John Hurley — “Grandview Baptist Church”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — September 8, 2022


576) John Hurley — “Grandview Baptist Church”

This rollicking tune off of Hurley’s debut album (’70) brings a church revival meeting to joyful life. Hurley co-wrote it with Ronnie Wilkins after the two wrote another song called “Son of a Preacher Man” — yes, that song. Hurley died at age 45 — I think he and Dusty and Aretha are all hanging out together right now.

The Tennessean reflected on Hurley’s life (and death at 45):

[Hurley] began his career at the age of 4 singing in Pittsburgh barrooms with his uncle. When he was 9, he was co-host of a Pittsburgh children’s program . . . . From the time he was 9 until he was 13, [he] sang with the Pittsburg Opera Company. Then he moved to singing on street corners and got into rock ‘n’ roll. In 1962, he left his home in Pennsylvania to join Tree Publishing Co. . . . His first hit was Spread it on Thick by the Gentrys, with co-writer Ronnie Wilkins who worked with Mr. Hurley on all his projects. He . . . has a catalog which contains more than 200 songs . . . .

Michael Kosser take a deep dive:

Back in the ‘60s, [Ronnie Wilkins] and his co-writer John Hurley were living in Nashville and writing for Music Row’s hottest publisher, Tree International. . . . [They] had a succession of pop hits, capped by the timeless classic, “Son Of A Preacher Man.” As a teenager in the early ‘60s, Wilkins came to Nashville with a tape in hand and started writing with a talented singer-songwriter named John Hurley. By 1967 they had had enough songwriting success to make them a highly respected writing duo in the pop world. Trade magazines were running articles praising the soulful creativity of this rising hit-making team . . . . Lightning struck when these two kids met Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a fascinating place that was becoming one of the hottest pop and soul recording centers in the nation. “I was playing organ on an Aretha Franklin session,” Ronnie remembers. “We were in the control room when [Wexler] asked me and John, ‘Why don’t you guys write a song for Aretha?’” Producers often say stuff like that to hot writers, more as a courtesy than a real request. But Wexler was serious, and Hurley and Wilkins knew it. “A few days went by and John and I were in our writing room and were trying to come up with something,” Ronnie recalls. “We were thinking of Aretha, and her father was a preacher and both of my grandfathers were preachers. I said, ‘She’s the daughter of a preacher man and you might say I’m the son of a preacher man,’ and that’s how we came up with the title. It took us half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, to write the song.” Wexler loved the song. Two or three weeks later, he cut it with Aretha, and at the time he thought it didn’t fit the album they were doing. It was too gospel-sounding for her, but he was planning to record Dusty Springfield in Memphis. In early 1968, Springfield recorded “Son Of A Preacher Man” and toward the end of the year it was released on the LP Dusty in Memphis . . . [and] was a Top 10 pop hit in the United States and Number 1 in England and all over Europe. Dozens of Hurley-Wilkins songs were recorded by artists like Waylon Jennings, Elton John, The Everly Brothers, John Denver, Wayne Newton, Natalie Merchant, Foo Fighters, Tanya Tucker and hundreds of other artists from all over the world. Their songs were making Hurley and Wilkins a lot of money. They moved from Nashville to California to work on a pop album Hurley was doing for RCA [from which I took “Grandview Baptist Church”], and then over time Wilkins began to drift away from his songwriting career. . . . [S]ome of the songs – especially “Son Of A Preacher Man” and the anthemic “Love Of The Common People” – were so timeless that as the years passed their earnings from airplay and sales continued to increase. . . .

As does Roburt:

By 1965, [Wilkins] had teamed up with Hurley and they were writing for Joe Tex and the Illusions. John Hurley was a singer/songwriter and they soon hit it off. By 1967 they were a well respected team, both working for Tree Publishing, where they met up with Curley Putman. This teaming sometimes worked on songs as a trio but on other occasions it would just be Hurley & Wilkins writing together. The team were soon having their songs selected by outside producers/acts on the soul scene. In 1966, Candy & the Kisses cut the Hurley – Wilkins song “Sweet & Lovely” [and] Dial act, the Dreams, got into the act when they recorded “(Just to Keep On) the Lovin’ Side” written by all three of them. . . . [After “Preacher Man”,] it wasn’t too long before other compositions of theirs were hits. “Love of the Common People” was recorded by many acts but it was a reggae version by Nicky Thomas (Trojan) that did best. This was a top 10 pop chart hit in the UK in summer 1970. . . .

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