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NEWBURY, MILTON, JR. [MICKEY]

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NEWBURY, MILTON, JR. [MICKEY] (1940–2002). Singer and songwriter Mickey Newbury was born Milton Newbury, Jr., to Milton and Mamie Newbury on May 19, 1940, in Houston, Texas. He attended Jefferson Davis High School in Houston, where one of his classmates and friends was Kenny Rogers.

In 1954 Newbury began singing as a tenor in a local doo-wop group called the Embers, who signed a recording contract with Mercury Records in 1956. When he was seventeen he taught himself to play guitar, absorbing influences from the folk, blues, country, rockabilly, jazz, and border music of the Houston music scene. He wrote songs and performed with the Embers until 1959, when he joined the United States Air Force. After three years of overseas duty in England he returned to Houston and resumed his songwriting career. Newbury worked at odd jobs and on shrimpboats in the Houston and Southeast Texas area, staying with friends and relatives until he moved to Nashville in the early 1960s.

Shortly after arriving in Nashville he met Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, who recorded his songs and became his lifelong friends, along with fellow Houstonian Townes Van Zandt. Newbury's songwriting caught the attention of Wesley Rose, who signed him in 1964 to Acuff–Rose Music in Nashville. Country star Don Gibson sang the first Newbury hit song when he recorded "Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings" in 1966, the first of twelve Newbury songs that he recorded.

In 1968 Newbury became the first and only songwriter ever to have Number 1 hits on four charts at the same time: easy listening, with Andy Williams's version of "Sweet Memories"; country, with "Here Comes the Rain" sung by Eddy Arnold; rhythm and blues, with Solomon Burke's "Time is a Thief"; and pop-rock, with "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," recorded by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. In 1969 "Sweet Memories" made the country charts when it was covered by Dottie West and Don Gibson. Around this time and the early 1970s B. B. King hit the charts with "Time is a Thief," Ray Charles recorded "Sunshine," and Jerry Lee Lewis had success with "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye." "Heaven Help the Child" won the "World Popular Song" contest at the Tokyo Music Festival in 1973. Willie Nelson made the charts with "Sweet Memories" in the early 1990s, a tribute to the timeless quality of Newbury's songs.

In 1969 Newbury married Susan Pack, a former Miss Oregon and member of the New Christy Minstrels. They moved to Oregon in 1974 and settled near Springfield in 1980. Newbury continued to write songs and record there in his own studio, releasing albums on his Mountain Retreat label. On October 12, 1980, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International Hall of Fame.

Newbury made more than fifteen albums of his own during his career. On one of those albums, 'Frisco Mabel Joy (1971), he performed his arrangement of a trio of Civil War songs entitled "American Trilogy." The medley of "Dixie," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "All My Trials" became his best-known work and reached Number 26 on the charts in 1971. Elvis Presley loved "American Trilogy" and closed his live shows with it until his death; it thus became the last song Elvis performed in public. Since then "American Trilogy" has been recorded by more than 100 performers. Newbury's albums are full of mournful songs that are sometimes accompanied by a lonesome steam locomotive whistle. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings's hit version of Chips Moman's "Luckenbach, Texas" refers to "Hank Williams' pain songs, Newbury's train songs and 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.'"

Newbury's songs have been recorded over 500 times by almost 400 performers in more than fourteen countries, making him one of the foremost American popular songwriters. Artists who have each recorded three or more Newbury songs include Don Gibson, Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Kenny Rogers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones, Johnny Rodriguez, Willie Nelson, Roy Acuff, Jr., Ray Charles, Brenda Lee, Dottie West, Buffy Ste. Marie, Eddy Arnold, Brook Benton, Don Cherry, B. B. King, Wayne Newton, and Perry Como.

Newbury struggled against emphysema for the last five years of his life, but continued to write and record while enjoying family life. Susan said of him, "He was a wonderful husband and father. He didn't put much stock in what the rest of the world did. He just took care of his family. We'd have kids, and he'd take the next year off to feed his family." Newbury made his last public performance at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1998, but kept contact with his many fans via his website. He released his CD, Winter Winds, in early 2002. On September 29, 2002, he died in his sleep in Springfield, Oregon, and was survived by his wife, his mother, three sons, and a brother. In late 2003 Newbury's CD Blue To This Day was released. He was honored with the President's Award by the Americana Music Association in 2006. In 2008 he was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. . His digitally-remastered An American Trilogy album was released in 2011.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed September 10, 2008. Eugene Register–Guard, October 1, 2002. David Laing, “Mickey Newbury: Songwriter behind Elvis’s civil war anthem,” The Guardian (London), October 2, 2002 (www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,803302,00.html), accessed November 4, 2011. Nashville Tennessean, September 30, 2002. Mickey Newbury (www.mickeynewbury.com), accessed November 4, 2011.

Gary S. Hickinbotham

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Gary S. Hickinbotham, "NEWBURY, MILTON, JR. [MICKEY]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fne46), accessed September 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 3, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.