NEW YORK (NYTimes) - Songwriter Curly Putman, whose teary ballad with a twist ending, The Green, Green Grass Of Home, became a worldwide hit for Tom Jones in 1967, and whose long string of country classics included D-I-V-O-R-C-E for Tammy Wynette and He Stopped Loving Her Today for George Jones, died on Sunday at his home in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was 85.
The cause was congestive heart failure and kidney failure, his son Troy said.
Putman turned out hundreds of songs, many of them country chart-toppers, after moving to Nashville and signing with Tree Publishing in the early 1960s. He was renowned as a song doctor who could transform a promising tune into a sure thing, and although he often wrote solo, many of his greatest hits were collaborative efforts.
He teamed up with Bobby Braddock on D-I-V-O-R-C-E and again on He Stopped Loving Her Today, which revived Jones' career and was named the Song of the Year in both 1980 and 1981 by the Country Music Association.
With Sonny Throckmorton, one of his proteges, he wrote It's a Cheating Situation, recorded by Moe Bandy with Janie Fricke, which the Academy of Country Music named Song of the Year in 1979.
His solo credits included Dumb Blonde (1967), which put Dolly Parton on the country charts for the first time, and Blood Red and Goin' Down, a No. 1 hit for Tanya Tucker in 1973.
No song of his proved more durable or popular than The Green, Green Grass Of Home, about a man who imagines returning home to his family and sweetheart, only to wake up and realise that he has been dreaming in his prison cell.
Originally recorded by Johnny Darrell in 1965, it became a Top 10 country hit for Porter Wagoner that year and reached a crossover audience after Tom Jones, who had heard Jerry Lee Lewis' version, recorded it.
It was later recorded by a wide range of artists, including Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons, Dean Martin, Nana Mouskouri (in French), Joe Tex and the Grateful Dead.
"I wrote the best song I ever wrote and didn't know what I was doing," Putman told the home magazine Wilson Living in 2009. "I do know I was touched deeply when I was singing it. I almost cried. I was struggling, trying to come up with something different."
Claude Putman Jr was born on Putman Mountain, near Princeton, Alabama, northeast of Huntsville, named after the numerous Putmans who lived there. His father ran a sawmill. His mother, the former Myrtle Roden, was a homemaker. He played basketball at Paint Rock Valley High School and learned to play steel guitar as a teenager.
After briefly attending Southern Union State Community College in Wadley, Alabama, he enlisted in the Navy and served two tours in Korea aboard the aircraft carrier Valley Forge during the Korean War.
After his discharge, he coached basketball and taught physical education at his former high school while playing steel guitar on the side with Slim Lay, a local country singer who owned a record store in Huntsville and who gave him a job there.
In 1956, he married Bernice Soon, who survives him. In addition to his son, he is also survived by three grandchildren.
In 1960, recording for the Cherokee label, Putman had a minor hit with The Prison Song, one of his compositions, and Marion Worth reached the Top 10 with his song I Think I Know. A year later singer-songwriter Roger Miller introduced him to Buddy Killen, president of Tree Publishing, who had turned the company into a Nashville powerhouse.
"Buddy asked me if I wanted to come up and pitch songs and listen to tapes," Putman told Wilson Living. "He paid me US$100 a week. I jumped at the chance."
Putman wrote hit after hit over the next two decades. Johnny Darrell had his first hit with Putman's As Long As The Wind Blows in 1965 and Charlie Rich with Set Me Free in 1967. Wynette and David Houston took My Elusive Dreams, written by Putman with Billy Sherrill, to the top of the country charts in 1967.
Putman teamed with Braddock for You Can't Have Your Kate And Edith Too (1967) for the Statler Brothers and, with Larry Butler, provided Ferlin Husky with the Top 10 hit Just For You in 1968. He later wrote several hit songs for T.G. Sheppard.
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976. "Found and lost love," he told Variety in October, summing up his songwriting philosophy. "Just about everything I wrote was that. That's what I felt more than anything."