He was born in 1936, on the family farm near the community of Billstown, in Pike County, the 12th child and seventh son of sharecroppers. Times were hard, so the whole family had to pitch in to pick cotton. When he was still a toddler, he fell into a river and, by his own account, drowned. When he was pulled from the water, his lips were blue and he was believed to be dead. An older brother, Lyndell, with heroic effort, was able to resuscitate him. Because of that experience, he felt he led a charmed and gifted life.
Many of his family's friends and relatives were musicians and he quickly developed a talent for playing the $5 Sears and Roebuck guitar he was given at age 4. By the time he was 6, he was demonstrating a dexterous guitar style, as well as a clear, natural singing voice, and was performing in public and occasionally on the local radio station. Soon the family moved to Houston and then to Albuquerque, N.M., where he began performing in clubs. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade to focus on music and, in 1956, joined his uncle's band, the Sandia Mountain Boys. In 1958, he formed his own group, the Western Wranglers.
In 1960 he moved to Los Angeles with aspirations of becoming a solo performer, but soon, because of his guitar skills, became a sought-after studio musician and guitarist. In 1961, he co-wrote and recorded his first solo record, "Turn Around, Look at Me", which became a minor hit and led to a recording contract with Capitol Records. His main success, however, was as a session musician, playing on recordings by performers such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, The Mamas and the Papas, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Darrin and Frank Sinatra. In 1964, he temporarily replaced Brian Wilson as one of the Beach Boys.
In 1967, he finally had solo success when he recorded "Gentle on My Mind", winning him two Grammy Awards. He quickly followed with another Grammy winner, "Wichita Lineman," then "Galveston," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights." In 1969, he appeared with John Wayne in the movie "True Grit."
In 2011, he announced he was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and, over the next year, took a 137-show farewell tour across the United States and Europe, with his children in the backup band and assisting him onstage.
Who was this talented musician who died in 2017, and is buried in the family cemetery in Billstown?
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