Felice Bryant, co-author of `Rocky Top,' dies at 77

by John Gerome
The Associated Press

NASHVILLE -- Felice Bryant, who with her late husband wrote ``Bye Bye Love'' and other Everly Brothers hits and the hand-clapping bluegrass standard ``Rocky Top,'' died Tuesday. She was 77.

Bryant, who had been diagnosed with cancer, died at her Gatlinburg home, said Caroline Davis, spokeswoman for the songwriters licensing agency BMI.

Her husband, Boudleaux, who died in 1987, and she wrote or co-wrote 800 recorded songs cut by more than 500 vocalists. Their songs have accounted for approximately 500 million in record sales.

Some of their other big hits include the Everlys' ``Wake Up Little Susie,'' ``We Could,'' recorded by various artists including Jim Reeves and Al Martino, and ``Raining in My Heart,'' recorded by Buddy Holly, Dean Martin and Ray Price.

Others who recorded songs by the Bryants included Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Simon & Garfunkel, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison and Sarah Vaughan.

The couple began writing songs together when Boudleaux Bryant set his wife's poetry to music. Their first major success was ``Country Boy'' by Little Jimmy Dickens in 1948.

``I did a lot of Felice and Boudleaux's old songs through the years,'' Dickens said Tuesday. ``They were two of the greatest writers who ever lived.''

Dickens said his recording of ``We Could,'' a song Felice Bryant wrote as a birthday gift for her husband, became one of his most requested songs.

The Bryants were among the first in Nashville to make songwriting a full-time career. They were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1991 and inducted into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986.

``Rocky Top,'' written in 10 minutes in 1968 and recorded by the Osborne Brothers, became a state song in 1982, joining ``Tennessee Waltz'' and others. The song, with a bouncy beat, is about a secluded spot in the Smoky Mountains where there's no ``smoggy smoke'' or telephone bills. ``Corn don't grow at all on Rocky Top, dirt's too rocky by far,'' the song says. ``That's why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar.''

It has been the fight song for the University of Tennessee athletic teams since the early 1970s, whipping football crowds of 100,000 into a frenzy at Neyland Stadium.

The university's marching band first played ``Rocky Top'' in 1972 when it was directed by now-retired Dr. W.J. Julian, who was a friend of the Bryants.

``We played it in a drill and the crowd loved it so much, we kept playing it. Lord knows how many times we play it at football games now,'' Julian said Tuesday. ``I wish I had written it. It's a contagious tune.''

Felice Bryant recalled she and her husband stumbled upon ``Rocky Top'' when she became tired of writing sad lyrics and refused to continue. Her husband then started to strum a tune on his guitar, and they made up the words as they went along.

``Boudleaux accepted every dumb line I said just to get it over with. Ten minutes later, `Rocky Top' was finished. I had my diversion, and we went back to work. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking, `what a gem,''' she said in a 1997 interview.

Her husband did most of the melody writing and she provided the lyrics. Alone, Boudleaux Bryant also wrote ``All I Have to Do Is Dream'' and ``Devoted to You,'' both recorded by the Everly Brothers, and ``Love Hurts,'' recorded by Orbison.

Felice Bryant was born in Milwaukee. She sang on the radio as a child but her true passion was poetry.

Her husband died in 1987 and she is survived by two sons.

Her funeral is set for Friday at Woodlawn Funeral Home in Nashville.