Bobby Emmons, a Nashville songwriter who also played an integral role in the Memphis studio scene for decades, died Monday, February 23rd, in a Nashville hospital following an undisclosed illness, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. He was 72.
Born in Corinth, Mississippi, Emmons began his career as a member of the famed Bill Black Combo and played keyboards in the original house band at Hi Records studios, before joining the American Studios crew formed by producer “Chips” Moman. That celebrated group also featured guitarist Reggie Young, drummer Gene Chrisman, pianist Bobby Wood, and bassists Mike Leech and Tommy Cogbill. Among the iconic recordings on which Emmons and his fellow players appeared were “Suspicious Minds,” by Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. Between 1962 and 1972, they played on more than 100 chart hits.
Emmons’ piano and organ playing was also heard on recordings by Wilson Pickett, Garth Brooks, Townes Van Zandt and Roy Orbison. As a songwriter, he had cuts by the likes of George Strait (“So Much Like My Dad”), Waylon Jennings (“Luckenbach, Texas,” “Women Do Know How to Carry On” and “Wurlitzer Prize”) and Tanya Tucker (“Love Me Like You Used To”). The latter song, co-written by the late Paul Davis, was also recorded by Johnny Cash in 1985.
In December of last year, Emmons was part of legendary Memphis singer-songwriter Dan Penn’s band when he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman for a performance of “The Dark End of the Street,” which was written by Penn with Moman. Watch a clip of their performance below.
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A memorial service for Emmons is currently pending.