Country singer Johnny Russell, best known for writing the country and pop hit "Act Naturally," died Tuesday in Nashville of complications from diabetes. He was 61.
Russell said he tried unsuccessfully for two years to get someone to record "Act Naturally," before Buck Owens made it his first No. 1 country hit in 1963. Owens' version inspired the Beatles to record it two years later. In 1989, Owens and former Beatle Ringo Starr teamed up for a duet version of the song that became a Top 30 country hit.
Russell, who was born in Moorhead, Miss., and raised in Fresno, released more than two dozen singles of his own in the 1970s and '80s, the most successful of which was "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer," a No. 4 country hit in 1973. Other artists who recorded his songs included George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, George Strait, Patti Page and Bobby Vinton.
Russell joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1985 and was still on the roster of regular performers. He returned to performing after a mild stroke in 1987 and triple bypass heart surgery in 1989. After that operation, he wrote the "Johnny Russell Country Cookin' Cookbook," with low-fat, low-calorie recipes, from which he donated proceeds to the Johnny Russell scholarship fund at Mississippi Delta Junior College in Moorhead.
He is survived by a son, John Russell Jr.; a daughter, Julie Morris; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A funeral service will be held Friday at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville.