Harlan Perry Howard (September 8, 1927 – March 3, 2002) was an American songwriter, principally in country music. In a career spanning six decades, Howard wrote many popular and enduring songs, recorded by a variety of different artists.[1]

Harlan Howard
Birth nameHarlan Perry Howard
Born(1927-09-08)September 8, 1927
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 2002(2002-03-03) (aged 74)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Years active1958–1997
LabelsCapitol, RCA, Monument, Nugget



Howard was born on September 8, 1927, in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up on a farm in Michigan. As a child, he listened to the Grand Ole Opry radio show. In later years, Howard recalled the personal formative influence of country music:

I was captured by the songs as much as the singer. They grabbed my heart. The reality of country music moved me. Even when I was a kid, I liked the sad songs… songs that talked about true life. I recognized this music as a simple plea. It beckoned me.[2]

Howard completed only nine years of formal education, though he was an avid reader.[3] When he was 12 years of age, he began writing songs, "an enthusiasm fueled by an appetite for books and an ear for a telling phrase."[2]

After serving as a paratrooper with the United States Army, he went to Los Angeles, California, hoping to sell his music.[1]

Howard did manual labor while writing songs and pushing his finished material. Eventually, he sold some of his compositions and, after a few minor successes, his song, "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down", recorded by Charlie Walker, went to No. 2 on the country music charts in late 1958. A year later Ray Price had a major country hit with "Heartaches By The Number". Simultaneously, a pop version of the song performed by Guy Mitchell went to No. 1 on the pop chart. Buoyed by these two major hits, Howard moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1960. Bringing along a large portfolio of compositions, he signed a contract with Acuff-Rose Music. Howard's songs were so immediately successful that, in 1961 alone, he had fifteen of his compositions on the country music charts, earning him ten BMI awards. Among his biggest hits was "I Fall to Pieces", co-written with Hank Cochran and recorded by Patsy Cline. Cline and Candi Staton recorded his "He Called Me Baby", which was later a No. 1 C&W hit for Charlie Rich as "She Called Me Baby".

Though not often thought of as a writer of rhythm and blues songs, Howard wrote Joe Simon's No. 1 R&B chart hit "The Chokin' Kind", a million-selling record in 1969.

Howard also wrote the classic Kingston Trio song "Everglades", and the song "Busted", originally a hit for both Ray Charles and Johnny Cash and later a hit for John Conlee who used the song to create awareness for Feed the Children. The song "The Wall" also became a hit for Johnny Cash on his studio album Orange Blossom Special, as well as his Live at Folsom Prison album.

Howard coined the oft-quoted phrase defining a great country song as Three Chords and the Truth.[4][5]

Howard was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame also in 1997.[6] He died in Nashville in 2002, at the age of 74, and was buried in Nashville City Cemetery.

On March 3, 2023, Willie Nelson released his 73rd studio album I Don't Know A Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard. Produced by Buddy Cannon, the album is a tribute to Harlan Howard.


  • 1961: Harlan Howard Sings Harlan Howard
  • 1965: All Time Favorite Country Songwriter
  • 1967: Mr. Songwriter
  • 1967: Down to Earth
  • 1971: To the Silent Majority with Love
  • 1981: Singer and Songwriter

Song list


Songs written or co-written by Harlan Howard.[7]

Personal life


Howard was married numerous times, including to country singer Jan Howard.[6]

See also



  1. ^ a b Boucher, Geoff (March 5, 2002). "Harlan Howard, 74; Prolific Songwriter". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Wadey, Paul (March 5, 2002). "Obituary: Harlan Howard". independent.co.uk. London: The Independent. Archived from the original on May 9, 2022.Retrieved 2019-03-09.
  3. ^ ‘Harlan Howard’ Archived December 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Harlan Howard web-site.
  4. ^ Dansby, Andrew (2002). "Obituary: Country Scribe Harlan Howard Dies". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone.
  5. ^ "Harlan Howard: Three Chords and the Truth" (PDF). countrymusichalloffame.org. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.[dead link]
  6. ^ a b "Harlan Howard: Songwriters Hall of Fame". songhall.org. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  7. ^ Oermann, Robert K. (March 4, 2002). "BMI Legend Harlan Howard Dies". BMI. Retrieved March 9, 2019.