Harry Warner: Music City Icon
by Andy May
“Let me tell you why I am the luckiest person on Earth.” That is how my friend, Harry Warner, would often start a conversation with a total stranger at the coffee shop that we visited during one of our semi-regular “get-togethers.” In his eighties, and in spite of ongoing health challenges, Harry always projected a friendly demeanor. And, as in his years as a Music Row icon, he always dressed neatly and was well-groomed. So, this pronouncement to a stranger in a coffee shop (or anywhere else, for that matter) was always met with interest, curiosity, and even eagerness.
“I was lucky to meet two people,” Harry would continue. “One’s name was Frances and the other’s name was Chet.” He would then tell the story of how Frances Preston, the late and legendary president of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) and now a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, plucked him out of the store just off of Music Row where he was selling groceries and beer, and put him to work at BMI. There he rose to become assistant vice president of writer/publisher relations. It was in his early days at BMI that he connected with Chet Atkins, guitar great and, later, head of RCA Records in Nashville. They became lifelong friends, Chet becoming Harry’s mentor and Harry becoming Chet’s manager and biggest fan! Music history was taking place in Nashville, and Harry, situated smack-dab in the middle of it, played many roles in the music business for decades.
I’ve known Harry warner for nearly 40 years. I’ve called on him many times for advice and assistance, and he’s always taken care of my best interests with impeccable integrity. …He has become one of my dearest and most trusted friends.Chet Atkins, “Me and My Guitars,” p. 173.
by Chet Atkins, Michael Cochran, Russ Cochran
Hal Leonard Corporation, 2003.
In my twenty-or-so years of knowing Harry, I was honored to become his friend, to learn from him, and to learn about his career. I was often amazed by his recollections and by the varied friendships he had forged with legendary folks across a broad spectrum of American popular music. Occasionally, I might hear a story about his days as Jerry Reed’s manager, or about how he met, believed in, and employed a young unknown writer named Rodney Crowell, or about visiting with Elvis Presley. But, in all the time I knew him, if our conversation drifted over to the part he had played in the history of Nashville/American music – or more specifically, the importance of HIS place in the “big picture” – he would steer completely clear of discussing that, and say instead, “Let me tell you why I am the luckiest person on earth. I was lucky to meet two people. One’s name was Frances and the other’s name was Chet.”
I was lucky to meet Harry Warner.
~Andy May, May 12, 2019
Photos from an April, 2017, tour of the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville, TN: Harry Warner, Mike Poston (Chet Atkin’s engineer for two decades), Brenda Colladay (RCA Studio A historian and archivist), and Andy May.
- Harry Warner passed away May 16, 2018 in Nashville, TN musicrow.com/2018/05/bmis-harry-warner-passes/
- Rodney Crowell remembers meeting Harry Warner: www.billboard.com/articles/news/8463761/rodney-crowell-shame-on-the-moon-acoustic-premiere-interview (Search the page for “Harry Warner.”)
- RCA Studio A: wideopencountry.com/rca-studio-a-renovation/ – musicrow.com/2017/11/rca-studio-a-celebrates-return-to-1960s-era-glory/
- Chet Atkins: Me and My Guitars (p.173)