Buddy Killen

Dublin Core


Buddy Killen


Florence, Lauderdale County, Hank Williams, Tree International, Dolly Parton, Curley Putnam, Country music, Pop music, R&B music, Alabama Music Hall of Fame


Buddy Killen (November 13, 1932 - November 1, 2006)

There are countless musicians, singers and entertainers in the world that, for lack of that big break, never reach the pinnacle, in spite of the fact that they may have just as much, if not more, talent than others who become household names. Chances are that someone with the talent of Elvis Presley would have somehow reached some level of notoriety, but what remains unknown is if this would have been possible without the big break he received from Buddy Killen, who pitched him his first million-selling single, “Heartbreak Hotel." William Doyce Killen was born on November 13, 1932, in the hometown of W.C. Handy, Florence, Alabama. Growing up poor in the American South during this time was a way of life for many families and Buddy’s was no exception. As a child and into his teen years, music was his escape. His first band, the Hillbilly Pals, was formed during his childhood. The Dixie Ramblers, his second, performed on local radio. The day after graduating from high school, Buddy was offered the chance to play bass for a pair of comedians on the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee. Buddy never hesitated, moving to Nashville, where he soon found himself playing and traveling with such Opry stars as Hank Williams, George Morgan, Ray Price and Jim Reeves, becoming acquainted with many of the people who ran country music scene behind the stage curtain. One of those people proved to be Buddy’s big break in 1953. Jack Stapp was running his publishing company, Tree International, on his own. As Buddy tells it, “I was doing demos for Tree at $10 a session, and Jack would come into the studio and ask me to get together with this singer or that writer. It went well and Jack asked me if I would come to work for him. The job would pay $35 a week and I said yes. I began picking up songs and getting them recorded. We didn’t have an office. I would carry a tape recorder around begging for songs. It was a sheer case of determination.” That determination paid off for Buddy, as he would be made a partner in Tree, eventually rising to president, and eventually, when Stapp passed away in 1980, sole owner. Along the way, he helped several artists reap the reward of their own sheer determination, starting with Elvis Presley in 1956. Another who benefited from Killen’s confidence was 14-year-old Dolly Parton, who Killen signed to a recording contract in 1960. Roger Miller, too, was a beneficiary of Buddy’s ability to spot talent, both writing and performing. Miller would go on to write hit songs for Ray Price, Jim Reeves, and Bill Anderson. Buddy also continued to write songs himself, including the #1 hit “I May Never Get to Heaven” (Conway Twitty – 1979), as well as Ronnie McDowell's #4 hit "Watchin' Girls Go By," released in 1981. In all, Buddy had 19 Top-40 hits that appeared on Billboards Country, Pop, R&B and A/C charts between 1961 and 1986. In 1989, after almost ten years at the helm of Tree International Publishing, Buddy sold the company to CBS/Sony for a reported $30-40 million. In 1993, his autobiography, “By the Seat of My Pants: My Life in Country Music,” was published by Simon & Schuster. Along the way, Buddy picked up many accolades and awards, including being a member of the first class of inductees to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985, along with Nat “King” Cole, Hank Williams, and W.C. Handy. Buddy Killen passed away on November 1, 2006.

Watch and Listen:
"Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4euyTDhFnk
"I May Never Get to Heaven - Conway Twitty" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47D2omht1BI
"Watchin' Girls Go By - Ronnie McDowell" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ychMkvLV87w
"Ain't Gonna Bump No More - Joe Tex" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56tBm7nJ1QM


John Griffin, University of North Alabama


Buddy Killen; Alabama Music Hall of Fame http://www.alamhof.org/inductees/timeline/1985/buddy-killen/ Accessed December 5, 2016
Buddy Killen http://www.allmusic.com/artist/buddy-killen-mn0000640267/ Accessed December 5, 2016
Buddy Killen obituary http://www.cmt.com/news/1544585/nashville-music-pioneer-buddy-killen-dies/ Accessed December 5, 2016
Buddy Killen obituary http://www.nashvillepost.com/home/article/20400528/buddy-killen-passes-away-at-73/ Accessed December 5, 2016
Killen, Buddy, and Carter, Tom. “By the Seat of My Pants: My Life in Country Music.” New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

All images courtesy of Mr. George Lair and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, unless otherwise noted.


Alabama Cultural Resource Survey




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