Why the Bluebird Café and the Ryman are still going strong

‘Special people’ keep venues special

The Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Café.  Two iconic names that immediately create mental images of what Music City is all about.  Both are at the top of the list for tourists to visit, particularly since the worldwide popularity of the TV drama series, ‘Nashville.’

In fact, many visitors, listening intently to their tour guides, might actually know more about those two venues than those of us who live and work here.  It never hurts to remind ourselves just how important they are to the success of Nashville’s music industry.

In many ways, the story of both venues is really the story of a small number of remarkable people (mainly women, as it happens) whose tenacity, dedication and unwavering belief ensured that both the Ryman and the Bluebird are still thriving today.

The Bluebird put songwriters ‘In the Round’

Inside the Bluebird. Photo: Bluebird Cafe

Originally started as a restaurant in 1982 by founder Amy Kurland, the Bluebird Café had evolved into a 90-seat listening room by 1984, holding regular ‘Writers’ Nights.’  In March 1985, three songwriters, J. Fred Knobloch, Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet, performed the Bluebird’s first ‘In The Round’ show, in which the three writers sat in the center of the room and took turns playing songs and telling the stories behind the songs, while audiences listened quietly and attentively.

The ‘In The Round’ concept was an immediate success and was soon adopted by other venues, but The Bluebird is recognized as the place where it really all started and continues to this day. So many hit writers and recording artists cite the Bluebird as the place where their careers really took off. Among them: Taylor Swift, at the age of fourteen, discovered by Scott Borchetta, and Garth Brooks who, in 1987, filled in for another artist and was spotted by a Capitol Records’ A&R exec and signed to a record deal the very next day.

‘Alive at the Bluebird’ concert series

Photo: The Bluebird Cafe

After 36 years, the Bluebird Café is as popular as ever. It is still the place where songwriters really want to be seen and heard. Baseball great Yogi Berra is credited with saying about a popular restaurant, “Nobody ever goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” And among some Nashvillians, there’s a feeling that the Bluebird has become mainly a tourist destination. But that really is not the case.  Just take a look at the list of upcoming shows at their website, and check out the astonishing list of hit writers scheduled to appear.

The 25th Annual Alive at the Bluebird concert series is currently underway with at least 27 shows running through February 1, 2018 that benefit Alive Hospice. There’s never been a better time to catch a great show and support a really worthwhile cause.

While you’re at their site, it’s a good idea to click on ‘Reservations’ too. That’s where you’ll see the Bluebird’s policy about booking seats. Remember, it’s a small room (the intimate setting and the close proximity to the performers is part of the charm) so have a second or third choice in mind if your first choice is sold out.

The Ryman: 125 years and counting

The Ryman Auditorium dates back to 1892 when it was originally known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Now, with around 2,360 seats, it is considerably bigger than the Bluebird, but still one of Nashville’s best venues to see live shows, even in these days of stadium and arena spectaculars.

But, like the Bluebird, the Ryman owes its current existence to a few people who were convinced that it was an essential part of Music City’s heritage. In 1920, Lula C. Naff was hired to manage the space, after working there for several years, booking acts for the Ryman in her spare time. Her tireless dedication kept the venue alive and thriving until her retirement in the 1950s. Since then, the Ryman has had two more female GMs.

“To work here [at the Ryman] you have to be like a crazy, crazy music fan.” – Lisaann Dupont, Director of Communications for Opry Entertainment Group, quoted in an interview at Uproxx.com. You can read the entire story, ‘How Women Shaped the Legacy of Nashville’s Oldest and Most Celebrated Venue, the Ryman Auditorium,’ here.

Saved from demolition

The Ryman. Photo: L.A. Times/Don Bartletti

It’s hard to believe now that, when the Grand Ole Opry moved to its new location at Opryland, the decision was made to demolish the Ryman. Pressure from local preservationists led to the Ryman being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, preventing demolition. But for nearly two decades, it slowly deteriorated as its owners had little interest in it.  Gaylord Entertainment finally carried out repairs to the exterior including the roof.

