Mike Dekle, known to many in Athens as their insurance agent but better known in the country music scene as a prolific songwriter, died Feb. 24. He was 77 years old.
Dekle’s career as a songwriter solidified in 1983 when country star Kenny Rogers recorded Dekle’s song “Scarlet Fever,” which that year climbed to No. 5 on a chart. country music.
Dekle died of complications from pulmonary fibrosis, according to his daughter, Jodi Kerr of Athens.
After the success of “Scarlet Fever”, Dekle worked his way into the Nashville scene buying a condo to keep a foothold in Music City and collaborating on songs with some of country music’s top songwriters, including Byron Hill, Tony Haselden and Craig Wiseman.
He also wrote songs with performers including country stars Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford, both from the Athens area.
Dekle forged a strong bond with Gilbert, a native of Jefferson.
“Me and Colt Ford called him Uncle Mike because he was part of the family. He was more of a father figure than a friend to both of us,” Brantley said. Dekle was an inspiration to the Gilbert’s songwriting, he said, encouraging him to be “vulnerable and put your heart on your sleeve”.
After Dekle wrote “Scarlet Fever”, he traveled to Nashville in 1982 to record his own record. Dekle’s wife, Crystie Dekle, recalled that the song was originally intended to be the B-side of a 45 single.
“We paid for Mike to do the record. We had young kids and it was hard to come up with the money, but we did it. I said to Mike, ‘If you don’t do it, we won’t. we’ll never know,” she said.
It was during this visit to Nashville that Dekle first met songwriter Hill, who still remembers when he heard Dekle sing “Scarlet Fever”, a song about a man in love with a dancer from sensual night club.
“March 10, 1982. I’ll never forget it,” Hill recalled. “When we recorded it, all the musicians stopped. Everyone walked into the control room. It was a special moment for Mike and me.
Dekle’s record was widely played on country stations in northeast Georgia. Then Rogers sought out Dekle and asked to perform the song himself. At the time, Rogers was living on a large horse farm outside of Athens.
After the national success of “Scarlet Fever”, Dekle and Hill began writing together.
“I counted them the other day – 384 songs over the years. I would say he’s the most important collaborator of my career,” Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Hill said with an extensive song summary. hit featuring dozens of performers.
“A lot of songwriters in Nashville are good craftsmen and can write songs every day, but Mike kind of approached it on an inspiring level. He wrote about what he felt and loved. He didn’t think ahead of who might record this or that,” Hill said.
During the Kenny Rogers era, Hill said, “I used to go down to Athens and write with Mike or he would come here. We both ended up getting quite a few songs recorded by Kenny.
The duo have provided songs for many artists, including “You Wouldn’t Be My First Mistake” for bluegrass trio The Whites. Arkansas native Joe Nicholson had a hit with a song they co-wrote called “Size Matters.”
“One song that Mike and I are really proud of is the one recorded by Keith Whitley called ‘A Day in the Life of a Fool’,” Hill said. Other songs they’ve written include ‘Pick Pocket’ – sung by Hank Thompson – and “No Trash in My Trailer” sung by both Colt Ford and country star Gene Watson.
“He’s been one of the closest co-author friends of my career,” said Hill, who grew up in North Carolina but whose parents are Georgian.
Dekle was born in Panama City, Florida, but his parents, James, a forester who became a home builder in Athens, and his mother Ocie, a professor at the University of Georgia Faculty of Education, moved to Athens when he was around 5.
As a young man he was musically inclined, his wife said, playing violin at Clarke Central High School and in the All State School Orchestra. In high school, his father bought him a guitar and the youngster started writing his own songs. Among her high school classmates were Janelle Taylor, a romance novelist with more than 50 books, and Marianne Gordon, an actress and ex-wife of Rogers.
After serving in the U.S. Army in South Korea as a first lieutenant, Dekle was attending insurance school in Atlanta when he met Crystie Vause at The Bottom of the Barrel. She was on a blind date when she was introduced to Dekle.
“I met Mike in January. We started dating in late February and got married in July,” his wife recalled of the quick romance. Between those dates, Dekle broke off an engagement with a woman he met while in the military. The Dekles have been married for 52 years.
Today, musical awards line the wall of the Dekle House. Besides songwriting, Dekle owned a state agricultural insurance agency on Barnett Shoals Road in Athens for almost five decades.
Kerr, Dekle’s daughter, said her father’s personality was what loved her so much.
“If he knew you, he loved you. He was very generous, kind, compassionate,” she said. “He loved his family. He was a family man through and through.”
Although Dekle and his wife owned a condo in Nashville, they never resided there, Kerr said. “My brother (Shane Dekle) is 50 and I’m 48 and he never wanted to leave us,” the girl said.
The many friends Dekle has made over the years have overshadowed his musical awards. Hall of Fame baseball player Johnny Bench tweeted upon learning of his friend’s death. “A kind, gentle man who was an extraordinary prolific songwriter,” wrote Bench, who met Dekle at a celebrity golf event.
Gilbert knew Dekle as his neighbor and landlord. Dekle allowed the rising artist and his comrades to live in his former home in Athens, along Lake Dekle, off Barnett Shoals Road.
“He made a big difference in my life. He was a tough man when I needed him in my life and when I made really big decisions,” said Gilbert, a country-rock songwriter and singer with four No. 1 hits on the Hot Country charts. Songs.
“The last time he, me and Colt wrote was just a month or two ago. He was still writing on a yellow pad,” said Gilbert, who was impressed by the great love of Deckle for the family.
“Being on a golf course with him and Colt Ford together…your stomach would hurt after you laughed so hard,” Gilbert said. “I will really miss him.”
During his last days at home, Dekle knew death was imminent, but told his wife “he had everything to live for”.
“He was ready to die, but he didn’t want to die,” she said of the man who wanted to continue writing stories about life in a style called lyrics.
A memorial service for Dekle will be held at 11 a.m. on March 19 at the First Baptist Church in Athens.