|Country Music "Remembers" by Gary Hayes
Keith Whitley 1955-1989
Keith Whitley (born Jackie Keith Whitley July 1, 1955 in Sandy Hook Kentucky
died May 9th 1989) was a Traditonal country singer. Whitley's brief career in
mainstream country music lasted from 1984 till his death in 1989, but he
continues to influence an entire generation of singers and songwriters.
He charted nineteen singles on the Billboard country charts, including five
Number Ones in a row: "Don't Close Your Eyes", "When You Say Nothing at All",
"I'm No Stranger to the Rain", "I Wonder Do You Think of Me" and "It Ain't Nothin'".
Whitley, along with Ricky Skaggs, was discovered by Ralph Stanley when the two
teenagers sang Stanley Brothers songs as an opening act for the Clinch Mountain
Boys. The two soon joined Ralph's band. Whitley also played with JD Crowe and
the New South in the mid-seventies. During this period, he established himself as
one of the most versatile and talented lead singers in bluegrass. His singing was
heavily influenced by Carter Stanley and Lefty Frizzell. Whitley's first solo album,
A Hard Act to Follow, was released in 1984, and featured a more mainstream
country style. While Whitley was working hard to achieve his own style, the songs
he produced were inconsistent. Critics regarded the album as too erratic. Whitley
honed his sound within the next few years for his next album, L.A. to Miami.
L.A. to Miami, released in 1986 would give him his first Top 20 country hit single, "Miami, My Amy." The song was followed by
three more hit songs: "Ten Feet Away," "Homecoming '63," and "Hard Livin." The album also included "On The Other Hand" and
"Nobody In His Right Mind Would've Left Her." "On The Other Hand" was pitched to Keith before Randy Travis released the song
as a single and when Keith's version wasn't released as a single, Randy released his in 1986, as did George Strait with "Nobody
In His Right Mind Would've Left Her"
During his tour to promote L.A. to Miami, he met and started a romantic relationship with Lorrie Morgan, a fellow country singer.
The pair were married in November, 1986, and they had their only child, a son, Jesse Keith Whitley, in June 1987. Keith also
adopted Lorrie's daughter, Morgan, from her first marriage.
During the new recording sessions in 1987, Whitley started feeling that the songs he was doing were not up to his standards, so
he approached RCA and asked if the project of fifteen songs could be shelved. He asked if he could have more of a say in the
songs and production. The new album, titled Don't Close Your Eyes, was released in 1988, and the album did extremely well.
The album contained one of the many songs that Whitley had a hand in writing in his years at Tree Publishing, "It's All Coming
Back To Me Now." Also on the album was a remake of Lefty Frizzell's classic song, "I Never Go Around Mirrors," and the song
became a huge hit at Whitley's concerts. The first three singles off of the album -- "When You Say Nothing at All," "I'm No Stranger
to the Rain," and the title cut -- all reached number 1 on Billboard Magazine's country charts during the fall of 1988 and the winter
of 1989. "I'm No Stranger To The Rain" also earned Whitley his first and only Country Music Association award.
In early 1989, Keith approached Joe Galante with the intention of releasing I Never Go Around Mirrors as a radio single. Joe
approved of the musical flexibility that Keith achieved with the song, however, he suggested that Keith record something new and
more upbeat. The result was a song Keith had optioned for his previous album called I Wonder, Do You Think Of Me?, and was
to result in his next album release.
Keith Whitley was a longtime alcoholic, who had begun drinking early in his career at Bluegrass concerts -- long before he was
legally allowed to drink alcohol. Many times he had tried to overcome his alcoholism, but these methods had failed. Whitley
preferred to drink alone, making it tough for anyone to detect that he had a drinking problem. According to Lorrie Morgan, she tried
to hide all alcohol from him, only to find out he would drink things like perfume and nail polish and mouthwash to get drunk.
