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Harlan Howard: The Legendary Songwriter Who Coined 'Three Chords and The Truth'


Harlan Howard once defined country music as "three chords and the truth." And his career was proof of that.

Howard, born September 8, 1929, grew up poor on a farm in Michigan. He found solace in WSM Radio when the Grand Ole Opry would host songwriters like Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman. He would try to write down the songs he heard on the radio but couldn't always catch all the lyrics. He would fill in the blanks on his own, and that's how this songwriter was born.

After high school, Howard joined the military as a paratrooper. He and his buddies would travel to Nashville every free chance they got to listen to live music. Howard moved to Los Angeles in 1955 to pursue a career in songwriting. In between all the odd jobs and writing, he finally struck Tex Ritter and Johnny Bond's attention. The two published his songs and opened the door for Howard. After Wynn Stewart recorded Howard's song "You Took Her Off My Hands," Harlan Howard songs were in high demand. His big break happened in 1959 when Ray Price recorded Howard's song "Heartaches By The Number."


Not long after this, Howard packed his bags and moved to Nashville. He scored another hit with Price called "I Wish I Could Fall in Love Today" and two hits with Buck Owens, " Excuse Me(I Think I've Got A Heartache)" and "Above and Beyond."

In 1961, Howard and Hank Cochran sat down and wrote "I Fall to Pieces," made a smash hit by Patsy Cline. In this year alone, Howard has over 15 chart-topping hits.

The Harlan Howard Sings Harlan Howard record was released in 1961, but his career as a solo artist never bloomed. He was a five-star songwriter, and he kept his time and energy on that path.

The '60s and '70s country music charts were full of Howard songs. His wife, Jan Howard, even scored a hit with his song "Evil on Your Mind." In 1973, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1977, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


If anyone was worthy of defining country music, it was Harlan Howard. He lived and breathed "country music is three chords and the truth."

Howard retired from the music industry and 1980, and he passed away in 2002.

A Look Back At Harlan Howard's Hits:

"Better Class of Losers," Ray Price and The Cherokee Cowboys

"Blame It on Your Heart," Patty Loveless


"I Don't Remember Loving You," John Conlee

"Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," Charlie Walker

"Busted," Burl Ives

"Why Not Me," The Judds


?"The Streets of Baltimore," Bobby Bare

"I Don't Know a Thing About Love," Conway Twitty

"You Comb Her Hair," George Jones

"I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" and "Foolin' Around," Buck Owens



"Still in Town," Johnny Cash

"The Keeper of the Keys," Wynn Stewart with Skeets McDonalds and His Orchestra





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