CATCHING UP WITH ...

Merle Kilgore - Still Doing It All

Merle Kilgore had hits as a singer in the 1960s, but he's always been a lot more comfortable behind the scenes, writing classics like "Ring Of Fire" and managing Hank Williams Jr.

Maybe that's why he had to be prodded into singing his own songs for his new album, Singer-Songwriter.

"My friends talked me into it," he chuckles, "because none of my old albums were available on CD, and I thought it would be good for my grandkids. But I really like this album - it's the first one I've ever made that I enjoyed listening to!"

On the CD, Merle brings his own rich, smooth voice to classics like "More And More," the first song he ever wrote (which became a No. 1 for Webb Pierce in 1954).

By the time he composed that tune, Merle had already performed on the famed Louisiana Hayride radio show in his hometown of Shreveport, La., worked as a disc jockey and hosted his own local TV show.

Over the next several years, he managed a couple of radio stations and kept writing smashes such as Johnny Horton's 1959 Top 10 "Johnny Reb." Finally, in 1960, he had his first and only Top 10 as a singer, "Love Has Made You Beautiful."

Merle moved to Nashville the next year to manage a publishing company, but made regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and kept writing hits - including No. 1s like Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain" and Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire." By 1964, Merle was opening shows for Hank Williams Jr., beginning a partnership that would eventually send Merle's career in yet another direction.

"In 1986, Hank said, 'My manager doesn't want to be a manager anymore, and now you're gonna be manager,'" explains Merle, who actually wanted to focus on his own singing career at the time. "I said, 'Well ...' Hank said, 'Give me your pen.' He wrote down some numbers and said, 'I made this much last year - and you would have made this much.'"

Merle looked at the figures and couldn't believe his eyes. "I don't care if I ever sing again!" he declared.

Today Merle only sings on occasion, preferring to run Hank Williams Jr. Enterprises from its office in Paris, Tenn., where Merle lives with his wife, Judy. The

couple's five children are grown now, and Merle has eight grandchildren - six grown boys and two little girls.

But he still loves his work. "I love the management side, and I also enjoy the occasional performance," he explains. "Really, I enjoy all of it. And that's the name of that tune!"

-- Chris Neal

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