On the morning of May 9, 1989, after a weekend of drinking and partying with friends, Whitley woke up and spoke with his mother
briefly on the phone. He was visited by his brother-in-law, and the two had coffee and planned a day of golf, after which, Keith had
planned to start writing songs for him and Lorrie to possibly record when she returned from her tour. His brother-in-law departed,
telling Keith to be ready within an hour. Upon returning, Whitley was found face down on his bed and pronounced dead at 11:16
The cause of death was alcohol poisoning, and the coroner report stated that his blood alcohol level was .477 (five times over the
legal limit to drive.) He was 33.
The day after his death, Music Row was lined with black ribbons in memory of Keith. I remember I came down here for vacation
to make connections for a job in Nashville and I saw Music Row adorned with these ribbons.
Although Whitley's voice was silenced, his influence on country music has persisted long after his death. At the time of his death,
he had just finished making his fourth and final studio album, I Wonder Do You Think of Me. The album was released three
months after his death, on August 1989. The album produced two more #1 hits, with the title track and "It Ain't Nothin'." "I'm Over
You" also saw the top ten in the spring of 1990, reaching No. 3.
In 1990, a collection of Keith's greatest hits was released. It has gone on to sell more than three million copies.
Two new songs were added to "Greatest Hits": The first, "Tell Lorrie I Love Her" was written and recorded at home by Keith for
Lorrie, originally intended as a work tape for Keith's friend Curtis 'Mr. Harmony' Young to sing at Whitley's wedding. The second
was "'Til A Tear Becomes A Rose", a 1987 demo taken from Tree that originally featured harmony vocals by childhood friend
Ricky Skaggs. Lorrie Morgan, with creative control and license to Whitley's namesake, recorded her voice alongside Keith's, and
released it as a single, which rose to No. 13 and won them 1991's CMA award for Best Vocal Collaboration.
RCA also released a compilation of performance clips (from his days in the Ralph Stanley-Fronted Clinch Mountain Boys),
interviews, and some previously unreleased material under the title "Kentucky Bluebird". The CD produced hits for Keith as well,
including a duet with Earl Thomas Conley which rose to number #2 in the fall of 1994. "Kentucky Bluebird" is currently out of print.
In 1994, Whitley's widow Lorrie Morgan organized several of Whitley's friends in bluegrass and some of the big names in country
at the time to record a tribute album to Whitley. The album included covers of Whitley's songs from artists such as Alan Jackson,
Diamond Rio, and Ricky Skaggs. The album also included several previously unreleased tracks recorded by Whitley in 1987.
One of the songs was a duet that Lorrie and Keith did in the summer of 1987 called "I Just Want You". The tribute album credited
Whitley with another award for reaching more than 500,000 copies.
However, the hit single to come from the tribute album was Alison Krauss & Union Station's rendition of "When You Say Nothing
at All", which rose to #3 on the Billboard country charts.
In 1995, the CD "Wherever You Are Tonight" was released, produced by Lorrie Morgan, featuring cleaned-up demos of
1986-1988, with crisper 1990's recording techniques and a full orchestra. The CD and single of the same name both did very
well on the Billboard and R&R charts and brought "Super Hits" and "The Essential Keith Whitley" in 1996. "The Essential"
contained the remastered and long since unavailable LP and Whitley's debut, the 6-Track "A Hard Act to Follow", and a scrapped
song from 1986's "LA to Miami", "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight".
Whitley's legacy continues to shine since his passing in 1989; every year there is a memorial motorcycle ride from Sandy Hook,
Kentucky to his resting place in Nashville, TN where hundreds gather to pay their respects.
In fact,every year I go and pay my repsects as well to thisman that I personally call the modern day Hank Williams.Simply
because he recorded so little,but left us all so much.Never before was there an artist that wept during a performance,or hung his
head while performing. Keith was and always will be an integral part of country music history.
Even in death, new fans come to know Keith and his music both mainstream and bluegrass. Singers and songwriters today
continue to use Keith as one of their main reasons for entering the music scene] Mark Chesnutt is one of those singers who on
his newest cd "Rollin With The Flow" did a cover of Keith's recording "She Never Got Me Over You".
|Keith Whitley - "Mirrors". (pics from his last show)
Photos are from various Fans,friends and family of Keith,
Including Randy Hayes (former member of Keith's band 'Miami').
Featuring photos from his last concert.