Ronnie Harwood and son Stuart with Carl Perkins in 1984Nashville Bound

1980s Tennessee driving licenceIt is now 1984 and Ronnie is asked to visit the home of country music, Nashville in the USA, by the Sun Record Company after they heard 'You Drive Me Crazy' and liked Ronnie's songwriting style.

It was there, while working in Ronnie Millsap's office with Dan Williams and Mike Stewart, that Ronnie met songwriter Michael Black and London-born writer/producer Tony Hiller - with whom he would go on to co-write several songs - for the first time. Amongst his many collaborations, Hiller wrote and produced several hits for the 'Brotherhood of Man', including 'United We Stand' and 'Save Your Kisses for Me'.

During this memorable time in the States, Ronnie was also introduced to Bruce Chanel, co-writer and performer of the original 'Hey Baby'; Carl Perkins, at a banquet honouring the performer in Memphis; and Sam Phillips of Sun Records, Elvis Presley's first producer in the early 50's on 'That's Alright Mama', 'Mystery Train', 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' and many more.

Ronnie also very memorably met with Boudleaux Bryant (below) at Rocky Top, the Bryant's motel in Gatlinburg. Boudleaux, legendary writer for the Everly Brothers and just about everyone else, was someone Ronnie very much admired and it was a meeting that remains very dear to him.

Boudleaux Bryant with Ronnie HarwoodOn his own and with his wife Felice, Boudleaux wrote some of the most unforgetable popular songs of the 1950s, including nearly all the Everly Brothers' early hits including 'Wake Up Little Suzie', 'Bye Bye Love' and 'All I have to do is Dream', and Buddy Holly's 'Raining in My Heart'. Before the Everlys the Bryants had many hits by artists Eddy Arnold, Carl Smith, Kitty Wells and Little Jimmy Dickens.

"There's a little story about how I came to meet Boudleaux Bryant," Ronnie told me. "Along with my then manager and publisher, David Oddie, we were having a lunch meeting in downtown Nashville, along with Del Bryant, head of BMI Nashville. He just happened to say that when we got a few days free, we ought to take a ride out to a little place called Gatlinburg and Rocky Top Motel. We followed his suggestion and one day took that trip out. It was while booking in with the desk clerk, she looked at my passport and noted that I was a songwriter. She then told me the owners were songwriters. I was taken by complete surprise; it had to be the Bryants."

"At that lunch meeting, Del never once let on to me about his mum and dad," Ronnie added. "That desk clerk said, 'if you like I will make a call, I'm sure he would like to meet you'. She made that call and said he would be down in half an hour. When he arrived he was so warm and charming. We talked over an hour about song writing. 'If you believe in your song, don't give up', he said. He told me that 'Bye Bye Love' was turned down 25 times. What happened then, as we know now, is history. So now I have this wonderful photo with him at his beloved Rocky Top Motel," Ronnie said, proudly handing me the photo which appears here on the page. "I gave a copy to Del to give to his dad. I did once hear that Paul McCartney said Boudleaux was one person he would have loved to have met." Boudleaux died in 1987 and Felice in 2004.

Florida Sun

After two months in Nashville, Ronnie returned to the UK and met up with Carlo Little again. Carlo wanted to record 'If Dreams Come True' and had asked Neil Christian, who had had hits in the 60's, to handle the vocals. Neil said he loved the song, but when it came around to recording it he became nervous and pulled out. Carlo thus asked Ronnie if he'd take Neil's place.

Florida Sun music albumFlorida Sun was formed as a result of their renewed collaboration, and 'If Dreams Come True' was recorded in 1984 and released in early 1985.

The two friends then formed their own label, Sparkle Records, and released three singles in the following three years. 'I'm Sorry' and 'Don't Wanna Love Anymore' followed 'If Dreams Come True'. All were produced by Carlo Little and engineered by Matthew Fisher in Fisher's own studio. During this time, producer Ian Summers of Tembo Records heard Florida Sun on the radio. Tembo Records, of Regents Park Road in Camden, north-west London, was owned by hugely successful UK artist Roger Whittaker. Ian approached Carlo and Ronnie for a recording deal, and an album and singles deal was subsequently signed with Tembo Records.

In 1987 an album was released featuring Florida Sun's fourth single 'Hurt', an old Timo Yuro cover. This was followed by another single from the album, 'Honey Be', written by Ronnie. They received good airplay, particularly in the Liverpool area, and this attracted so many calls to the radio station wanting to know more about the band that they were asked to tour. They played the New Brighton Theatre in Wallasey, selling out the two nights, before going on to play the Liverpool Empire.

Meanwhile, back in North London, Ronnie's North West Aerials business was still going strong. Ronnie grafted in all weathers, always hoping for gales and high winds as these were very good for the aerial business! During 1987, Britain suffered one of its most infamous storms. The extreme winds brought down countless hundreds of trees, and an unknown number of aerial masts. Ronnie's phone never stopped ringing during that time!more

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