But the turning point was a recording made in the dilapidated building by Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers. Titled ‘At The Ryman,’ the album won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993. The success prompted Gaylord to invest in extensive renovations. Since then, additional updates have revitalized the Ryman into the great venue it is today.

Both the Bluebird Café and the Ryman Auditorium prove that when even a small number of people believe strongly that a venture is worthwhile and never give up on their objectives, great things can happen. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what Nashville would be like without the Bluebird Café or the Ryman.  They are living proof that people with strong beliefs and perseverance can make things happen.

The Bluebird, the Ryman. Two stops on any visitor’s tour of Nashville. But both great entertainment resources for all of us living in Middle Tennessee who owe a debt of gratitude to those who made them what they are today.

Why songwriters should focus on ‘presence’ in writing session

Presence: part of your “Pod of Seven P’s” 

Having presence is more than your physical body simply being in a given place at any given time.  Just because you are standing in a particular spot or sitting on a specific chair in a certain location, doesn’t mean that you have presence.

Graphic: Mike Harris

When you have presence, your complete attention and every fiber of your being is focused on where you are and what you are doing.  Taken to an extreme, all five of your senses are brought to bear with laser-like concentration on that specific moment in time and what you are doing there.

Note: this is one part of my seven-part series “The ‘P’ Pod: Seven characteristics shared by the most successful people in the music industry.” It is currently being serialized at MusicStartsHere.org

In reality, a total state of presence is virtually impossible to achieve and would probably make us unaware if the house was burning down around us!  However, developing your sense of presence is an essential element in your own professional growth and in your relationship with others.

Songwriting needs you to ‘be here now’

On a personal basis, any act of creation – a song, for example – requires your total presence, or at least as total as is practical.  If you’re constantly checking your email, responding to texts or (AAAaargh!) listening to someone else’s music on your earbuds, you don’t have presence in your creation and it will suffer.

Worse still, if you are in a writing session with co-writers and you’re answering phone calls because “I gotta take this” or you’re saying, “Wait! You gotta see this video someone just sent me,” you’re not only destroying your own presence but also that of your co-writers. That’s unproductive, but it’s also inconsiderate in the extreme and is disrespectful to your colleagues.

Continue reading the ‘Presence’ chapter at MusicStartsHere.org. MusicStartsHere is a great resource for singers and songwriters that I highly recommend!

Sign the Petition and Ask Congress to Pass the Music Modernization Act

CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION

For too long, songwriters have had to work within an outdated system that over-regulates and undervalues their music. The Music Modernization Act of 2017 will help change that.

[Note: the text of this post is reproduced from an email sent out to ASCAP members. You do not have to be an ASCAP member to respond to this request that is supported by all Performing Rights Organizations and other entities involving songwriters and music publishers. You can find the original message here.]

Improved compensation for music creators

ASCAP has long advocated for a more flexible framework that can adapt to the realities of the modern music marketplace. The Music Modernization Act is a bipartisan music reform bill that represents months of compromise and collaboration between stakeholders from the music and tech sectors.

It includes provisions that we hope will ultimately result in compensation for our members that better reflects the true value of your music:

  • Rate court reform: replacing a single rate court judge for each PRO with different judges randomly assigned to each rate-setting proceeding (the “wheel” system)
  • Removal of Section 114(i) of the Copyright Act: allowing a rate court to consider all relevant evidence when determining songwriter compensation – including the rates that recording artists earn – an ability that is currently prohibited by law.

The Music Modernization Act of 2017 also includes provisions to reform Section 115 of the Copyright Act to create a single licensing entity that will administer the mechanical reproduction rights for all digital uses of musical compositions like those used in interactive streaming models. This replaces the “bulk NOI” process that often failed to result in payments to songwriters and music publishers with a system that will enable digital music services to find the owners of the music they use.

While no legislation will solve all of our industry challenges, on balance we believe this is a significant step forward for all music creators.

