“Friends in Low Places” Songwriter Dewayne Blackwell Dies

There may not be a more recognizable song from the catalog of country music in the last 35 years than “Friends in Low Places” performed by Garth Brooks. Garth may have popularized it, but like so many of country music’s most legendary compositions, someone else wrote it. And that someone else was Dewayne Blackwell, who passed away on Sunday, May 23rd. He was 84.

“Friends in Low Places” was written after Dwayne and co-writer Earl Bud Lee went to lunch in Nashville, and Lee noticed after the check came that he’d forgotten his wallet. “Don’t worry. I have friends in low places. I know the cook,” Lee said. Blackwell picked up on the line, and the rest is history.

The remarkable thing about Dewayne Blackwell and “Friends in Low Places” is it came at the tail end of what had already been an illustrious career of songwriting in the country, rock, and pop realms. “Low Places” went on to spend four weeks at #1, win both the ACM and CMA Single of the Year in 1990, and of course made a superstar out of Garth Brooks. But you can trace the important and widely-recognizable songs penned by Dewayne Blackwell all the way back to the 50’s.

“Mr Blue” was written by Blackwell for The Fleetwoods in 1959, and became an American standard, later to be recorded and performed by Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Pat Boone, Bob Dylan, and Garth Brooks among many others. The success set off a flurry of Blackwell songs being recorded by big names, including “The Last One to Know” by the Fleetwoods in 1960, “The Ferris Wheel” by The Everly Brothers, and Bobby Vee’s “Hickory, Dick and Dock” in 1964. Roy Orbison, Little Richard, the surf group The Ventures, and many others recorded Dewayne Blackwell songs throughout the 60s.

It was in the 70s when the song catalog of Dewayne Blackwell made the transition to country after Johnny Darrell found chart success with the song “Mama Come’n Get Your Baby Boy” in 1970. Then by the 80’s, Blackwell was hitting his stride, contributing songs to a host of artists that would land him in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, including multiple tracks for David Frizzell, who scored a #1 and Grammy nomination with “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino” in 1982.

Blackwell also wrote the song “Honkytonk Man,” which became the centerpiece of the movie of the same name directed by and starring Clint Eastwood in 1982. Marty Robbins also played a role in the film, and recorded the definitive version of the song that became a Top 10 hit itself. Before Garth Brooks had his big hit with “Friends in Low Places,” he also recorded Dewayne Blackwell’s “Nobody Gets Off In This Town,” which became the B-side to “Low Places.”

Despite the big success with the song, Dewayne Blackwell didn’t score a big string of hits afterwards, but did land another notable Top 20 with Sammy Kershaw’s 1992 song “Yard Sale.”

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas on September 17, 1936, Blackwell migrated to California as a boy during The Depression and worked picking crops with his seven siblings. His father played fiddle and guitar at square dances, and Dewayne began performing himself at the age of fourteen, later playing in his family trio The Blackwells from 1958 to 1961. Despite finding some success and drawing the interest of legendary producer Phil Spector, the band broke up when Dwayne’s brother died in a motorcycle accident.

Dewayne Blackwell retired in 2003 according to Music Row, and moved to Central Mexico where he opened a restaurant named Senor Azul, a.k.a., Mr. Blue.

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