Byron Hill is from Winston-Salem, NC. His mother was a public school teaching assistant and his father was a WWII veteran and a technical illustrator. Byron is the eldest of four children.
Both Byron’s parents exposed him to many types of music around the home, everything from his mother’s old 78′s of “Route 66” by The King Cole Trio, “Peg O’ My Heart” by Ted Weems, “Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate The Positive” by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, “The ‘Possum Song” by Phil Harris and his Orchestra, Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra, Artie Shaw’s recordings of Cole Porter, Perry Como, Jo Stafford, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” by Tex Williams, and early LPs of musicals like Rhapsody In Blue, Swan Lake, Peter And The Wolf, and My Fair Lady, to his father’s liking for Tennessee Ernie Ford, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Flatt and Scruggs, and Ray Charles. When Byron was about 10 years old, his parents bought him his first guitar, a Kay arch top. His father then began teaching him some old Carter Family songs. Later, a neighbor named Paul Huff, introduced Byron to some basic “Rock and Roll” chords and riffs on the guitar.
“When I was about 16 years old, we wore Johnny Cash’s records out around our house. My Dad sat me down one day and asked me to listen to the great Kris Kristofferson song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” from Johnny Cash’s The Johnny Cash Show album. Though I had been writing bits and pieces of songs many years earlier, that is the song that started me on the path of being a real songwriter, a professional songwriter. I loved the song. Kristofferson’s description of that Sunday morning showed me that a song could be far more than something for people to sing along with, that you could actually paint a picture with words.”
While attending college at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, Byron began hanging out with other singer/songwriter friends and eventually began to perform occasionally at the ASU student center “coffee house”. During his freshman year, he became friends with fellow dorm-mate Liston Smith, who introduced Byron to other styles of picking, in particular… the music of Doc Watson. Byron and Liston performed at ASU a few times together. In 1972, Byron teamed up with Gene Wooten and began performing bluegrass around the Boone, NC area, including a regular gig at the (then called) Four Seasons Hotel at Beech Mountain (Gene Wooten later became one of Nashville’s leading dobro players). Gene introduced Byron to many very talented players, mainly the Boone locals who played at fire halls, square dances, and local events.
By 1971, Byron was already writing songs, but still learning the craft. “Dad and I seemed to always connect with great songs. I remember in the winter of 1973, I had dropped out of college for a while, and went to work at Hanes Dye & Finishing Company, a huge, cavernous post-Civil War era textile mill in my hometown. Early one very cold and dark winter morning, Dad was driving me to work. We were listening to the radio. A new recording by Charlie Rich came on. It was ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’. I think both of us reached for the volume knob at the same time to turn it up. I had never heard such a lush and haunting melody on Country radio. It absolutely gave us both goose bumps. What a song! I have always remembered that moment.”
“Great songs and records have always affected me that way…I can always remember where I was the first time I heard them. Many years earlier about 1964 I remember first hearing Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ while riding in the car with my mother on Country Club Road in Winston-Salem. It was raining and I was watching the droplets roll down the car window. And, of course I will always remember hearing ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ by the Beatles for the first time on a transistor radio, probably the same radio I first heard ‘This Diamond Ring’ by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.”
EARLY PERFORMING/SIGHTS ON NASHVILLE
“In 1975 I was in a little trio called Red Cloud, which consisted of me on guitar and vocals, Myra Holder on vocals and percussion instruments, and Bruce Doub on bass. We were locally popular at a couple of clubs (Aliza’s Cafe in Greensboro, and the Town Lounge in Winston-Salem), and traveled to gigs in Atlantic Beach and Beech Mountain, but we played a lot of obscure and original material, and the money was very limited. Around this same time I was doing the old mail-my-songs thing to almost any publishers who were mentioned in ‘Songwriter Magazine’ (this was an earlier Songwriter Magazine published in California by Flip Black, and not the same as the currently published American Songwriter Magazine). The very first publisher to show any interest in my songs was a guy named John Garrity of Wyandotte Music in Kansas City, MO. Then in 1976, after a positive response from publisher Jonathan Stone of ATV Music, I began making regular trips to Nashville.”
