When my country music career was in full swing in the 1990s, I loved spending a little time in the office of a country luminary who built credentials as a performer and behind the scenes in the business – Merle Kilgore. I was honored to know and work with him and included him in my Encouragers book series.
Known widely as the manager for Hank Williams, Jr., his career intertwined with some of country’s greatest names and those branches of his experience are explored in a new book “These Are My People” (WriteLife Publishing) available for purchase now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and local bookstores across the country.
Merle Kilgore co-wrote “Ring of Fire,” carried Hank Williams Sr.’s guitar, managed Hank Jr. for more than two decades, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Now, his grandson, Mark Rickert, gives readers an insider’s look at Merle’s larger-than-life world.
“We had a very close relationship,” Rickert recalls. “I listened to his stories for hours on end, summer after summer. He was a character and his friends were superstars. His was a story I always believed should be told.”
Mark Rickert grew up in a Country music household, just a few miles from the Opryland USATheme Park and the Grand Ole Opry, and only a block from the home of Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager. Mark’s father even worked as a Nashville tour guide. But it was his grandfather, Merle Kilgore, who showed him the backstage side of the business. Before publishing his first novel, Mark served eight years a photo-journalist for the U.S. Army Reserve, spending a year of that service in Baghdad, Iraq, writing for military publications. In 2008, he earned a Master’s in English Literature from Middle Tennessee State University. Today, he works as chief of public affairs for an Army recruiting battalion.
Mark has told it well; imbuing each chapter with details that only Merle or those closest to him would know. Kilgore died in 2005 and his funeral service was held at the Mother Church of Country Music: The Ryman Auditorium.
For Rickert, Johnny and June Carter Cash, Johnny Horton, Faron Young, Elvis, and other legends were the people who ruled the radio airwaves and populated “Daddy Merle’s” tales. From wrecking hotel rooms with Cash to explorations into the “other side” with Horton and the often-hilarious anecdotes of his life as a disc jockey and as a performer on the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry, Merle lived life to the fullest. Blazing new career paths into the industry itself, Kilgore was undeniably a critical strand in the fabric of the Country music storyline.
“These Are My People” offers chapter after chapter of insights into the private lives of Merle and his friends, and includes a selection of more than 20 unique black and white photos. It is an engaging read ably presented in a unique format. Published by WriteLife, “These Are My People” is in bookstores now. It is Rickert’s second book and follows the horror novel, “The Tone Poet.”
As someone who knew and respected Merle and who had the opportunity to work side by side with him, I can attest, he was larger-than-life and this book provides a unique look into his life. You will enjoy it even if you didn’t know him or his contributions.