You can help now. Ask Congress to pass the Music Modernization Act today. Click here to sign ASCAP petition.

If you are a member of BMI or SESAC and have received notification from them about a petition regarding the Music Modernization Act of 2017, you are of course welcome to respond to their communication.

Are these really the best albums of 2017?

When it comes to music, everyone has their own opinion about what is ‘best.’  Below are some links to “Best 2017 Album” lists, plus important news about legislation that will affect songwriters’ income… and a Justin Timberlake video you just gotta see! But we’ll start with an item about a company creating laminates that deliver complete albums, videos and photos to your fans.

Check out these interactive souvenir laminates from iDitty

iDitty laminate for Big & Rich

Artists looking for something that’s both nifty and original might want to check out a neat product from iDitty, a state-of-the art tech company that manufactures digital, interactive souvenir laminates. They offer a customizable, fan-oriented “All-Access” laminate designed to make artist happenings and music accessible in real time at the swipe of a finger.

Since its formation in 2014, award-winning country music entertainers, legends and chart-toppers (Big & Rich, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Young, Charlie Daniels and Tracy Lawrence), along with some of today’s hottest newcomers (Lee Brice, Justin Moore and Joe Denim) have aligned with iDitty to move full album sales. Collectively, iDitty claims $2.5 million in music sales to date, and Music Row Influentials validate the one-of-a-kind merch item as “the CD replacement.”  For more information, visit iDitty.com or contact Hugh Kirkpatrick here: hughkirkpatrick@comcast.net.

Best albums of 2017

Question: What were the best albums of 2017?  Answer:  Depends on who you ask. You can find Rolling Stone’s ’50 Best Albums of 2017’ here. Meanwhile, NPR (National Public Radio) have prepared their own Top 50 album list here.   When it comes to Country, there are several lists to pick from.  Start with Taste of Country’s  ’10 Country Albums That Stood Above the Rest in 2017’ here. and then check Billboard’s ‘The 10 Best Country Albums of 2017: Critics’ Choice’ at the magazine’s website.   No doubt, with every list, you’ll say, “What?! How could they leave out [insert your favorite album name here]!”

“Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City”

In late December, Congressmen Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) introduced “The Music Modernization Act Of 2017” (HR 4706), legislation designed to improve songwriter royalty rates from digital streaming companies while making the music licensing process more efficient.

In a story published at musicrow.com, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says, “Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs – so that when they write a hit heard around the world, you can see it in their billfolds.” Alexander continued, “We intend to introduce legislation that we have been working on for months to help songwriters receive fair market compensation early next year, and we will be including in our legislation many of the same provisions that were in the House bill introduced today.”

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch were noted as guiding forces throughout this process, years in the making. A Senate version of the legislation will be introduced in early 2018. Read the full Music Row story here.

And finally…

Justin Timberlake – way before NSYNC

Justin Timberlake, age 11

Some people muttered “He ain’t Country,” when Justin Timberlake appeared onstage with Chris Stapleton during the 2015 CMA Awards for their “Tennessee Whiskey” duet.  But Justin’s country roots go w-a-y back to when he was just a tyke growing up in Shelby Forest, Tennessee.

If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at a young Timberlake performing an Alan Jackson song on Star Search here.

Perseverance vital to success in music

Perseverance: part of a singer or songwriter’s “Pod of Seven P’s”

By Preshias Harris

In many ways, Perseverance is the first cousin of Passion.   When one has passion, perseverance must inevitably follow as the means of realizing one’s passion.

Note: this is one part of my seven-part series “The ‘P’ Pod: Seven characteristics shared by the most successful people in the music industry.” It is currently being serialized at MusicStartsHere.

Perseverance has sometimes been called persistence or “stick-to-it-iveness.”  Whatever happens to knock you off course, you just keep going toward your goal.  This doesn’t mean that, if you come to a ravine, you simply walk straight ahead and over the edge.  By perseverance, you find another path, a way around the obstacle, and continue on to your goal.