ATV Music at that time was up and running as one of the hippest new companies on Music Row, managed by Charlie Williams and Jonathan Stone under the guidance of West Coast Country Music legend Cliffie Stone and Sam Trust. The company was well stocked with gems from the catalogs of Bobby Bare’s company Return Music, and Paul and George Richey’s Brougham Hall Music catalog. Included were the songs of Billy Joe Shaver, Bobby Bare, Charlie Williams, Fred Koller, Shel Silverstein, Chuck Howard, Sr., Roger Bowling, Hal Bynum, Larry Butler, Jan Crutchfield, Frank Dycus, Glenn Tubb, Rayburn Anthony, Jake Mayer, Roger Murrah, as well as songs of many other great songwriters from Nashville and around the world.
Jonathan Stone called Byron again in late 1977 suggesting that he move to Nashville and consider taking a tape copy job at ATV Music that they expected soon to become available. “Other people in Nashville who encouraged me to make the move were Henry Strzelecki (the famous bassist/producer who showed interest in my songs during one of my first trips to Nashville), Dianne Petty (then with ABC Music, who introduced me to Blake Mevis), David Conrad (then with Pi-Gem Music, from my hometown), Tony Brown (another hometown contact, who had been on the road playing piano with Elvis and The Stamps and agreed to meet with me one day at Norbert Putnam’s Danor Music offices), Merlin Littlefield (who signed me to ASCAP after offering me a cold Coke in his office one very hot day when I was pounding the streets with my songs), and Mae Axton (whose door was always open and was like a mother/advisor to many of us songwriters who came to town).”
During the years just prior to moving to Nashville, TN, Byron worked a succession of various jobs…a laborer in textile mill, a hospital pharmacy technician, a record store clerk, a part-time delivery truck driver, a jean store clerk, and for three years was a guitar instructor at a local music store. Byron finally moved to Nashville in May of 1978.
FIRST PUBLISHING DEAL/ATV MUSIC NASHVILLE
“Like every songwriter who moves to Nashville, you come here with your influences. I was very fortunate to have come up in the business during a time when songs were king. The idea, the lyric, and the melody were regarded as very important parts of a recording. There was an ever constant emphasis placed on the song being better than adequate. I can’t stress enough how important my first job working in the tape copy room at ATV was for me. It allowed me to meet and learn from some of the best, and take what little I knew to the next level by being around the writers who really knew how to write songs. The songwriters who were in Nashville then lived by some pretty tough standards, and the Nashville publishers were real ‘song’ people who had ‘ears’….we used to say. It was a time when publishers, producers, record company people, and artists could hear a song and make decisions on it, even when presented with just a guitar/vocal. I’ve witnessed the country market go through several shallow cycles where the quality of the ‘song’ was less important than the ‘recording’ but you can always count on this market returning to what really matters….the ‘song’. This was firmly taught in Songwriting 101 when I rolled into town. I’m not sure I can ever repay Jonathan Stone for the great path of schooling and opportunity that he set me on, but I truly I owe my entire career to Jon’s open door, early encouragement, and belief in what I could do.
“After working at ATV for a couple of weeks for free (imagine that!…they wouldn’t let me pay them!), I landed the job as a ‘tape copy guy’, taking the place of a songwriter I admired, Jake Mayer, who had finally written his way out of his job with a little masterpiece recorded by Charlie Rich called ‘I Still Believe In Love’. It was a terrific opportunity for me to perfect my songwriting. I wanted to write songs that were great, but I saw quickly that I didn’t have a total grasp of it. All the sudden, the hundred and fifty or so songs I had brought to Nashville seemed nearly worthless to me. The bar was raised. The catalog at ATV Nashville was so full of gems that I knew by default I would be ‘going to school’ on it. While I was the tape copy guy, Jonathan Stone hooked me up with my first professional level collaborator, Dennis Knutson, a very experienced writer who was moving to Nashville after many years of writing for Buck Owens. Dennis was a blue-collar genius, and thanks to his patience, he was someone I learned a heck of a lot from. I eventually hooked up to write with other writers of all types, including Arthur Kent (co-writer of ‘The End Of The World’), Bernie Wayne (co-writer of ‘Miss America’), Roger Bowling (co-writer of ‘Lucille’, ‘Blanket On The Ground’, and ‘Coward Of The County’).”
