Curly Putman, Prolific Country Songwriter, Dies at 85

Donn Jones/Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Curly Putman photographed at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum at the Poets and Prophets program in 2008.

As Nashville prepares for the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards this Wednesday, the music community is in mourning with the passing of prolific songwriter Curly Putman, who died Sunday (Oct. 30) just outside of the city. He was 85 years old.

Born Claude Putman, Jr. on Nov. 20, 1930 in Princeton, Ala., he joined the United States Navy and was stationed aboard the USS Valley Forge. He eventually made his way to Nashville – after moving around the country – and scored his first major hit in 1965 with “Green, Green Grass of Home.” Though originally a hit for Porter Wagoner, the song proved to be one of Putman’s biggest copyrights, with recordings by Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, and Kenny Rogers.

The hits continued to come for Putman, with “My Elusive Dreams” being another of his early hits. Inspired by his gypsy-like lifestyle before moving to Music City, the song topped the charts for David Houston and Tammy Wynette.

Wynette – a fellow Alabama native – took a definite interest in the songwriting of Putman. She enjoyed one of her biggest hits with the classic “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” which was co-written with Bobby Braddock. The 1968 recording became one of Wynette’s signature songs, hitting the pinnacle of the Billboard Country charts.

A dozen years later, the worlds of Putman and Braddock would unite on paper again, but the 1970s saw many more hits added to his resume. Tanya Tucker recorded his “Blood Red and Goin’ Down,” T.G. Sheppard took his “Do You Wanna Go to Heaven” to the top, and Moe Bandy mined gold with “It’s a Cheatin’ Situation.” One interesting piece of trivia concerning Putman came in 1974 when Paul and Linda McCartney came to town for a series of recording sessions. The couple spent their six-week stay in Tennessee at his Wilson County farm.

In 1980, Putman’s name was forever etched into the history books of country music as he and Braddock watched as George Jones raced to the top of the airplay lists with their “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The song – now regarded as the greatest country song in history – had been around a while. Johnny Russell had recorded it not once, but twice. But Jones’ version hit and netted the songwriting duo back-to-back trophies for song of the year from the Country Music Association in 1980 and 1981.

In addition to his talents as a tunesmith, Putman hit the country top 30 in 1960 with “The Prison Song” and charted a pair of albums and singles for ABC in the 1960s. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. Funeral arrangements are pending.