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Billy Sherril dead: Country music producer dies at 78

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Influential country producer Billy Sherrill, who worked with artists like George Jones, Charlie Rich, and Tammy Wynette and is known for pioneering the “countrypolitan” sound, has died, according to the Associated Press.

Sherrill’s son-in-law, George Lale, confirmed to the AP that he died on Tuesday in Nashville at the age 78.

The Country Music Hall of Famer was known for pushing the boundaries of ’60s and ’70s country music to appeal to a more mainstream pop audience. He was the man behind such tracks as “Stand By Your Man,” “We Can Make It,” “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “The Most Beautiful Girl,” and a host of other hits that dominated both country and pop charts.

Born and raised in Alabama, Sherrill was the son of an evangelical preacher and at a young age was introduced to music — but not country music. According to CMT, he started playing piano as a child and later picked up the saxophone, which inspired his interest in blues, R&B, and jazz.

He was signed to a independent label in the late ’50s before making his way to Nashville to pursue a career in country music, according to CMT. After a year at Sun Records, he went on to work for Epic Records, where he was influential in revamping the career of David Houston and discovered Tammy Wynette.

In 2010, he was presented with the Icon Award at the BMI Country Awards, joining the likes of such legends as James Brown and Al Green. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal that year, BMI president Del Bryant explained why he was worthy of the award.

“He’s an extraordinary songwriter, which for BMI is the genesis of the selection, but he’s been a truly involved producer who understood the music as only a writer and musician can,” Bryant told The Journal. “He is that musician, too, and an engineer, and as dynamic a record executive as country music’s ever seen. . . . Nobody had such a hold on Nashville, with the power of that total creative position. That made him a hero to the industry—though some loved to hate him, precisely because they wished they were him.”