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Gospel Music Hall of Famer Don Light, right, with Dick Clark, before a Grammy celebration at the National Guard Armory in Nashville in 1969. Mr. Light, a Gospel Music Hall of Famer, died Wednesday, June 18. / Jimmy Ellis / The Tennessean

NASHVILLE -- Most every day, Gospel Music Hall of Famer Don Light offered this advice:

"If you can find a need and fill it, you've got a job."

Light, who died Wednesday at age 77, found many needs, and filled them. He played drums on the Grand Ole Opry. He produced hundreds of records. He co-founded the Gospel Music Association in 1965, the same year he opened Don Light Talent, the first professional outfit for booking gospel music. He was almost certainly the only gospel industry executive who habitually kept a can of beechwood-aged Budweiser beer in his jacket pocket.

After staking significant claims in the Jesus music business, he enabled the ascent of Jimmy Buffett, a singer-songwriter who sang a self-penned composition titled My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don't Love Jesus.

"He had this unique eye for talent, unlike anyone else in that town," Buffett said. "Don Light was an honest guy that took an interest in me. He was the only guy that 'got' me at the time in Nashville. I was lucky to have him in my life."

Buffett was a scuffling young performer when he met Light, who heard a tape with Pencil Thin Mustache and some other songs on it.

"I told him, 'I think I can get you a record deal, and, if I do, I'd like to be your manager,'" Light recalled in 2013. "I thought I was right about Buffett. It just took me a long time to get everybody else to think that."

After dozens of rejections, Light did find Buffett a recording contract, and Buffett became one of the music industry's most remarkable successes. Light was also instrumental in securing Nashville music business entry for The Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Wariner, Dailey & Vincent, Steep Canyon Rangers, Mark Collie and Keith Whitley, and he worked with respected artists including Lester Flatt, Delbert McClinton, John Hartford, John D. Loudermilk and David Olney.

In the 1970s, Mr. Light began racing stock cars at the Nashville Fairgrounds, and he eventually found his way into the winner's circle. He also managed NASCAR racer Kyle Petty, befriended racing magnate Dick Brooks and helped found the NASCAR/Country Music Association collaborative festival, Sound & Speed.

Light, born April 22, 1937, grew up in Robertson County. He served in the Marine Corps ("They didn't always appreciate my humor") and upon release began working as a disc jockey and, in 1961, drumming at the Opry. In 1962, he began writing about music for Billboard magazine, and soon convinced Billboard editors that the gospel industry was worthy of coverage. He noticed that gospel artists tended to book shows based on backstage handshakes rather than contracts, he saw a need to professionalize gospel booking arrangements, and, with Don Light Talent, he filled that need.

"I had never booked a date when I started Don Light Talent," he said. "I was just fortunate to see this opportunity. We had the reputation from Day One that if we told them an act would be there, it'd be there. And if we told them 'No,' they'd better look for somebody else."

Light was a president of the Nashville chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and a board member of the International Bluegrass Music Association and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was also a big believer in goals and objectives.

"Keep your goals and objectives in front of you," he said. "That's the reason they put the carrot right out in front of the mule. Otherwise, the mule might forget."

Light was among Music Row's most quotable figures. Of a semi-trustworthy peer, he'd say, "He might knife you in the back, but he wouldn't twist it, at least not with both hands." Of a brusque producer, he said, "He might have heard about diplomacy, but he didn't catch it." He often reminded, "Be particularly aware of somebody who tells you, 'Don't worry about a thing,'" and "There's no substitute for experience, and only one way to get it."

Light suffered from respiratory ailments and spinal disease for decades, and he had his colon removed in 1969, due to ulcerative colitis. He walked slowly, with a cane. But he was a frequent presence at Nashville concerts and industry events. He was not a fan, he was a participant.

"I like to climb up in lighthouses," he said. "With my ailments, I have to stop at every other landing, maybe even every landing. This one tower I like to climb, it's 186 feet high, and it takes me a long time to get to the top. But when I get there, I get the same view as everybody else."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Master music talent scout Don Light dies

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