Don’t let the naysayers discourage you

Graphic image: Mike Harris

Your music career will, without doubt, run up against various obstacles as you proceed.  There’ll be people who will tell you that you should forget about music and get a ‘real’ job.  There will be meetings with music executives that you feel certain will bring about your big break, only to see those hopes crumble. And there will be promises made to you that turn out to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.

A career in music – just like careers in many other areas – can be filled with heartache and disappointment.  But that doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong career choice.  Simply that you have to recognize the obstacle and find a way to get past it and back on track.

Continue reading the ‘Perseverance’ chapter at MusicStartsHere.org.   MusicStartsHere is the go-to place for news and information that artists, songwriters and anyone interested in the music scene need to know.

 

Songwriter news roundup

Vital issues affect creators’ rights

December is often a quiet time around the music industry, but this year there are a number of news items that can affect the lives of songwriters and recording artists.  Here are some you might want to check out.

BMI Songwriters Win 100% Licensing Ruling

On December 19, NSAI posted the following news bulletin: Today the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals put the issue of 100% licensing to rest by affirming an earlier ruling by BMI rate court Judge Louis Stanton.

“The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) is thrilled and relieved that BMI songwriters no longer have to be concerned about the U.S. Department of Justice’s misguided ruling on 100% licensing,” said NSAI President Steve Bogard.  “We congratulate BMI CEO Mike O’Neil and his team on this important victory and hope the DOJ now releases ASCAP from their ruling that was delivered in 2016.  The time has come to discuss sun-setting or updating the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees so that songwriters can earn fair performance royalty rates from streaming services.”

More about NSAI at http://www.nashvillesongwriters.com/

HAAWK –that tracks revenue for rights holders – buys Royalty Claim and TuneRegistry

From a report at Billboard.com: HAAWK, a rights management and content monetization firm started by Ad-Rev co-founder Ryan Born, has acquired RoyaltyClaim and TuneRegistry. Terms of the deal were not disclosed although Haawk had previously raised $2.5 million in seed venture capital from Rincon Venture Partners.

Prior to this current acquisition, HAAWK bought certain assets from Dart Music, which specialized in cleaning up music rights metadata, among other rights management services. That company filed for bankruptcy last summer and its assets were sold in separate deals to HAAWK and Core Rights LLC this fall.  Continue reading the Billboard story here.

Songwriters: Support H.R. 3945, a bill to create a Small Claims Court

An email sent out by The Copyright Alliance urges creators (including songwriters) to support a bill in Congress that would establish a way for individuals to fight infringement of their rights. The text of the email reads:

Join the copyright community in asking your Congressional Representative to cosponsor H.R. 3945, the CASE Act of 2017, a bill that would create a copyright small claims court for creators and small businesses (It’s quick and easy to do!)

For many photographers, illustrators, authors, songwriters and other creators who own copyrighted works, enforcing their rights is not feasible. Litigation is expensive and many creators simply can’t afford it. In effect, the U.S. copyright system currently provides creators with rights but no effective remedies.

Continue reading the Copyright Alliance story here.

Mel Tillis: Amazing 60 year career

Funeral set for much-loved singer/songwriter

Mel Tillis. Photo: Wikipedia

Mel Tillis, a true country star with one of the longest careers as both a recording artist and a songwriter, passed away on Sunday, November 19. He was 85. Funeral arrangements have now been announced.

Visitation will be held on Monday, November 27 from 11 AM to 2 PM at Sykes Funeral Home (424 Franklin St.) in Clarksville, Tennessee. A public funeral service will begin promptly at 3 PM at Mount Hermon Baptist Church (2204 Jarrell Ridge Rd.) with a private burial to follow.

A preceding service will take place at the Ocklawaha Bridge Baptist Church in Silver Springs, Florida this Saturday, November 25 at 3:00 PM.Out of respect for the family, attendees are asked to refrain from photographing, filming, or live streaming either service.

