Juli Thanki , email@example.com 10:32 a.m. CDT October 31, 2016
Curly Putman, one of the finest songwriters Nashville has ever known, died Sunday, three weeks before his 86th birthday.
Putman, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1976, penned some of country music's most enduring classics, including "Green, Green Grass of Home," "My Elusive Dreams" (co-written with Billy Sherrill) and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today" both of which he co-wrote with Bobby Braddock.
Claude Putman, Jr. was born Nov. 20, 1930 in Alabama. He grew up on Putman Mountain as the son of a sawmill worker. After a short stint at college, he served in the Navy and spent four years on the USS Valley Forge. After his discharge, he returned to Alabama and worked odd jobs while honing his songwriting. His first cut came when Marion Worth recorded his song "I Think I Know," which became a Top 10 country hit in 1960.
Putman moved to Nashville in 1964 and was signed to Tree Publishing after Roger Miller introduced him to Tree's Buddy Killen. While working as a song-plugger for Tree, Putman wrote most famous solo composition, "Green Green Grass of Home." The song contains one of the most heart-wrenching "twist" endings in music: the protagonist returns home to his loved ones, only to, in the final verse, awake to the cold reality of his prison cell and forthcoming execution. First recorded by Johnny Darrell in 1965, "Green, Green Grass of Home" has been covered by countless artists including Porter Wagoner, Tom Jones (who topped the UK charts with his recording), Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Roger Miller and Gram Parsons.
Putman, who learned how to play steel guitar as a young man, released a handful of his own recordings in the 1960s, including "The Prison Song" in 1960 and "My Elusive Dreams" in 1967, shortly before David Houston and Tammy Wynette released their version. Dolly Parton recorded his song “Dumb Blonde” for her 1967 album “Hello, I’m Dolly.” Parton recently performed the song during Fred Foster’s (who produced that record) induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Wynette took the Putman/Bobby Braddock song "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" to the top of the charts in 1968. Braddock remembered Putman's role in the song's creation in a 2016 video interview:
"I said, 'Curly, why is it that we don't have any takers on this song?' Nobody was jumping on board with it. He said, 'I think it seems a little bit too happy for such a sad song.' I said, 'Do you think it needs a new melody?' He said, Well, just in a couple of places. The last line of the verse and the last line of the chorus.' What I had, looking back, it sounded kind of like a soap commercial... I thought we should split the writer's share on the song, and he didn't want to take it, so we compromised. He took 25 percent, and we put his name on there. If we'd done it today, we probably would have split it right down the middle because the song had been sitting around and nothing had happened with it. Then, Curly made that little change and it made so much difference."
Another Putman/Braddock composition is widely considered one of the greatest country songs of all time: "He Stopped Loving Her Today," about a man who carries a torch for his lost love until his last breath. George Jones had to be convinced to record it, but it became one of his career-defining songs, and at his funeral, Alan Jackson performed the song in his honor. When the single was released in 1980, it topped the charts, was named CMA Song of the Year and won Jones a Best Male Country Vocal Performance Grammy Award.
"I can't think of anyone who has mentored more songwriters, and this is the short list: Sonny Throckmorton, Red Lane, Rafe Van Hoy, Don Cook, Jamie O'Hara, Michael Kosser, Ron Hellard, Steve Pippin, Sterling Whipple, and myself," wrote Braddock in a Facebook post on Sunday. "There was once a songwriter Curly believed in so much that he had Tree Publishing take the writer's advances out of his own earnings — and his instincts were right, because that young songwriter, Sonny Throckmorton, eventually had one of the hottest hot streaks in the history of country music."
Putman's musical influence extended beyond his writing and mentoring: In the mid-1970s, he agreed to rent his Lebanon-area farm to Paul and Linda McCartney, their children and the band Wings for $2,000 a week, according to a 1974 Tennessean article. Their time there was the inspiration for the song “Junior’s Farm,” which Paul McCartney and Wings released in October 1974.
In 2009, Putman was included in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's "Poets and Prophets" series, which looks at songwriters who have made a significant impact on the genre. Though George Jones could not be present at the event, he reportedly sent a fax to Putman which read "(Putman) really believed in the song ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ and hounded me to record it, for which I will be eternally thankful."
Putman is survived by Bernice, his wife of 61 years, son Troy and daughter-in-law Beth, and grandchildren Ian, Ryan and Gina. He was preceded in death by son Greg and grandson Sean. Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.
This story is in progress and will be updated.
“In a city of great songwriters, Curly Putman was one of the finest. ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ was just one of his memorable hits. He wrote a ballad for my campaign for governor in 1978, ‘If the Right Man Was There,’ for which I will be forever grateful. Curly was a great friend, and I will miss him.” — Sen. Lamar Alexander