Merle Haggard Songwriter Red Lane Dies at 76

Merle Haggard
Myriam Santos

Red Lane -- one of the stalwarts of Nashville songwriters, whose career spanned close to 50 years -- died Wednesday after an extended illness at the age of 76.

Born Hollis Rudolph DeLaughter in Zona (now Bogalusa), Louisiana, he served his country in the United States Air Force. It was there that he received his moniker as a result of his superiors not taking too well to soldiers playing music in nightclubs, so he needed a pseudonym. With “Red Lane,” he definitely found one that stuck.

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After his stint with Uncle Sam, Lane landed in Southern California -- where he became friends with Bonnie and Buck Owens -- as well as Phoenix, where he became an early supporter of the vocal talent of a young radio programmer there named Waylon Jennings. He would make one more move -- to Indiana for a brief period -- before he approached Justin Tubb about recording some of his songs. The Grand Ole Opry star liked the songs -- and Lane’s talent -- adding him to his band as a guitarist.

1964 would see a Lane composition connect with the public for the first time: Faron Young’s recording of “My Friend on the Right,” which peaked at No. 11 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. Many of his early compositions found a home with Dottie West, who recorded “Country Girl,” “Come See Me and Come Lonely” and “Clinging to My Baby’s Hand.”

Jennings recorded his “Walk On Out of My Mind,” which became a top-five hit in 1968. That year proved to be very big for Lane, who also scored with “Darling, You Know I Wouldn’t Lie,” a song that narrowly missed the top spot for Conway Twitty -- but nevertheless earned a nomination for the song of the year award from the Country Music Association that year -- one of only two Twitty hits to earn such a distinction.

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With his success as a songwriter, Lane was offered a recording contract with RCA Victor, where he placed four songs on the charts in 1971-72, with “The World Needs A Melody” being the biggest -- hitting No. 32 in the spring of 1971. The song became a popular album cut throughout the decade, with George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Kenny Rogers all recording the song. The track recently surfaced once again on Teea Goans’ 2014 album Memories To Burn.

But, Lane quickly decided that it was a songwriter where he could best use his talents – and he did just that throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A few of his hits included Wynette’s “TilI I Get It Right,” B.J. Thomas’s “New Looks From An Old Lover,” and John Conlee’s 1981 standard “Miss Emily’s Picture.” Other artists to record Lane’s compositions included Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Ray Charles and Lee Ann Womack. The most recent Lane copyright to make a commercial impact was “Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa,” a No. 11 hit for George Strait in 2003. Incidentally, the song was first recorded in 1986 by longtime friend Merle Haggard, who cut over 20 of his songs. Lane was also an accomplished guitarist, with his musicianship appearing on albums from artists such as Bobby Bare and Keith Whitley.

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Somewhat of a free spirit, another interesting fact about Lane was that he had converted a 1958 DC-8 passenger jetliner into his living quarters, and was enamored with airplane travel. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1993.