Songwriter Keith Gattis, Whose Songs Were Cut by Kenny Chesney and George Strait, Dead at 52
Keith Gattis, a Nashville songwriter, producer, and solo artist who had his songs recorded by Kenny Chesney and George Strait and who produced Randy Houser’s Americana pivot, Magnolia, has died at 52. A source close to Gattis confirmed his death on Sunday to Rolling Stone. According to a GoFundMe campaign arranged for Gattis’ family, the songwriter was killed in a tractor accident.
Gattis, a Texas native, began his career as a recording artist, releasing a self-titled debut album in 1996 via RCA Nashville. The song “Little Drops of My Heart” was issued as a single and peaked outside of the Top 40. Nearly a decade later, he independently dropped the follow-up album Big City Blues, which included the searching ballad “El Cerrito Place.” Also recorded by Charlie Robison and Kenny Chesney, it’s a masterful tale of longing and regret, as Gattis’ narrator searches in vain throughout Los Angeles for the woman no longer in his life. (In the video for Robison’s version, Robison is seen wading aimlessly through the Pacific surf in a suit, lit cigarette in his hand.)
Chesney recorded his version of “El Cerrito Place” for his 2012 album Welcome to the Fishbowl, along with the Gattis solo composition “I’m a Small Town.” For Chesney’s 2013 LP Life on a Rock, he and Gattis reunited for “When I See This Bar,” which hit No. 14 on the charts. That same year, George Strait released Gattis’ co-write with Tom Douglas “I Got a Car” as a single and also wrote a number of songs with Gattis for Strait’s 2015 album Cold Beer Conversation.
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In 2019, after a string of albums geared toward country radio, Randy Houser embraced a more stripped-down, roots-music sound and enlisted Gattis as his co-producer. The result was the superb Magnolia, an album that helped prove Houser as one of country music’s leading vocalists and cemented Gattis’ reputation as a go-to collaborator both in the writing room and in the studio. Along with Magnolia, Gattis produced albums for fellow Texan Wade Bowen and Nashville songwriters Kendell Marvel and Waylon Payne. Gattis also had a long history with Dwight Yoakam, with whom he toured as a guitarist.
On Monday, Marvel paid tribute to Gattis, crediting him with helping launch his career. “I know people say this all the time, but I mean it with all my heart when I say I would not be out here doing what I’m doing today without Gattis,” he wrote in part on Instagram. “He was not only a great guitar slinger/songwriter/singer/producer, he was also a great friend.”