“ATV at that time was a happening place, with a parade of top writers and artists coming through the doors all the time. It was a hangout. Writers would hang out late, and it was not unusual for a little craziness to be going on. Those were different times. I remember Billy Joe Shaver bringing his young son into my tape room for me to record Billy’s work tapes with his son on guitar. It was at the old 45 Music Square West office. My tape copy room was in the front corner office on the ground level. We set up a couple of microphones in the room and went straight to two-track. Billy Joe’s son was an unusually good guitarist for his age, and was only about 16 or 17 years old then. Eddy Shaver went on to form the band Shaver, with his dad, but tragically passed away in December 2000.”
Byron’s work at ATV evolved into more than he originally bargained for. “Moving up the business ladder at ATV was not as much my choosing as it was something that I was asked to do. In the summer of 1978, there was a huge shakeup at ATV Nashville. Everyone except me (as the tape copy guy), and the new General Manager Gerry Teifer, was leaving the company. Jonathan Stone was headed back to Los Angeles, and some of the writers were not renewing their deals. It was complete change, literally only Gerry Teifer, his new administrative assistant Jean Williams, and me. I was only 24 years old when Gerry asked me if I could plug songs. Most famous songwriters pitched their songs, but some like Jerome Kern and George Gershwin had at one time also been staff ‘song pluggers’ who pitched catalog, so I quickly dismissed any reservations I had about the request and immediately started contacting some of the writers who had great songs in the ATV catalog, asking for lists of their favorites and worked from there forward. Gerry Teifer became an important mentor to me. With his vast music business experience he instilled in me many of the values that guide my creative and business decisions still today.”
Byron’s first songwriting deal at ATV was signed in September of 1978 while he continued to plug the ATV catalog. “Around the beginning of 1979 we moved into larger offices at 1217 16th Avenue South (former offices of Tammy Wynette) and set to work building ATV Music Nashville back up. We expanded the office staff with the addition of songwriter J. Remington Wilde in the tape copy room, added a receptionist, and got back into action. We pitched the existing catalog hard, searched for any songs from the other worldwide offices that we thought might fit Nashville, and started building our writing staff by renewing and extending deals with Dennis Knutson, Roger Bowling, Billy Joe Shaver, and J. Remington Wilde. Later we added writers such as Dan Tyler, Mitch Johnson, Eddie Burton, Jerry Barlow, Brent Maher, Robert White Johnson, Jimmy Lee Sloas, Rick Schulman (a/k/a Rick Finney), Ronnie Hughes, Mike Reid, Micki Fuhrman, Denny Henson, Max D. Barnes, Mentor Williams and others, while maintaining close working relationships with other Country songwriters who were associated with our past catalog or from whom we could get great songs. These writers included Bobby Bare, Paul Richey, George Richey, Frank Dycus, Roger Murrah, Billy Joe Shaver, Chick Rains, Byron Walls, Robert John Jones, Carol Anderson, Mary Beth Anderson, Rob Parsons, David Hodges, Jimmy Hodges, Mike Dekle, Carol Chase, Joe Nixon, Michael Kosser, Larry Bastian, Cyril Rawson, and some of the Los Angeles ATV Music songwriters like Jerry Fuller, Harry Shannon, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Steve Stone, John Parker, and others. We added a small four-track studio on the second floor, and started bringing in audio engineering interns from Middle Tennessee State University to help (among the earliest were Barry Sanders, Clarke Schleicher who went on to engineer many of the Dixie Chicks’ recordings, and Paul Goldberg). Songwriter J. Remington Wilde moved into the third floor apartment. ATV became a busy place. A couple of times we added extra songpluggers to the staff, including the very talented songwriter Jim Rushing (who wanted a plugging gig for a while after running his own company), and later Bernie Walters. After the day’s work of meetings and pitching songs was done, the lights remained on in the studio and offices well into the night. We worked hard, we worked late, we had a lot of fun, and ATV Music again became a recognized force on Music Row.”
