Beloved Songwriter, Producer, Performer Keith Gattis Has Died

photo: Christopher Durst

He wasn’t destined to have the big superstar career that he initially set out for, or that his talent deserved. But over his 40 years in the trenches as a songwriter, player, and producer, Keith Gattis became a superstar to those who knew him in the business, from Texas, to Nashville, to Los Angeles, and parts in between. And eventually, the music Keith Gattis made went on to be heard by millions. Now he’s left us in this life, but not without leaving his mark on country music that won’t be forgotten for many lifetimes.

According to close friends and collaborators like Waylon Payne, Melonie Cannon, and Jim “Moose” Brown, Keith Gattis passed away on Sunday, April 23rd. He was 52 years old.

UPDATE (4/24/23 2:34 PM CDT): According to numerous sources, Keith Gattis passed away in a tractor accident. He was pulling tree stumps, and the tractor rolled over on him. More information when it becomes available.

Keith Gattis signed as a major label artist to RCA Nashville in 1996 and released a debut self-titled album. Despite earning critical acclaim and praise by country traditionalists, it was too critically acclaimed and traditional for its time, with none of the singles cracking the Top 40, and failing to gain traction. But undeterred, Keith Gattis continued in the music business and found his home, which was enhancing the music of others in a host of capacities.

As a songwriter, Keith Gattis wrote and co-wrote tracks for the likes of George Strait, Randy Travis, Kenny Chesney, Gary Allan, Randy Houser, Charlie Robison, Randy Rogers Band, Jack Ingram, Wade Bowen, Cory Morrow, and Sara Evans just to name a few. As a studio player, he worked with George Jones, Jon Pardi, Brandy Clark, Bruce Robison, and Sunny Sweeney among others.

In 2002, Gattis joined Dwight Yoakam’s band as the band leader, and played guitar and bass on the album Blame The Vain. As a producer, he worked with Wade Bowen, Randy Houser, Waylon Payne, Cory Morrow, Jason James, Micky and the Motorcars, and more.

Keith Gattis wrote “El Cerrito Place,” which after becoming a signature song for Charlie Robison, was released by Kenny Chesney as a successful radio single. He also wrote the Chesney single “When I see This Bar” and George Strait’s 2013 single “I Got a Car.” Albums that Keith Gattis produced include Wade Bowen’s Solid Ground (2018), and Randy Houser’s Magnolia (2019). Gattis was one of the most prolific multi-disciplinary contributors to country music in the last 25 years.

Keith Gattis was born on May 26th, 1970 in Georgetown, Texas, just north of Austin. He showed interest in music early, and began playing professionally when he was 16, performing around the Austin area. He formed a band that won a statewide competition as part of the Future Farmers of America, and was given the opportunity in 1988 to play in front of 8,000 people at the organization’s national convention.

Gattis continued to refine his songwriting and guitar playing while attending college. After he graduated, he moved to Nashville with $800 and whatever he could fit in his pickup truck, and started working in a music store while trying to launch his career, playing in Nashville’s bars at night. He caught the eye of Sammy Kershaw’s management team, and eventually was signed to RCA.

This is when Gattis took off for the West Coast, and started adding more rock influences into his music. He started working with Dwight Yoakam and recorded the solo album Big City Blues in 2005 for Smith Music Group. But eventually that got old as well, and Gattis returned to Nashville in 2006.

Along with working with many Nashville artists, Gattis became a favorite player, producer, and co-writer for many in the Texas/Red Dirt world. You don’t land on so many albums as a songwriter, musician, and producer by being a bad guy in the business. Keith Gattis was nearly universally beloved, and his death is being taken as a shock to the whole country music industry.

“So sad to hear the news of the unexpected loss of one of Nashville’s greatest talents…Keith Gattis,” Jim “Moose” Brown said late Sunday evening. “A dear friend who will be greatly missed.”

Gattis is survived by his wife Penny Gattis, who is GM of Publishing at Eclipse Music Group in Nashville, and their two children DeLaney and McKenzie. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for funeral expenses.

Donations can also be sent to:

Regions Bank
Attn: Melodie Zack
Branch Manager
1600 Division Street, Suite 100
Nashville TN 32703

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