April 12, 2004 12:00 PM

In the ’70s Tony Brown made a living as Elvis’s tour pianist. Now the 57-year-old record producer and music-label exec is regarded as something of a King himself. In the past 26 years he has helped shape the careers of Country artists like George Strait, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire and Rodney Crowell, signed talents like Trisha Yearwood, Lyle Lovett and Lee Ann Womack and produced some 100 No. 1 country singles. In the process, he helped inspire the Nashville resurgence that brought country music to a whole new audience. “He infused creativity into an otherwise bland landscape,” says the Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Brown saw his dedication to his artists reciprocated when he suffered a near-fatal fall last April. McEntire serenaded him in the hospital; friends held moments of silence in his honor. “He’s not just an executive in a suit,” says Wynonna Judd. “He’s guts and sweat and he’s been on a bus and slept in a bunk. And he’s the most egoless person in the business.”

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