Other changes were pending at ATV Music. “By late 1982, Gerry Teifer had been transferred to New York and I became General Manager of ATV Nashville. Within the next year, the company was under the control of Australian financier, Robert Holmes a Court, who had been purchasing shares in ATV since 1981. It was the beginning of the end for ATV Music as a working company worldwide. Budgets were cut, very few writer deals were renewed, many offices were closed, and the company was being prepared for an eventual bigger sale. Knowing the fate of ATV, and frustrated with a very tight budget, I decided to leave the company in 1984 to continue my work independently as a publisher, producer, and songwriter. The company stayed intact for a little longer, but those of us who knew what was going on, were seeking other gigs or starting our own companies. It was the end of a great thing for all of us. I remember when entertainer Michael Jackson eventually purchased the company in 1985 for $47 million dollars, and how shocked I was to hear that Jackson intended to just box up the catalog and close down all remaining offices…offices which housed a historic catalog and great staffs of people in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Rome, and Sydney, many of whom I had met, visited, and become friends with. It was one of my first hard-learned lessons in the music business….that nothing lasts forever. I remember some parting words that Sam Trust had for me when I left, stating something to the effect of ‘knowing what all is going on with the company, I can’t say that I blame you for leaving’. Ironically, less than year after everyone was finally let go, I walked into our old ATV offices in Nashville with some investment partners to purchase the building. The copy machine was still on and little had changed. The building had eerily been abandoned by the staffers, but the furniture, the equipment, the studio gear, and many of the files were undisturbed. Even the awards were still on the walls.”
During his years at ATV, the hits happened for Byron as a writer with “Out Of Your Mind” by Joe Sun (1979, co-written with Dennis Knutson), “Pickin’ Up Strangers” by Johnny Lee (1981), and many other cuts and several smaller singles along the way, including George Strait’s first #1 “Fool Hearted Memory” (1982, co-written with Blake Mevis). Many other early cuts followed, including recordings by artists such as Juice Newton, Conway Twitty, Mel McDaniel, Ricky Skaggs, Margo Smith, and Reba McEntire. Some of Byron’s most prolific co-writing partnerships were started during this time, with Athens, GA songwriter Mike Dekle, and with UK songwriter Tony Hiller.
In 1984, Byron began four years as an independent songwriter/publisher, having hits with Ed Bruce’s #4 single “Nights” (1985, co-written with Tony Hiller), and the Ray Charles’ single and album title “The Pages Of My Mind” (1986, co-written with J. Remington Wilde), as well as songs recorded by Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, George Jones, Tom Wopat, and others.
