NASHVILLE (CelebrityAccess) Kelton Dean “Kelso” Herston, 87, veteran guitar picker, producer and record label founder, died in Nashville Dec. 4.
“[Kelso Herston] was a label chief, record producer, song publisher, jingle creator and ace session musician during the 1960s and 1970s,” Music Row noted, and even that is an underwhelming statement.
Herston, born in Alabama, formed Tune Records and a publishing business in Florence/Muscle Shoals in 1956. From there he was hired by Florence native Sam Phillips to establish the label’s Nashville office and publishing divisions Hi-Lo and Knox Music. It was there that Herston worked with Sun Records star Carl Mann of “Mona Lisa” and “Pretend” fame.
While in Music City, Herston established himself as a Nashville cat and his bass or guitar parts can be heard on recordings by Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bobby Bare, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and hundreds of others, according to Music Row.
He is also credited with luring Jerry Lee Lewis to Mercury Records, where he worked, in the early ’60s. Lewis’ career was revived while under the Mercury label. Herston was then recruited by United Artists Records to establish a Nashville office, where he produced hits for Del Reeves and worked with Bobby Goldsboro and The Oak Ridge Boys. In 1967, he took over the Nashville office for Capitol Records, producing 13 No. 1 hits for Sonny James and was hired at the musical director for “Hee Haw.”
In the ’70s, he formed Kelso Herston Productions, which became the Clio-Award- and Diamond Award-winning establishment for ad jingles, producing ditties for companies like Budweiser, Pepsi, Burger King and Oscar Meyer. While he continued to work with jingles, Herston was rehired by United Artists in 1972, serving as its head of the Nashville division. While there, he signed and launched the career of Crystal Gayle while, at the same time, began his own publishing firm that launched Ronnie Milsap’s No. 1 hit “Don’t You Know How Much I Love You.”
Herston was a member of NARAS and served on its board in 1969 and 1970, according to the Tennessean. He was a member of CMA, AFTRA, SAG and the American Federation of Musicians and was a 10-time winner of the Super Picker Award between 1961 and 1975.
Herston was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and is in the City of Florence Alabama Walk of Honor.