This day in 2005, American singer, songwriter, and manager Merle Kilgore passed away from heart failure. He was 70 years old. Many know him as the personal manager of Hank Williams Jr. But, what else do we know about him?
Today, we commemorate his life 14 years later. Let us go back in time and talk about the life that he had lived.
Born on August 9, 1934, Wyatt Merle Kilgore, simply known as Merle Kilgore, first saw the world in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Although he was born in Oklahoma, he spent most of his childhood years in Shreveport, Louisiana. He was the son of Wyatt and Gladys Kilgore.
As a child, he showed a huge interest in music. At 14, he carried the guitar for Hank Williams at the Louisiana Hayride. This began a close relationship with the Williams family that would even last for three generations.
At 16, he got a job as a DJ at a local radio station. He then became lead guitarist on the popular Saturday night country music jamboree, Louisiana Hayride.
He finished his formal education and graduated at Louisiana Tech University.
Kilgore went on to pursue a career in country music. He became a country music recording artists but had great success as a songwriter. In fact, he was popularly known as the one who co-wrote the song “Ring of Fire” with June Carter. The tune was first recorded by Carter’s sister, Anita, and later by June’s future husband, Johnny Cash.
Kilgore’s amazing songwriting ability did not stop with that. In addition, he co-wrote Claude King’s big crossover hit, Wolverton Mountain. Moreover, he penned “Johnny Reb” for Johnny Horton and the Tommy Roe pop music hit, “The Folk Singer.”
Early in the 1960s, he toured with Cash as part of his package show. He stood as Cash’s best man at his wedding to June Carter.
On February 6, 2005, Merle Kilgore passed away from heart failure in a Mexican hospital. During that time, he was undergoing experimental treatments for lung cancer. He was then interred in Hendersonville Memory Gardens in Tennessee.
Kilgore was survived by his wife, Judy, his three sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.
To have some Merle Kilgore music, here is his 1960 No. 6 hit, “Dear Mama:”