Since then, Byron has been a staff songwriter for various other companies including Collins Music (now Sony/ATV Music), MCA Music Publishing (now Universal Music Publishing), Reba McEntire’s Starstruck Writers Group (now Warner Chappell Music), Almo-Irving Music (now Universal Music Publishing), and Dan Hodges Music LLC. His hits continued with Alabama’s #1 single “Born Country” (1992, co-written with John Schweers); “Alright Already” by Larry Stewart (1993, co-written with JB Rudd); “Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And Famous” by Tracy Byrd (1994, co-written with Wayne Tester); “High-Tech Redneck” by George Jones (1994, co-written with Zack Turner); “Over You” by Anne Murray (1995, co-written with Tony Hiller); “If I Was A Drinkin’ Man” by Neal McCoy (1996, co-written with JB Rudd); “Politics, Religion And Her” by Sammy Kershaw (1997, co-written with Tony Martin); “The Strong One” by Mila Mason (1998, co-written with Cyril Rawson); “Nothing On But The Radio” by Gary Allan (2004, co-written with Odie Blackmon and Brice Long); “Size Matters” by Joe Nichols (2006, co-written with Mike Dekle); and numerous top-10 hits in Canada recorded by multiple CCMA award-winning Canadian artist Gord Bamford, including “Blame It On That Red Dress” (2007), “Stayed Til Two” (2008), and “Postcard From Pasadena” (2008), “Drinkin’ Buddy” (2009), “Day Job” (2010), “Put Some Alcohol On it (2010), “My Daughter’s Father” (2010), “Hank Williams Lonesome” (2011), “Is It Friday Yet” (2012), “Disappearing Tail Lights” (2012), “Must Be A Woman” (2013), and “When Your Lips Are So Close” (2013). Other artists who have recorded Byron’s songs include Connie Britton & Charles Esten (from the Nashville series on CMT), Jason Aldean, Mark Chesnutt, Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, Rhonda Vincent, Don Williams, Dionne Warwick, Doc & Merle Watson, Trace Adkins, Asleep At The Wheel, John Michael Montgomery, Toby Keith, Gene Watson, Porter Wagoner, Joe Diffie, Brooks & Dunn, Hank Thompson, Bill Medley, Blackhawk, Highway 101, Jeff Bates, Rhett Akins, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ricky Van Shelton, The Whites, The Seekers, Hey Romeo, Mo Pitney, The Grascals, and many others.
Byron’s songs have generated more than 700 recordings, and have been released on seventy-eight RIAA certified Gold and Platinum albums and singles. His songs have earned ten ASCAP awards, thirty-four U.S. and Canadian top-ten chart hits, and have become hits in many other worldwide markets. His songs have been recorded throughout the world, released by artists in England, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Holland, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Many of his songs have been used in feature films, television network shows and syndicated television and radio programming including: Nashville (TV Series-CMT), American Idol (Fox), America’s Most Talented Kids (NBC), America’s New Country, Austin City Limits, B.J. and the Bear, Inside Fame (CMT), Insider (CMT), Power Picks (CMT) Country Music Across America (GAC), Country Music Spotlight, Feed The Children (AOL-TV), Joe Nichols’ My Military Diary (GAC), Later With Greg Kinnear (NBC), Live From The Bluebird Cafe (Turner Network), Music With Altitude (CMT), Most Wanted Live (CMT), On E! (E!), Santa Barbara (NBC), Video Joint, World News Now (ABC), Fox Sports Network (FSN), Live At The House Of Blues (GAC), NFL on Fox (Fox), The Singing Bee (NBC), Cribs (CMT), The Fall Guy (ABC), Car Talk (NPR), Words & Music (WTVF), Headline Country (GAC), The Statler Brothers Show (TNN), Burn Notice (USA Network), The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet (Fox), Knight Rider (NBC), Club Dance (TNN), Celebrities Offstage (TNN, Spike TV), Hee Haw (CBS), Crook & Chase (TNN), Nashville Now (TNN), Music City Tonight (TNN), ABC In-Concert (ABC), Path To Stardom – Hot Country Nights (NBC), The Country Music Awards, The Academy of Country Music Awards, The Canadian Country Music Awards (CBC), Talent Roundup (CMT), Opry Live (GAC), At The Ryman, CMT Greatest Moments (CMT), I Love The 90s (VH-1), The Greatest – 40 Days That Shaped Country Music (CMT), FLW Outdoors, Foxworthy’s Big Night Out (CMT), Behind The Hits (AFN-Armed Forces Network), Coast To Coast (Paramount Pictures), The Exterminator (Avco-Embassy Films, The Soldier (Embassy Pictures), Pink Cadillac (Warner Brothers Pictures), Elvis: Up Close and Personal with Sonny West (Rochford Films), Gord Bamford’s Christmas In Canada (CMT), George Strait: The Cowboy Rides Away (CMT), and Lake Effects (Life Out Loud Films).
