SNUFF GARRETT

Born Thomas Lesslie Garrett, Jr., 5 July 1938, near Dallas, Texas.
Died 16 December 2015, Tucson, Arizona.

Producer / arranger / songwriter / publisher / label owner.

For most rock n roll purists, especially those who hate strings, the mere mention of the name Tommy "Snuff " Garrett is tantamount to heresy. Nevertheless, he was one of the most successful producers of the first half of the 1960s, with some thirty Top 30 hits to his credit. His success continued, albeit on a more modest scale, during the next two decades. Garrett has produced six number one hits on the Billboard pop charts : "Take Good Care Of My Baby", Bobby Vee (1961), "This Diamond Ring", Gary Lewis and the Playboys (1965), "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves" (1971), "Half-Breed" (1973) and "Dark Lady" (1974), all by Cher, and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence (1973). Also six # 1 country hits : "Lizzie and the Rainman" (1975) and "San Antonio Stroll" (1975), both by Tanya Tucker, "Every Which Way But Loose" by Eddie Rabbitt (1978), "Bar Room Buddies" by Merle Haggard and Clint Eastwood (1980), "Cowboys And Clowns" by Ronnie Milsap (1980), and "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma" by David Frizzell and Shelly West (1981). With the exception of the two Tanya Tucker numbers, all these hits were featured in films starring Clint Eastwood. Garrett entered the music business via radio. At the age of 17 he was a disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas, where he met and befriended both Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings. In 1959 he was recruited (by Al Bennett) as a local promotion man for Liberty Records in Los Angeles. But his real ambition was to produce records and his chance came when Johnny Burnette was moved from Liberty's Freedom subsidiary to the parent label in mid-1959. Garrett took over Johnny's sessions and Burnette's first 45 on Liberty, "Settin' the Woods On Fire"/"Kentucky Waltz" immediately set the pattern for Garrett's production style. Snuff was fond of strings playing guitar lines and used a full string section with six to eight violins, two violas and sometimes a cello. Garrett always used the same arranger (Ernie Freeman), but the string parts - sometimes overdubbed - were often separately arranged by Sid Sharp.

Snuff Garrett astutely transformed Johnny Burnette from a rockabilly singer to a pop crooner and while the purists balked at this new direction, both "Dreamin'" (# 11 US, # 5 UK) and "You're Sixteen" (# 8 US, # 3 UK) enjoyed sales in excess of one million. But Burnette was only moderately successful (5 Top 100 hits, 4 of them Top 20) compared to Bobby Vee, Garrett's own discovery. Between 1959 and 1969, Vee scored hit after hit, a total of 38 Top 100 entries, all on Liberty. It must be added though, that these hits peaked at lower and lower positions as the British Invasion progressed.

Gene McDaniels was initially produced by Felix Slatkin at Liberty, without any chart impact, but things changed at once for Gene when the production duties were taken over by Garrett, with a # 3 hit as a result ("A Hundred Pounds Of Clay", 1961), soon followed by a # 5 hit with "Tower Of Strength". The career of Buddy Knox also took an upward swing after leaving Roulette for Liberty, with Garrett-produced revivals of the 1954-55 R&B hits "Lovey Dovey" (# 25) and "Ling-Ting-Tong" (# 65).

In 1965, while still employed by Liberty, Garrett set up his own production and publishing company. He was now working with Leon Russell as his arranger (and later co-producer), instead of Ernie Freeman, and relied less and less on string-driven productions. He scored seven consecutive Top 1o hits with Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965-66, followed by eight smaller hits (not all of them produced by Snuff). Gary Lewis is the son of comedian Jerry Lewis. Garrett also embarked on a concurrent recording career and was responsible for many easy listening albums, credited to the "50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett". Six of these LPs (usually with guitar solos by Tommy Tedesco) made the Billboard LP Top 200, 1961-69.

He also had his own label, Snuff Garrett Records, formed circa 1966, with a subsidiary, Viva Records. Initially these labels were distributed by Dot, later (from 1971 onwards) by Warner Bros. The most successful act was The Midnight String Quartet, an easy listening chamber music foursome, with 5 Viva LP's on the album charts between 1966 and 1968.

In 1968 Garrett sold his production and publishing company to Warner Bros for $ 2,5 million and took a few years of rest from the music industry. In 1971 he was back on the scene, producing one hit after another for Cher, first on Kapp, then on MCA. Later in the decade, he turned to country music and scored many hits in that genre as well, in particular with songs affiliated with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds movies.

After a stroke in 1983, workaholic Garrett decided to quit the music business for good. He moved to a ranch in Arizona and spent much of his time dabbling in American Western art and film memorabilia.

Acknowledgements : Eric Olsen, Entry for Thomas "Snuff" Garrett in The Encyclopedia of Record Producers (Billboard Books, 1999), page 263-266.

Some of his productions on YouTube :
J. Burnette, Dreamin' : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnkjOHVK-H4
B. Vee, Take Good Care ..: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LunT2kP3JL4
Buddy Knox, She's Gone : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VqJprdPgy0
G. McDaniels, Point Of No Return : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5E_Z29YT3g
G. Lewis, She's Just My Style : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9ntCcf9Ewk

Dik

 
These pages were saved from "This Is My Story" for reference usage only. Please note that these pages were not originally published or written by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe. For comments or information please contact Dik de Heer at dik.de.heer@ziggo.nl

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