Thirteen days after his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Paul Craft — the man behind offbeat, wisecracking country hits like “Dropkick Me, Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)” and “It’s Me Again, Margaret” — has died. He was 76 years old.
A former law school student whose unusually high IQ earned him a spot in the American Mensa society, Craft kicked off his songwriting career in the Sixties, quickly building up a catalog of sharply-worded songs that found the humor in heartbreak and the extraordinary in the everyday. He wrote most of his biggest hits — including Moe Bandy’s “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” which earned a Grammy nomination in 1977 — without any outside help, drawing a line between his own songwriting style and the more collaborative approach of Nashville’s co-writing community. Craft didn’t need a partner to help whittle his tunes into commercial shape. He did just fine on his own, with artists like the Eagles, Alison Krauss, Bobby Bare, Ray Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, Skeeter Davis and Chet Atkins all covering his songs during Craft’s half-century career.
The ability to create music that appealed to a wide audience — from bluegrass purists to honky-tonkers to country-rockers — might’ve had something to do with Craft’s background. Raised in Tennessee, Arkansas and Virginia, he began traveling at an early age. After high school, Craft logged more than a half-decade with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve and toured with Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys as a banjo player. It wasn’t until he returned to western Tennessee in his mid-twenties that he began writing songs, sifting through his own experiences — and dreaming up plenty of imaginative fiction, too — for inspiration. Like Steve Martin and Shell Silverstein, he found a happy marriage between traditional roots music and mischievous comedy, although he always seemed to prize a good hook over a good joke.
Craft’s health took a nosedive in the 2010s. Earlier this month, he made his final public appearance at Nashville’s Music City Center, where he was to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. After posing with fellow inductees Gretchen Peters, Tom Douglas and John Anderson, though, Craft was rushed to the nearby St. Thomas Hospital. He never recovered, passing away less than two weeks later.