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Singer-songwriter Russell to be remembered

MOORHEAD, Miss. (AP) — Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell, whose song "Act Naturally" was recorded by The Beatles and Buck Owens, will be honored Monday with a marker on the Mississippi Country Music Trail.

The marker unveiling will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Moorhead. Gov. Phil Bryant is among scheduled speakers.

Russell, who ended many Grand Ole Opry shows with his rambling, funny stories, died in Nashville, Tenn., in 2001 at the age of 61.

Born in Moorhead, Miss., in 1940, Russell began recording as a teenager in California. One of his first songs, "In a Mansion Stands My Love," was recorded by Jim Reeves and became the flip side to the No. 1 Reeves hit "He'll Have to Go."

In 1963, Buck Owens recorded "Act Naturally," co-written by Voni Morrison, which went to No. 1 and was recorded by The Beatles two years later. Ringo Starr sang the vocals, and he and Owens later recorded a duet of the song in 1989.

Russell's own recording career took off in the 1970s. His biggest hit was the working class anthem "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer," which went to No. 4 in 1973 and was a Grammy finalist.

Russell joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1985, and over the years became the regular closing act of the popular radio show.

A jolly, 275-pound man who wore a trademark black captain's hat, Russell often joked about his weight. "Can everybody see me all right?" was his traditional opening remark on stage.

Russell, in a 1988 interview with The Associated Press, said he was proud of his success with "Act Naturally."

"I sit in a ballpark with 40,000 other people and I think, 'Of all the people here, I'm probably the only guy who wrote a Beatles' record.'"

As a songwriter, Russell also wrote "Making Plans," which was recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt on their "Trio" album in 1987, and the No. 1 hit "Let's Fall to Pieces Together," recorded in 1984 by George Strait.

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