Merle Kilgore

Induction Year: 1998

Birth Name: Wyatt Merle Kilgore

Birth Date: 08-09-1934

Place of Birth: Chickasha, Oklahoma

Death Date: 02-06-2005

Place of Death: Mexico

Merle Kilgore's career was bookended by his relationships with two legendary Hanks. When he was 14, he was hanging around the Louisiana Hayride radio show and wrangled his way into the inner circle of Hank Williams, as a gofer and a guitar roadie. The back half of Kilgore's professional life was devoted to managing Hank's son, Hank Williams Jr. In between, Kilgore found success as a singer, a songwriter, an actor and a publisher.

Being so close to Hank Sr., it was inevitable that Kilgore would try his hand at songwriting. And one of his first songs, "More and More," recorded by Webb Pierce in 1954, was a #1 country hit for 10 weeks. While he held down a job as a disc jockey at various stations in Louisiana, he honed his songwriting on the side. After he placed more hits with such artists as Johnny Horton and Carl Smith, Kilgore stepped into the spotlight himself. Though his performing career would be intermittent over the next two decades, he did have a few Top 10 singles, including "Love Has Made You Beautiful," and he toured as an opener for Johnny Cash.

That led to his collaboration with June Carter on "Ring of Fire," Kilgore's most famous contribution to the country music songbook. Carter had found the title in a book of Elizabethan poetry, and the two worked it into a dramatic piece about infidelity and desire. Johnny Cash's mariachi-flavored rendition became one of the all-time classic recordings of the 1960s.

In the '60s and '70s, Kilgore fleshed out his multi-faceted resume with movie roles (playing scenes with Steve McQueen and Jack Nicholson, among others), TV hosting spots and as head of Hank Jr.'s publishing company. By 1986, Kilgore became Hank Jr.'s manager and helped broaden his audience by hooking him up with Monday Night Football, then later the rootsy rapper Kid Rock.

But Kilgore's most enduring gift may have been his larger-than-life personality. With gaudy rings and necklaces, a pearl-colored Cadillac, and a booming, jovial voice that was always a minute away from another punch line, he was one of country's beloved characters. Kilgore kept his sense of humor, even when he was fighting cancer at the end of his life. "My doctor told me I should be playing golf in six months," he said. "That's great, because I don't play golf."

"Baby I've Got It"

Eddy Arnold1965 


(written with Lefty Frizzell, Abe Mulkey)

Wilma Burgess1962 
Lefty Frizzell1965 
Hank Williams Jr.1974 

"Easy Way"

(written with Glenn Sutton)

Eddy Arnold1965 

"Folk Singer"

Tommy Roe1963 
Eddy Arnold1964 
Jim Ed Brown1970 

"Guess What That's Right She's Gone"

(written with Glenn Sutton)

Hank Williams Jr.1964 #42 country

"Happy to Be with You"

(written with Johnny Cash, June Carter)

Johnny Cash1965 #6 country

"He (She) Understands Me"

(written with Margie Singleton)

Teresa Brewer1963 #130 pop
Johnny Tillotson1964 #31 pop
Bobby Vinton1966 

"Johnny Reb"

Johnny Horton1959 #10 country
Johnny Cash1965 

"Let Somebody Else Drive"

(written with Mack Vickery)

John Anderson1984 #10 country

"Long Time Ago"

(written with Faron Young)

Faron Young1960 #16 country

"Love Has Made You Beautiful"

Merle Kilgore1960 #10 country

"More and More"

(written with Webb Pierce)

Webb Pierce1954 #1 country
Carl Smith1958 
Jerry Lee Lewis1969 
Bill Anderson & Jan Howard1972 
Mickey Gilley1975 
Willie Nelson & Webb Pierce1982 
Charley Pride1983 #7 country

"Old Enough to Love"

(written with Bill Jones, Al Jones)

Ricky Nelson1959 #94 pop

"Old Records"

(written with Arthur Thomas)

Kitty Wells1964 
Kay Starr1966 


Faron Young1964 #23 country

"Ring of Fire"

(written with June Carter)

Anita Carter1962 
Johnny Cash1963 #1 country
Kitty Wells1964 
Roy Drusky1964 
Goldie Hill1964 
Jerry Lee Lewis1965 
Dave Dudley1966 
Tom Jones1967 
Lynn Anderson1968 
Hank Williams Jr.1970 
Earl Scruggs & Linda Ronstadt1972 
Carlene Carter1980 
Randy Howard1988 #66 country
Mark Collie1994 

"She (He) Went a Little Bit Further"

(written with Mack Vickery)

Faron Young1968 #14 country
Sammi Smith1971 

"Tiger Woman"

(written with Claude King))

Claude King1965 #6 country
Johnny Wright1966 

"When There's a Fire in Your Heart"

(written with Sonny Williams)

Teresa Brewer1966 #24 adult contemporary, #40 pop
Eddy Arnold1967 
Tammy Wynette1968 

"Wolverton Mountain"

(written with Claude King)

Claude King1962 #1 country
Jo Ann Campbell1962 #24 country
Nat King Cole1962 
Roy Drusky1962 
Dickey Lee1962 
Connie Francis & Hank Williams Jr.1964 
Faron Young1964 
Jerry Lee Lewis1965 
Webb Pierce1966 
Conway Twitty1977 

Merle Kilgore

Induction Year: 1998