In 1965 you wrote a hit for Cliff Richard, “Wind Me Up”. Was he the first to record it?
(Sings) “Wind Me Up And Let Me Go”, and yes he was. E.B.Marks was the publisher and they had probably had some connection with him. The A-side of the record was going to be a Burt Bacharach and Hal David song that everyone thought was going to be a huge hit, but, for whatever reason, the record was turned over, and “Wind Me Up” was the big hit. That song was a hit everywhere in the world except the United States.
You have done a lot of music publishing yourself.
Yes, publishing and producing have been my best areas. I produced “Honey” with Bobby Goldsboro, which was a huge hit all over the world. That was written by Bobby Russell and I thought it was a great song, an incredible song. Songs are only good songs if they stir an emotion in people, and I look for songs that raise the hair on the back of my neck. “Honey” certainly did that and it was helped by the dynamics of the record as it was a very emotional record. The critics who said it was too syrupy were wrong. That record really touched people.
The trick is to tell a story in a few words.
Exactly. Some of the huge copyrights don’t use a lot of words. There aren’t many words in “White Christmas” and I could draw up a very long list of songs like that.
What were your biggest songs as a publisher?
“Behind Closed Doors” by Kenny O’Dell and “The Wind Beneath My Wings” by Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar. We had a lot of really, really big songs but those are two monster ones. As soon as I heard them, I knew they would do well.
How did you get “Behind Closed Doors” to Charlie Rich?
Charlie Rich had had some rock and roll hits on Sun but even they were pretty country oriented. He had been several years without a hit and Billy Sherrill had made seven albums with him on Epic that hadn’t even scratched the surface. We had got Charlie his first hit on Epic with “I Take It On Home” and so it was easy to get “Behind Closed Doors” to him. He also had a huge, huge album out of it – it sold four million copies and it had been Billy Sherrill’s last shot. “The Most Beautiful Girl” and another of our songs, “Why Don’t We Go Somewhere And Love”, were on that album.
And “The Wind Beneath My Wings”.
The very first pitch I made was to Kenny Rogers. Brent Maher and Randy Goodrun were producing him and they loved the song. They beat Kenny up to cut the song and he absolutely refused. I knew he was making a mistake – his career was in a lull and that song would have put him right back on top. It could have become his signature song. I got records by Lee Greenwood and a bunch of others, but the lyrics really demand an artist with name power to record it. Gladys Knight and the Pips did it and since then, it has become huge.
You produced your friends, the Crickets, on an album, “Bubblegum, Bop, Ballads And Boogies”, in 1973.
Oh, that was a fun project. We did it in London and Albert Lee was with them. They live close to me in Nashville and so we are often in touch. I also loved the album that I did with Buddy Knox. I loved his voice. I thought he had one of the most pleasant, listenable voices in the whole world.
You have produced some country legends.
The album that I love was with Waylon and Willie, “If I Can Find A Clean Shirt” – it didn’t do anything commercially but it was a really good album. Merle Haggard is probably the greatest country singer who has ever lived. He is just incredible. Unfortunately, the album that I got to do with him was a live album. I didn’t have much input into it. It was an okay album but not one of Merle’s best.
What about Marty Robbins?
Marty Robbins was a sweetheart, he was one of the nicest guys in the world and what you saw is what you got. He was a great human being. Around 1982, he hadn’t had a hit in five years, so Rick Blackburn asked me if I would produce him. Marty wanted to produce himself but the label told him that it was this or nothing. It was a rocky beginning as he wasn’t too thrilled with me to begin with. He was blasé about it and thinking, “Well, I will just do whatever they tell me to do”. He didn’t think that he was going to like it but then we had fun and he got to liking what we did. We ended up having a good time. We made two albums, his last two albums, and I also had the last hit with Marty, “Some Memories Just Won’t Die”.
You must be proud that your son, Kevin, is carrying on the family name in the business.
Well, I am not surprised. He always had a great voice and he picked up harmonies very naturally. He had one album with A&M which didn’t work out entirely and since then, he has been developing his talent through the internet, making his own albums and arranging his own concerts. I like several things of his, he has got a song called “Tennessee Girl” that I like very much. We cut “Wishing” with him and Mary Chapin Carpenter for a Buddy Holly tribute album and that worked out great. Kevin works a lot in Europe and he has quite a following where you are.
Well, I’ve never met an American who hasn’t liked coming to England.
Exactly, I love England myself. Paul McCartney does the Buddy Holly shows every September on Buddy’s birthday and I did one of them for him. It was the first time I had been on stage in 25 years and it was kinda nerve-racking. I was up half the night trying to make sure I got the chords to the songs right. I had to perform a couple of songs at the Odeon, Hammersmith. The British fans are the best in the world as they were shouting out songs that I’d forgotten about.
Bob Montgomery, thanks very much. It’s self-evident that you’ve really enjoyed your career.
It’s been a lot of fun and if something comes along that sounds exciting, I will do some more, but I haven’t heard anything lately that interests me. Country music has gone to hell in a hand-basket and the business is not what it was. I would hate to be starting out in the music business.
This is unfortunate. I was hoping to end on a positive note.
It may be negative but it’s the truth.