Chips Moman, a Memphis producer, musician and songwriter who helped Elvis Presley engineer a musical comeback in the late 1960s and then moved to Nashville to record Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and other top country performers, died June 13 in LaGrange, Ga. He was 79.
The cause was lung disease, said Donny Turner, a family friend.
Mr. Moman, a fixture for decades in the Southern music scene, hitchhiked from Georgia to Memphis as a teenager and worked at the fledging Stax Records in the 1950s. He produced some of the first hits for the famous label, including “Last Night” by the Mar-Keys, “Gee Whiz” by Carla Thomas and “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by William Bell.
He started his own studio, American Sound Studio, and formed the Memphis Boys studio band, which helped define the funky, down-to-earth Memphis sound of the ’60s. He helped produce hits from the Gentrys, B.J. Thomas and Neil Diamond. With Dan Penn, he co-wrote soul classics “Dark End of the Street,” a hit for James Carr and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” a hit for Aretha Franklin.
One of his most notable collaborations was with Presley. For much of the ’60s, Elvis had turned out soundtrack albums as pallid as the movies they were derived from. But by the end of the decade, Presley was anxious to challenge himself and chose the American studio for his intended comeback.
The result was a prolific and productive session, with Presley re-establishing his mastery of soul, gospel, country and blues and showing he could keep up with the latest sounds.
The album “From Elvis in Memphis,” released in 1969, received some of the best reviews of his career and was followed a year later by “Back in Memphis.” Hit singles included “Kentucky Rain,” “In the Ghetto” and what became the signature song of the latter part of Presley’s career, the chart-topping “Suspicious Minds.”
Mr. Moman left Memphis in 1972 and eventually settled in Nashville. There, Moman continued his streak of musical success by writing and recording for country artists.
He earned a Grammy in 1976 for co-writing the country song “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” a hit for B.J. Thomas, and also wrote “Luckenbach, Texas,” recorded first by Waylon Jennings.
He produced “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” for Willie Nelson and Jennings, “Pancho and Lefty” for Nelson and Merle Haggard, and persuaded Nelson to record a cover of “You Were Always on My Mind,” which became one of Nelson’s biggest hits and earned him a Grammy for country vocal performance of the year.
In 1985, Mr. Moman produced the first and most successful studio recordings of the country supergroup the Highwaymen, featuring Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Jennings and Nelson.
He went back to Memphis in 1985 briefly, lured by the city’s mayor with financial incentives in the hope of revitalizing the city’s music scene. There he produced the “Class of ’55” recording sessions featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison.
Lincoln Wayne Moman was born in LaGrange on June 12, 1937. His marriage to songwriter Toni Wine ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, the former Jane Calhoun; and two children.