Longform

Happy Trails

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Decked out in a gray sweat shirt, white warm-ups and brown slip-on shoes with no socks, Garrett is the picture of easygoing contentment. It's hard to believe that this is the same person who, according to his own accounts, didn't sleep until he was 35, and was such a workaholic that he kept a blanket and pillow at United B recording studio, so he could cut tracks all night if necessary.

He's one of the few major survivors from the days when the producer was the star, the auteur who put together all the pieces needed for a hit record--before self-contained bands became so dominant that producers were reduced from visionaries to knob twiddlers. Garrett's greatest talent was always his shrewd ability to identify a good song and know what singer could do it justice. These days, when so many singers consider themselves songwriters, there's little room for Garrett's intuitive skills.

Garrett knows this. In fact, as early as the mid-'70s, he sensed the ground shifting beneath his feet, so he got out of the pop racket while the getting was still good. These days, he generally works only when he wants to, usually on TV or movie projects. Currently, he's coordinating the music for three Turner network films at the behest of his friend Burt Reynolds.

But he's most excited about the Edwards-Allen project. The album currently being completed at Tempest Recording in Tempe is a beautifully simple tribute to the great yodeling cowboy stars of Garrett's youth. As he listens to a rough cassette dub of the album, Garrett says in admiration, "It's real easygoing."

He could just as well be describing himself these days.

Look at page 808 of the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, and you'll find lists of artists, writers and producers with the most No. 1 hits. In the producer category, you'll find Snuff Garrett prominently ranked among the heavyweights of the business, with six No. 1s. That's more than Phil Spector, Prince, Nile Rodgers, Phil Ramone and countless others you could name. It's only one fewer than Paul McCartney.

Yet Garrett's name often gets lost among such luminaries. It might have something to do with the fact that he rarely had the chance to work with major artists, but it's also a reflection of his native reluctance to blow his own horn.

"It's funny, because Snuff has many more hits than Spector does, but he's not as well-known," says Tempest producer-engineer Clarke Rigsby, who has collaborated with Garrett over the last decade. "It's also the gravity of the hits that Spector had, but Spector was kind of a weird guy, and he caught the public's attention that way, while Snuff was a cowboy in the middle of L.A."

Garrett has a way of giving the impression that he doesn't know what he's doing, that he's a nonmusician who lucked into his success.

"I don't know one note from another," he says, with a hint of perverse pride. "If I knew music, I'd have had more than 50 Top 10s. Or I wouldn't have had any at all, I don't know."

"He always says that he doesn't know anything about music," Rigsby says. "But he knows when it's right and when it's wrong, and that's all that really matters."

Thomas Lesslie Garrett was born in 1938 in the Oak Cliff suburb of Dallas. His parents divorced when he was 10, and he lived with his mother, Lila, an accountant, and his younger sister, Gloria Sue.

Garrett took guitar lessons for seven years as a kid ("I thought when Roy Rogers stepped off Trigger, I'd take his place"), but they didn't take. Instead, he received his greatest musical training while employed at a local radio station.

"I had started working at KLIF, a station in Dallas, when I was about 14," he says. "I was in the music library. At that time, we were going from 78s to 45s, so they said, 'Let's get rid of all these 78s, throw them all away.' So I said, 'Can I have them?' So I carried a handful every night on the bus, and if I had a friend of my mom's with a car, I'd have 'em go down and pick up a load of 'em, and I had 'em all at my house. Stacks, just stacks of 'em. And I listened to both sides of every record, thousands of 'em."

Garrett's late-night work schedule at KLIF meant he frequently showed up at school dead tired. One day, while napping in his home-room class, his teacher, Coach Rawlins, threw an eraser at him to jar him from his slumber. Rawlins called him "Garrett Snuff," the name of a popular chewing-tobacco brand of the time. From then on, even his report cards identified him as Snuff.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia