Charlie Feathers, who co-wrote the song that propelled Elvis Presley toward national recognition, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” has died. He was 66.
Feathers, a recording and performing singer and guitar player, died Aug. 29 in Memphis, Tenn., of complications from a stroke. He was also known for his novelty tune “Tongue-Tied Jill.”
Many consider Presley’s first national hit, the 1956 RCA release “Heartbreak Hotel,” to be the record that launched his career. But others argue that his break came with “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” his last release for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records label. That record was so popular in the country field in 1955 that it convinced RCA executives to buy Presley’s contract from Sun and build a major promotional campaign for him.
Memphis musician Stan Kesler “said he had a song he wanted me to get to Elvis,” Feathers recalled for The Times in 1982 when he performed at Los Angeles’ Club Lingerie. “I worked on the song a bit with Stan, and we made a tape of it. I then took it to Sam [Phillips], but he didn’t like it. He thought it was all wrong for Elvis. So I took it to Elvis’ house and, man, he just loved it. We talked Sam into recording it, and the record was No. 1 for months.”
Growing up outside Holly Springs, Miss., Feathers heard the cotton-patch blues from black fieldworkers, listened to the bluegrass rhythms of Bill Monroe records and was taught to play the guitar by blues musician Junior Kimbrough. Feathers melded the styles into his own rockabilly sound, which he shared with Presley in Memphis.
Like Presley, Feathers worked at Crown Electric Co. and recorded music for Sun. Feathers never envied Presley’s greater success, saying he was happy the sound he loved reached such international acceptance.
“The last time I spoke to Elvis was just before his death,” Feathers told The Times. “We were both doing shows in Kansas City, and he called me at the Air Force base where I was playing. He said he had a song he wanted me to work with him on. It was a religious song called ‘Look Up,’ and it had a real powerful message.”
Feathers, who worked at odd jobs between recording stints, performed occasionally. His music enjoyed a recent resurgence, including the release last month of a double CD, “Get With It: Essential Recordings (1954-69).”
But he was happy playing for himself too. “I like to get out in front of an audience sometimes, but you don’t really need other people to enjoy music,” he said. “The most enjoyment I’ve ever gotten out of music is just going into the back room at the house and coming up with something new.”
He is survived by his wife, Rosemary, a daughter and two sons.