Bill Lowery (1924-2004)
Bill Lowery, often referred to as "Mr. Atlanta Music," was a disc jockey, manager, producer, and publisher whose efforts were central to the establishment of the Atlanta popular music scene from the 1950s until the end of the twentieth century. He was one of the first two individuals inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (along with Ray Charles) in 1979.
William James Lowery Jr. was born on October 21, 1924, in Leesburg, Louisiana, to Elizabeth McCracken and William J. Lowery. His father was a railroad conductor, and his mother, who encouraged her son's musical interests, occasionally sang gospel. At age sixteen Lowery began working as a disc jockey, which took him to towns across the South and Midwest. He also studied radio dramatics at Taft Junior College in Taft, California. In 1945 he was hired as the station manager of WBEJ in Elizabethton, Tennessee, making him the youngest radio station manager in the nation at that time.
In 1946 Lowery traveled to Atlanta to attend a football game between the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama, and afterward he sought an opportunity to relocate to Georgia. His Tennessee employer obtained a broadcast license for the Atlanta area and named Lowery the manager of a new station, WQXI. The first station in Atlanta to offer popular music on Sunday mornings, WQXI achieved some ratings success under Lowery's leadership through a mixture of popular music and news formats.
In 1948 Lowery accepted an offer to work at rival station WGST. There he broadcast Georgia Tech football games and continued his disc jockey work. He also hosted several weekly programs, including Mama Goes A' Shopping, Musical Tune, and Who's Singing. To host Uncle Ebenezer Brown, a Saturday morning show that featured local talent, he took on the persona of the title character, or "Uncle Eb." This show was similar to The Grand Ole Opry, as it provided a showcase for local singers and songwriters. Through this program Lowery began to network with music business representatives who were interested in his reviews of local talent. Uncle Ebenezer Brown marked the debut of Joe South, who would later become one of the most prolific writers among the entertainers managed by Lowery.
Early in his career, many colleagues in the music business encouraged Lowery to leave Atlanta, noting that more opportunity was available in Nashville, Tennessee; New York City; and Los Angeles, California. Lowery remained faithful to his adopted hometown, though, and worked tirelessly on his dream to make Atlanta "the music capital of the world."
After being diagnosed with cancer in 1951, Lowery began publishing music on his own through the Lowery Music Company. By 1953 the company had its first hit, the gospel song "I Have but One Goal," which was written by Cotton Carrier. Accompanied by the Smith Brothers, Lowery recorded the song, which sold more than 150,000 copies and became a gospel standard. As a result of this successful partnership, Carrier began to work for Lowery's company, where he remained until his death in 1994.
Three years later, the Lowery Music Company published its first single that would sell a million copies, the Gene Vincent song "Be-Bop-a-Lula" (1956). In 1957 Lowery published "Young Love," written by Atlantans Ric Cartey and Carol Joyner. "Young Love" remains the Lowery Music Company's best-selling song, having achieved number-one rankings on the country and pop charts with recordings by Tab Hunter, Sonny James,and Donny Osmond.
A second part of the Lowery enterprise was the National Recording Corporation, which recorded and pressed albums. Although this portion of the business folded in 1961, Lowery maintained a studio for recording, which is known today as Southern Tracks. Together Lowery's publishing, recording, and management businesses were known as the Lowery Group, and their headquarters were moved to Clairmont Road in Atlanta.
The 1960s was an extraordinary decade for the Lowery Music Company, with publishing success across musical genres. Ray Stevens began the success with the novelty song"Ahab the Arab," which came out in 1962. Teen star Tommy Roe had four hits, including the classic "Dizzy." The Tams cut beach music standards "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy" and "What Kind of Fool." The Beatles recorded the Roy Lee Johnson song "Mr. Moonlight" in 1965. The end of the decade marked the rise of the Classics IV and their trilogy "Stormy," "Spooky," and "Traces," which sold millions.
The 1960s and early 1970s also marked the apex of Joe South's career as a singer and songwriter, under the management of Lowery. Billy Joe Royal recorded South's "Down in the Boondocks," which rose to number nine on the charts in 1965. Deep Purple recorded a hard-rock version of "Hush," which was one of the first songs of that genre to be played across radio formats. In 1969 "Games People Play" won three Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year, and in 1971 Lynn Anderson's "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" was the most-played song of the year, according to BMI.
In the early 1980s the company released the album The First Piece of the Rock to honor blues pianist Willie Lee Perryman. The Lowery Music Company continued as a publisher through the 1990s, collaborating with such rock artists as the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Alicia Bridges, Bertie Higgins, and Starbuck. Lowery also worked with country songwriters, including Sammy Johns, who wrote "Common Man" for John Conlee and "America" for Waylon Jennings. Buddy Buie and J. R. Cobb, who wrote for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, also published country songs for Wynonna Judd ("Rock Bottom") and Travis Tritt ("Homesick" and "Back Up against the Wall"). In 1999 Lowery sold the rights for his publishing group to Sony.
Throughout his career, Lowery networked in civic and music business affairs. He founded the Atlanta chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He twice served as the national president of this group, which organizes the Grammy Awards. He also was on the boards of the Country Music Association, the Country Music Foundation, and the National Music Publishers Association. He was inducted into the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1984.
In 1978 he was appointed to a citizens panel to advise the state senate about the possibilities for establishing a Georgia Recording Commission, similar to the Georgia Film Commission. This group organized an annual Georgia music festival, which led to the practice of inducting members into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Lowery was one of the initial two inductees into this group, and he remained active with its efforts through the establishment of a Georgia Music Hall of Fame building in Macon in 1996. (The facility remained open for fifteen years, closing in 2011.)
Throughout his career Lowery remained a faithful collaborator with the musicians whose works he published or whose songs he recorded. He also involved family members in his business, including his wife, Billie, and their three children. As Lowery's health declined in the late 1990s, he turned over administration of the company to his family. He remained involved in the Georgia music scene, however, serving annually as the producer of the "Georgies" awards program. Lowery died on June 8, 2004.