Public memorial service planned for January

Additionally, the Tillis family is planning a January public memorial service open to fans and the music industry. The event will be held in Nashville with details to be announced in the coming weeks.

Following a lengthy struggle to regain his health, country music legend Mel Tillis passed away at the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. Tillis battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered. The suspected cause of death is respiratory failure. Tillis was 85.

When Mel met my dad

Mel Tillis. Photo: meltillis.com

I have fond personal memories of Mel, whom I met several times over the years. One day, I took my father backstage at one of Mel’s shows and I told Mel that this was the best dad in the world as he had saved my life by donating a kidney to me. “Well,” said Mel, “I just have to meet the best dad in the world!”  He graciously visited with my dad for several minutes and dad has always remembered that meeting.

Born Lonnie Melvin Tillis in Tampa, Florida on August 8, 1932, Mel enjoyed a 60+ year career.

The Grand Ole Opry member recorded more than 60 albums, had 35 Top Ten singles, six #1 hits (“I Ain’t Never,” “Coca-Cola Cowboy,” “Southern Rains,” “Good Woman Blues,” “Heart Healer,” and “I Believe In You”), was named CMA (Country Music Association) Entertainer of the Year in 1976, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame the same year.

Mel Tillis wrote 1,000+ songs

Mel was elected a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007. He wrote over 1,000 songs, 600 of which have been recorded by major artists including Kenny Rogers (“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”), George Strait (“Thoughts Of A Fool”), and Ricky Skaggs (“Honey, Open That Door”). Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) named Tillis Songwriter of the Decade for two decades. In February of 2012 President Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts. He is survived by his six children, including singer/songwriter Pam Tillis and songwriter Mel ‘Sonny’ Tillis, Jr.

“Mel Tillis was a guy who had it all: He could write, he could sing and he could entertain an audience, there’s a big difference between a concert and a show. Mel Tillis always put on a show….You always felt good about being around him.”

  • Eddie Stubbs, Grand Ole Opry announcer and WSM DJ

“Mel Tillis spent a lifetime giving us joy and laughter and music, which is why his death brings such sadness.”

  • Kyle Young, CEO Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

 

Songwriters: ‘hard work’ is the key

Hall of Famer Gary Burr’s advice to rising songwriters

 “You have to go to work every day. You just have to go to work.  I went to the office every morning, I went to the office every afternoon.  If I had something good, it wasn’t going to be good enough ‘til I went over it with a fine-tooth comb several times.  You just work hard.  The ones [songwriters] who are making it today are just working really, really hard.”

Gary Burr. Photo: Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame

Those words came from Gary Burr, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame during an interview on the Public Television show, The Songwriters, produced the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in conjunction with Middle Tennessee State University. MTSU professor Robert Gordon Jr. directs the episodes, which are filmed by students from the school’s College of Media and Entertainment. Ken Paulson, Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, hosts the new show and interviewed Burr during a recently televised episode.

Songs for Garth, Ringo, Skynyrd and more

Gary Burr backstage with Ringo Starr. Photo: Mark Mirando

Burr has been honored with Songwriter of the Year Awards from Billboard Magazine and ASCAP in addition to the Hall of Fame recognition. In a 40+ year career, he has written or co-written literally hundreds of songs that have been cut by major artists including Garth Brooks, Collin Raye, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Tim McGraw, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ringo Starr and more. Many of those cuts are also Number One hits. Take a look at the Discography at his website.

In his interview with Paulson, he emphasized that there’s no ‘trick’ to songwriting. As with any other creative enterprise, it takes a commitment to working at it every day, just like a ‘regular’ job because it is your job.  You can’t wait for inspiration, said Burr. You simply sit down, either alone or with your co-writer and start work.  That’s where hits are born.

‘The Songwriters’ currently airs in Nashville on WNPT Channel 8 on Saturday evenings. Check local TV schedules for air dates and times in other areas.

