A life-long attraction to music paid off for Paducah native Jerry Crutchfield who has spent the last 50-plus years living his dream.
A talented performing artist, prolific songwriter, respected record producer and much admired recording industry executive, Crutchfield got an early start singing in his elementary and junior high school choirs and at church. The prospect of his first solo performance at church both terrified and exhilarated the 12-year-old budding musician who jumped at the opportunity to sing. Shortly thereafter, he started singing in gospel groups.
His love for music was fueled during Crutchfield's teenage years when his father purchased a record player and introduced him to a plethora of music genres. “My dad was a huge music fan,” Crutchfield said. “I listened to records by the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots, but my father also bought recordings of Caruso and Al Jolson. Mixed with gospel music, it was diversified.”
After graduating from Paducah Tilghman, where he sang in various music ensembles, Crutchfield went on to attend Paducah Junior College.
Crutchfield said he has been very fortunate to have experienced some good things in various phases of his career.
His first foray into songwriting came in the form of composing and performing jingles for local advertisers at Paducah radio station WKYB (now WKYX). Working at WCBL in Benton provided an income which allowed him to attend Murray State, but not as a music major.
“I would take morning classes, no matter what they were, so I could go to work at (WCBL) in the afternoon,” Crutchfield said, smiling. “I was not a stellar student, but I learned a lot of information and met a lot of great people. The campus experience is a tremendous thing.”
While at Murray State, Crutchfield joined an existing group, The Four Winds, who eventually performed at the Kentucky State Fair. “I didn't know you could win a blue ribbon for singing, but we won Best Vocal Group and got blue ribbons and a trophy,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield also sang with The Country Gentlemen, a group he thought was talented enough to make records. “I had a burning desire to be in the music business,” Crutchfield said. “I told them let's do what we need to do to get in, so we started making tapes at WCBL.”
The next step was to get a record label, a company that would produce their records, so Crutchfield selected RCA Victor because “I liked the little dog and the gramophone.”
A talented artist, Crutchfield twice declined invitations to join The Jordanaires, a premier backup vocal group, but his relationship with the group's tenor, Gordon Stoker, led to a recording contract via a country music business pioneer Chet Atkins.
Crutchfield got on the phone and called St. Louis, then Louisville and finally Nashville before he got a number for RCA. “I called the number and asked the person on the other end, 'if I want someone to listen to a tape, who would I talk to?'” He was given the name and was promptly transferred to Chet Atkins, who told Crutchfield to send him a tape.
“I thought if sending a tape was good, then bringing him one would be better, so when I got to Nashville, I called Gordon from a pay phone and told him I was in town and wanted to see Chet Atkins.” Stoker said he would see what he could do, and hung up.
Stoker called back a few minutes later and told Crutchfield that Aktins' response was, “I told him to send it to me ... but I'll see him.”
The rest is history.
The Country Gentlemen landed a contract with RCA Victor and with Atkins serving as producer was quickly renamed The Escorts. Atkins encouraged Crutchfield to write songs for the group and within a short time, his creative endeavors were noticed by such country greats as Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb and Tree Publishing, one of only four publishing companies in Nashville at that time.
When the company offered the budding singer/songwriter a job, he left Kentucky and WCBL where he was then general manager of the station, and moved to Nashville.
Since that move, Crutchfield has seen more than 150 of his songs recorded by such industry heavyweights as Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Tanya Tucker, Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride and Lee Greenwood.
Working in the studio as a musician and singer, Crutchfield ultimately rose to become president of MCA Music in Nashville. He also served four year as executive vice president/general manger of Capitol Records.
His 30-year association with MCA Music Publishing allowed Crutchfield to continue writing songs while working full-time as a record producer.
Crutchfield's credits as a producer include Dave Loggins' No. 1 pop hit, “Please Come to Boston,” the Grammy Award-winning “I.O.U.” performed by Greenwood and several gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums by other artists such as Lee Greenwood, Tanya Tucker, Chris LeDoux and Tracy Byrd.
He left MCA in 1996 and currently serves as president of Crutchfield Music Publishing/Glitterfish Music. Located on Music Row, the company maintains a catalogue of new and previously recorded songs which Crutchfield focuses on developing. On the lookout for fresh talent, he occasionally goes to small venues to hear new artists perform their own songs.
“The requirements have changed quite a bit in the music industry from when I started,” Crutchfield said. “The companies develop artists they feel society at large will embrace and support. That leaves many talented people on the sidelines and they are not getting the consideration they deserve.”
Reflecting on his career, Crutchfield said he has few regrets.
“We have a choice,” he said. “It sounds kind of hokey, but life is a little bit like a race, or at least a good run. We're strategically put on the track and we can sit there or take off. It's up to us.”
Crutchfield is adding another dimension to his illustrious career, one outside the music industry.
“At this stage in my life, I'm interested in writing, but not music,” Crutchfield said. “I will soon be publishing my first children's book, 'The Adventures of Dr. Raccoon.'”
Inspired by his granddaughter, Adison, the book features a series of eight stories, each about 12 pages long. He hopes to have the book endorsed by professional education and medical groups.
“If I don't succeed, it will have been a fun thing to do anyway,” he said.
He is also looking forward to returning to Murray State on January 31 for a benefit concert featuring artists Lee Greenwood and another Paducah native, Larry Stewart of Restless Heart, as well as singer/writer Rob Crosby and artist/actor/writer Ed Bruce. All are Crutchfield's personal friends.
Crosby's credits include Martina McBride's “Concrete Angel,” Lee Greenwood's “Hold a Good Hand,” and “She's More,” sung by Andy Griggs.
Bruce, who starred on the television series, “Maverick,” has written such songs as “Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and the Tanya Tucker single, “Texas When I Die.”
“All of the artists are extremely talented people performing credited song material,” Crutchfield said. “I hope everyone realizes how exciting this can be.”
Tickets are $20 each and proceeds from the concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m. in Lovett Auditorium, benefit the Jerry D. Crutchfield Scholarship Fund. The scholarship was established in 1987 less than a year after he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University. Unable to attend the awards ceremony because of business commitments, Crutchfield accepted the award via videotape which also featured an original composition, “Murray State Will Always Be Home To Me,” sung by Lee Greenwood. A subsequent tape with Tom Wopat singing the lyrics was mass produced with proceeds from tape sales earmarked for the scholarship fund.
Jim Carter, vice president for institutional advancement at Murray State, said that the evening will be a special and unique music event for Murray and the region.
“Jerry has had a stellar career in the music business and certainly made his mark in Nashville. He has always been gracious to remember his days at Murray State and again is demonstrating his loyalty by donating his memorabilia and assisting us with the concert. It's a testament to Jerry and his impact on these acclaimed performers that they have given their time to present this music experience.”
Crutchfield's memorabilia, which includes photos, correspondence and awards, will be unveiled during Commencement Weekend in May when he returns again to campus for his Golden Anniversary Class of 1957 reunion. The collection will be permanently housed in Wrather Museum.