In 1993 and 1994, Byron was hired as Director of A&R for BNA Entertainment Nashville (one of the BMG companies under the same ownership as Arista, and RCA Records) working with a roster of artists that included Marc Beeson, Lisa Stewart, Zack Turner and Tim Nichols (as the duo Turner Nichols), Lorrie Morgan, John Anderson, Doug Supernaw, and Kim Hill. Byron tells the story “My friend Gary Overton recommended the job to me, so I met with Ric Pepin (then Vice President and General Manager of BNA Entertainment). The next day Ric and I flew to NY for me to interview with Joe Galante and by the end of the day I was a BMG employee. By the time I stepped into the job though, the fate of BNA and much of the roster was a foregone conclusion. Joe Galante was making plans to return to Nashville, and there would soon be many changes that would affect everyone at BNA, Arista, and RCA. I learned a lot at BNA, and had the pleasure of getting to know some great people. Label head Ric Pepin and his staff were some of the nicest, most hard-working people I’d ever met in this town. Working with great creative producers like James Stroud, Keith Stegall, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Randy Scruggs, Emory Gordy Jr., and Barry Beckett, often made my job look easy. I especially enjoyed getting to know head of promotion Chuck Thagard and his incredible staff. Though I found label work particularly challenging compared to the world of music publishing, the project that I enjoyed the most while at BNA was A&R-ing the Keith Whitley ‘Tribute Album’, working with all the guest artists and producer Randy Scruggs. I had remained under contract with MCA Music as a songwriter during this time, but had somewhat neglected my songwriting while at BNA, so after the BNA party was over, I high-tailed it back across the alley to the more familiar and less-stressful world of writing songs, publishing, and artist development.”
Byron’s work as a producer includes charted singles and albums on Jim Seal (1980, NSD Records), Roger Bowling (1981-1982, Mercury Records, Avco Embassy Pictures, select recordings only), Renate Kern (1981, Ariola Records/Germany), Kathy Mattea (1983-1984, Mercury Records), Nancy Wood (1983-1984, Lovelight Records/Germany), Richard Gachner (1984, WEA/France, Polydor Records/France), Marie Bottrell (1991, BMG Records/Canada, Cardinal Records/Canada, select recordings only), three albums on multi-platinum artist Gary Allan (1996-2000, Decca Records), Gil Grand (1998, Monument Records/USA & Canada), CCMA 2011 & 2012 Group Of The Year Hey Romeo (2010-2012, Royalty Records/Canada), the sister duo Missouri Mile (BHP Recordings/USA), The Boom Chucka Boys (2012, Sony Music/Canada), Mike Dekle (1982-2009, Parlay Records, a longtime producer/co-writer association which has resulted in five albums, chart singles, and many covered songs), Michael Cosner (BHP Recordings/USA), and five albums for multiple CCMA Award winning Canadian country artist Gord Bamford (2004-2014, Royalty Records/Canada, Sony Music/Canada). Byron was awarded the CCMA Producer Of The Year award for 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013, and has other acts currently in development.
Byron is a lifetime member and serves on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), and is a lifetime member of The Recording Academy (NARAS). Byron is also a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), the Country Music Association (CMA), the Americana Music Association (AMA), the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA), Leadership Music (Class of 2008), the American Federation of Musicians (AF of M), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists/Screen Actors Guild (AFTRA/SAG). Byron is currently a staff songwriter at Dan Hodges Music LLC. He performs as a singer/songwriter in Nashville and on the road averaging about 30 shows a year. Byron is a 2015 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame nominee. Byron’s albums are available online at www.cdbaby.com, at Byron’s website at www.byronhillmusic.com, and at many online outlets.