success after moving to Nashville and becoming a hit songwriter in music city. 1959 saw his first big hit with "Waterloo" (sung by Stonewall Jackson), which reached No. 1 on the country charts before crossing over as a No. 4 hit on the pop charts. From there, Loudermilk's songwriting success would only grow.
Throughout the '60s and '70s, dozens of artists across all genres would go on to record Loudermilk originals, including Johnny Cash, James Brown, Glen Campbell, the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Chet Atkins, with whom he also wrote and recorded with for many years. In 1964, British rock group The Nashville Teens scored their biggest hit with Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road," which would go on to be recorded over 200 times by dozens of bands including, most recently, Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle in 2016.
Much of Loudermilk's success as a songwriter was thanks to his unique writing style and ability to find song themes in everyday life.
"I'm looking for the most different thing I can find," Loudermilk told the Tennessean when asked about his approach to songwriting in 1961. "Everybody's writing 'I love you truly.' You've got to find something new. I talk to drunks at the bus station, browse through kiddie books at the public library [and] get phrases from college kids and our babysitter. You've got to be looking all the time."
In 1976 Loudermilk was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 2011, he joined the Music Hall of Fame in his native North Carolina. He received a Best Album Notes Grammy for the liner notes for his 1967 record Suburban Attitudes in Country Verse 1967 and was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in their "Poets and Prophets" series in 20017.
Lauded by songwriters and singers of every generation, Loudermilk was celebrated in March of this year after being diagnosed with cancer. An all-star lineup including Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and Deborah Allen gathered for a special event at The Franklin Theater to catalog many of the songwriters hits.
Details about Loudmilk's death and memorial service have not yet been released.