Roger Bowling

One of Nashville’s most successful songwriters of the 1970s.
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Artist Biography

b. Roger Dale Bowling, 1943, Harlan, Kentucky, USA, d. 26 December 1982, Wiley, Georgia, USA. In a relatively short time, Bowling became one of Nashville’s most successful and respected songwriters. He first went to Nashville in 1970, but soon realized that his songs were not good enough and left with a comment that ‘I’ll be back when I’ve got it together’. He spent the next four years doing odd jobs and working on his writing, before returning to Nashville in the summer of 1974. After weeks doing the rounds of publishers and record companies, he met Larry Butler at United Artists Records and achieved his first hit song when Del Reeves charted ‘Pour It All On Me’ (written with Bill Cross and Paul Richey), on that label. It is related by John Lomax III inNashville Music City USA, that Bowling managed to have the songs recorded by unusual means: ‘Bowling had won four thousand dollars in a poker game with producer Larry Butler. Butler was about to be married (again) at the time and didn’t have the money, so the two agreed Butler would pay Bowling off by recording some his songs on a then washed-up pop singer by the name of Kenny Rogers, at the time trying a country comeback’. The following year Billie Jo Spears had a country number 1 and pop number 78 with ‘Blanket On The Ground’ (it also became a number 6 UK pop hit, which launched Spears’ career in Europe). With his reputation blossoming, sometimes writing alone and sometimes with others, further hit songs soon followed including ‘I’d Like To Sleep Till I Get Over You’ (Freddie Hart), ‘While The Feeling’s Good’ (Mike Lunsford), ‘What I Do Best’ (George Jones) and ‘Stay Away From The Apple Tree’ (Billie Jo Spears). In 1976, the hit songs included ‘Stand On My Own Two Knees’ (George Jones), and he co-wrote with Freddie Hart the Kenny Rogers hit, ‘While The Feeling’s Good’. Both 1977 and 1978 proved to be important years for him with a seemingly endless line of songs making the charts, including ‘Southern California’ (George Jones and Tammy Wynette), ‘Lonely Hearts Club’ and ‘57 Chevrolet’ (Billie Jo Spears), ‘Never Ending Love Affair’ (Melba Montgomery), ‘Every Word I Write’ (Dottie West) and the international hit, co-written with Hal Bynum, ‘Lucille’ (Kenny Rogers). The song (turned down by Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis and Johnny Russell, six months before Rogers recorded it) went on to become both the CMA Song and Single Of The Year and won Rogers the Best Male Country Vocal Performance. He joined forces with Billy Edd Wheeler to write further hit songs, including ‘The Diplomat’ (Johnny Cash), ‘Chain Gang Of Love’ (Roy Clark) and one of country music’s biggest all-time hits, ‘Coward Of The County’ (Kenny Rogers). His own recording career was not so successful, he first recorded, in 1975, for United Artists. In 1978, he recorded for the Louisiana Hayride label and just reached the Top 100 with ‘Dance With Me Molly’ and ‘A Loser’s Just A Learner’. In 1980, he moved to the NSD label and gained four minor hits (including his own version of ‘The Diplomat’), the highest placing being ‘Yellow Pages’ (a number 30), which gained a second release during his brief stay with Mercury Records. He believed that he could then make his name as a recording artist, commenting, ‘I’ve achieved basically what I wanted as a songwriter. It’s not that I’m bored as a writer but I’m ready to be an artist - professionally’. It was not to be, as, in the autumn of 1981, he was told that he had terminal cancer and perhaps only months to live. He withheld the news from his wife and young son, made careful plans and, obviously believing that he was reducing the suffering both for himself and his family during his final months, he committed suicide on Boxing Day 1982. His songs were always about life; he once stated: ‘When you have written a song, it should be one that an insurance salesman or a guy who digs a ditch can relate to and say, “Yeah, I know what he’s talking about”’. In 1983, NSD released an album that contained tributes from co-writers and both Rogers and Spears.