Songwriting Great Dewayne Blackwell Passes
Member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Dewayne Blackwell died Sunday (May 23) at the age of 84.
Blackwell was noted in Nashville for hits such as “Friends in Low Places”, “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home”, “Honkytonk Man” and other country hits. He began his career in pop music as a writer of the classic “Mr. Blue.”
Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Dewayne Blackwell immigrated with his family to California as a child. His parents were Dust Bowl “Okies”. He was one of eight children who worked alongside them as a traveling harvester. The family lived in slums with Latino farm workers, which sparked Blackwell’s interest in Mexico.
His father was a violinist and guitarist who performed for square dances. Blackwell and his younger brother started playing in California bars at the age of 14.
After dropping out of high school, Dewayne Blackwell moved to Alaska, where he worked as a longshoreman and longshoreman. It was then that he started to write songs.
Back in California, he performed and recorded with his family trio The Blackwells in 1958-61. The group’s latest single was produced by legendary Phil Spector. The Blackwells bowed when brother Ron Blackwell died in a motorcycle crash. (Ron had posthumous success as the writer of “Lil ‘Red Riding Hood,” a 1966 smash for Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs).
Dewayne Blackwell’s first songwriting success came when teen-idol pop trio The Fleetwoods recorded their “Mr. Blue ‘in 1959. It went on to become a # 1 million dollar sales hit which was later recorded by artists such as Bobby Vee, Johnny Crawford, Bobby Vinton, Pat Boone, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Garth Brooks and Bob Dylan.
The Fleetwoods also recorded “The Last One to Know” by the songwriter (1960). His other pop hits during this early phase of his career include British star Billy Fury’s “Love Or Money” (1961), “The Everly Brothers” “The Ferris Wheel” (1964), “Hickory, Dick and Dock” by Bobby Vee (1964) and Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs “Oh That’s Bad No That’s Good” (1967). His songs have also been recorded by Roy Orbison, The Four Preps, Peggy March, Little Richard, The Ventures, and other 60s pop artists.
Dewayne Blackwell’s first country song was ‘Mama Come’n Get Your Baby Boy’ from the 1970s, recorded by Johnny Darrell. In 1974 he recorded as a solo artist. But Blackwell’s career as a country songwriter did not achieve real notoriety until the following decade.
Sometimes co-written with Larry Bastian, Earl Bud Lee and a few others, it enjoyed a solid string of country hits between 1982 and 1992. Among them, David Frizzell’s # 1 hit “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino” ( 1982), which was nominated for a Grammy Award. Other top 10 songs included Marty Robbins’ ‘Honkytonk Man’ (1982) (the title track from a Clint Eastwood movie) and ‘Saturday Night Special’ (1988) by Conway Twitty (later revived by Lynyrd Skynyrd. ).
In 1990, Garth Brooks scored the greatest success of his career with Blackwell and Lee’s “Friends in Low Places”. She was named CMA and ACM Single of the Year, was nominated for a Grammy, and was named ASCAP Country Song of the Year in 1991.
Other notable country songs by Dewayne Blackwell include “Cowboy in a Three-Piece Business Suit” (Rex Allen Jr., 1982), “Turn the Pencil Over” (Porter Wagoner, 1982), “Tulsa Ballroom” (Dottie West , 1983), “There are a million light beers (David Frizzell, 1983),“ Make My Day ”(TG Sheppard and Clint Eastwood, 1984),“ Still Pickin ‘Up After You ”(The Kendalls, 1987), “When Karen Comes Around” (Mason Dixon, 1988), “Nobody Goes Down In This Town” (Garth Brooks, 1989) and “Yard Sale” (Sammy Kershaw, 1992).
His songs have also been recorded by Mark Chestnut, Moe Bandy, The Oak Ridge Boys, Joe Stampley, Merle Haggard, Shelly West, Reba McEntire, Confederate Railroad, Daryle Singletary, Michael Peterson and Floyd Cramer, among others.
In 2003, the songwriter retired to Ajijic, a town on the shores of Lake Chapala in central Mexico. The following year, he opened his restaurant Senor Azul (M. Blue) there.
Dewayne Blackwell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017. Her death was confirmed by Wikipedia yesterday.