Kenny O’Dell passed away on Wednesday, March 28 at the age of 73. O’Dell (whose last name was originally Gist but changed it to his mother’s middle name for pronunciation purposes) was born in Oklahoma and began writing songs when he was only 13-years-old. In 1969, he found his way to Nashville where he began working for the House of Gold publishing company.
O’Dell’s landed major success when Charlie Rich recorded his song “Behind Closed Doors” in 1973. The track earned O’Dell a Grammy for Best Country Song and a CMA for Song of the Year. And as the Nashville Songwriters Foundation points out, it still resides on BMI’s top 50 most-performed songs of all time.
O’Dell released several albums on his own in the ’60s and ’70s with hits like “My Honky Tonk Ways” and “Let’s Shake Hands and Come Out Lovin’.” This lead up to a big year in 1984 when the Judds sang “Mama He’s Crazy,” which became another big hit for O’Dell. He also won the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) title of Songwriter of the Year.
To complement his songwriting successes, the Tennessean writes that O’Dell became one of the longest-serving members on the NSAI board, advocating for songwriters. In 1996, O’Dell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
O’Dell was married to fellow musician Corki Ray who passed away just last year. The couple lived in Tennessee together and were married for almost 50 years.