In 1962, a young singer from Amarillo,Texas walked into Bob Summers’ recording studio in El Monte, CA. Terry Stafford brought in a song called “Suspicion” from the Elvis Presley album, “Pot Luck”. Using recording techniques he had learned from his brother in law, Les Paul, Bob played all the instruments on the track and even sang in the background group. When Terry walked out with that finished record, I don’t know if Bob thought he would ever see him again…and he almost didn’t.
Terry peddled that recording to all the major record companies without success. A&M went so far as to turn it down but cut two sides on Terry that didn’t make any noise. Finally, over a year later, Terry played the recording for record executive, John Fisher. John was involved with a new company, Crusader Records, and promised Terry a release for early 1964. In late February the record was released and began its’ incredible climb up the charts in the middle of the Beatles “invasion”. By April 4th the record reached #6 on the Billboard charts…The Beatles occupied the first 5 spots. The following week it peaked at #3 surrounded by Beatles singles in the other top 5 spots. Imagine Bob Summers surprise when he got a call nearly two years later that he had cut a hit and needed to do an album as quickly as possible to follow up. Little did both Bob and Terry know that at the height of this sudden popularity, Terry would be hit with an incredible run of bad luck and poor timing that would challenge him for the rest of his career.
With the album release and the popularity of “Suspicion”, Terry spent most of 1964 on tour. The follow up single, “I’ll Touch A Star” quickly climbed to #25 on the charts… but at the height of that success, John Fisher suddenly left Crusader and shortly after Crusader went bankrupt. Crusader had advanced Terry a few thousand dollars but sadly he never received another royalty and his remaining sides were never released.
Bob Summers and Terry had developed a close relationship based on trust and mutual respect of their talents and Bob quickly introduced Terry to his manager, Mel Shauer. Mel got Terry a deal with Mercury but the first single failed to generate much interest. Terry’s next stop was Sidewalk records, young record producer Mike Curb’s first venture. Mike had a distribution arrangement with Capitol Records and Terry kept busy writing a number of his songs and recordings in soundtrack albums produced by Mike. I met Terry through my association with Bob and Terry became a fixture in my offices where he continued writing and producing other artists while pursuing that elusive next record deal…and fighting to resist the label of “one hit wonder”.
Finally, in 1969 Warner Brothers Records released a single written by Terry and produced by Bob. “Big in Dallas” was released with little fanfare but was heard by Buck Owens. He approached Terry and asked if he could do a little re-write and record and release it himself. Terry was reluctant to give up any of the songwriter credit but Bob and I convinced him that 50% of something was worth a lot more than 100% of nothing. Owen’s re-write consisted of changing the title to “Big in Vegas”, dropping a few lines and cutting it from 3 verses to 2. It quickly hit the charts, peaked at #5 and became a signature song for Buck throughout his career.
Bob and I produced an album in 1971 and Mel procured a deal with Mike Curb again, who was now the head of MGM records. There was a major disagreement on what the first single release should be. While we thought one of Terry’s original songs should be first, MGM went with a throwback medley, “Mean Woman Blues-Candy Man”. This return to the past was exactly what Terry was fighting and the deal ended in 1972 with the masters returned to Terry and a new search for another record deal. Enter John Fisher again:
Fisher was now employed by Atlantic Records and charged with forming the company’s new Country Division. With our blessing Terry signed with Atlantic and headed for Nashville to start what we all felt would be his second career. In 1973 his first album, “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” was released and the title tune quickly rose to #35, but across the country DJs began to discover the “B” side, written by Terry. That song, “Amarillo By Morning” climbed higher on the charts to #31. A third single, “Captured” topped the first two at #24. Atlantic rushed Terry into the studio to cut a second album and it seemed he had finally found his niche in Nashville…but in an ironic twist of fate…while Terry’s first single from the new album was being released…Altlantic announced it was closing down its’ Country Division. The single, “Stop If You Love Me” lingered on the charts for six weeks but without promotion and company support stalled at #69 on the charts and the album and its’ other songs were never released.
Undaunted, John Fisher took Terry with him when Motown moved west to Los Angeles and formed its’ country label, Melodyland. In 1975 his first single, “Darling Think It Over” was released…but shortly after, Motown dissolved the label and Terry’s last association with a major label was over.
I lost touch with Terry when our careers went in different directions, but we had a happy reunion when George Strait discovered “Amarillo By Morning” and included it in the 1983 blockbuster album, “Strait From The Heart”. Strait’s version of “Amarillo” reached #4 on the charts. More importantly it became a country classic played around rodeos across the country. In 2003, Country Music Television named it the #12 country song of all time and USA Today named it the #7 song about a place in their Top Ten.
Sadly, this talented singer/songwriter wasn’t around to reap the rewards of this classic song. Terry had said on many occasions that if there had been the opportunities in Amarillo that he had in L.A., he would have never have made the trip west and he returned home many times to “re-charge”. Sometimes fame comes to soon…he could have never envisioned that immediate success with “Suspicion” and it was a lifelong frustration to make it happen again. I knew Terry well and throughout the disappointment… the stops and starts, the closing of record companies and the poor timing…he remained optimistic. In 1995 he returned to Amarillo one last time…excited about the opportunity to record for a record label in Dallas. It was never to be. Terry passed away in March, 1996 at 54 years old.
“I ain’t got a dime but what I got is mine…I ain’t rich but Lord I’m free… Amarillo by morning…Amarillo’s where I’ll be”. They’re still singing your song, my friend… and they will be for a long time to come.