November ‘Inside Track on Music Row’ posted now

Tracy Lawrence & Friends Mission Possible, Garth Brooks, LANCO and more

My column, ‘Inside Track on Music Row,’ is America’s longest-running monthly country music column, published monthly at Nashville Music Guide  That’s where you can find the November column. It is also posted at my other website, I Know Country.  Meanwhile, here’s a taste of a few items from the column…

Get ready for Tracy Lawrence’s turkey fry concert

After raising more than $135,000.00 with the music event last year, Tracy Lawrence is back with his 3rd Annual Tracy Lawrence & Friends Mission: Possible Turkey Fry Concert on November 21st at the Wildhorse Saloon, with doors opening at 6pm, following his 12th Annual Turkey Fry, all benefiting Nashville Rescue Mission.  Scheduled to appear: Luke Combs, Clay Cormier, Ben Gallaher, Halfway to Hazard, William Michael Morgan, Jamie O’Neal and host/headliner, Tracy Lawrence.  Ticket & show info at turkeyfry.org. Lawrence is gearing up for the release of his new album GOOD OLE DAYS on November 10th featuring collaborations with Jason Aldean, Brad Arnold, Big & Rich, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Easton Corbin, Craig Morgan, Dustin Lynch, Tim McGraw, Justin Moore, Kellie Pickler and Chris Young. Music and tour info at tracylawrence.com.

 Garth Brooks launches book & CDs anthology

‘The Anthology from Garth Brooks Part 1: The First Five Years’ is now available for pre-order.  Garth has launched a new website for the book: anthology.garthbrooks.com. The Anthology can also be pre-ordered at amazon.com.  Promising to be a massive 5-part anthology, Part 1 is a detailed look at the first 5 years of his career. It is told by Garth himself and those involved with the creating, recording, and promotion of the first five albums. Not only that but Garth has packaged 5 CDs inside the first book he has ever written. The 5 CDs contain music that has never been heard, songs written long before the debut album, outtakes, first takes, demos, over 150 never before seen photos, sessions charts, tracking sheets, all in a 240 page hardcover complete package written by Garth Brooks. It will be on sale November 14. Follow Garth at facebook.com/GarthBrooks and on Twitter and Instagram.

Solo-writer hit for LANCO’s Brandon Lancaster

LANCO

Songwriter/lead singer Brandon Lancaster of Sony Music Nashville’s breakout band LANCO is earning his stripes in Music City songwriter circles as the sole lyricist behind the band’s hit, “Greatest Love Story.” It has been 10 years since a country artist/writer has penned a chart topping hit alone. A look back in time to the early 2000’s reveals that the last artists able to make that claim are Taylor Swift (“Our Song”), Zac Brown (“Free”) and Jennifer Nettles’ (“Stay”).  That success has propelled Lancaster to the No. One spot on the Top 60 Country Songwriters Chart this week, based on streams, sales and airplay. “I wrote a song alone in my bedroom one night about the girl I wanted to marry, and then she actually said yes,” said Lancaster. “Now our story is resonating with people all over the country… it all feels too good to be true.”  More information on LANCO and upcoming Fall tour dates, visit LANCOMusic.com.

Plus … news about Jason Aldean’s ‘Won’t Back Down’ Las Vegas fundraiser, Billy Burnette’s book and CD, Mark Chesnutt’s Trailblazer Award, Kip Moore, David Lee Murphy, the Bluebird Café documentary and more.

Read the complete column at www.nashvillemusicguide.com or find the latest column and an archive of many previous columns at www.iknowcountry.com and check out my music Q&A book, “I Know Country!”

‘Songwriting picked me,’ says Walt Aldridge

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame 2017 inductee talks to Country Aircheck

Walt Aldridge shared his thoughts about how he evolved from a recording engineer to a major hit writer in this interview from the Sept 25 issue of Country Aircheck, where you can find the original story. More about Aircheck at the foot of this article. Walt is a great songwriter and has always been generous with his time, sharing his experience and knowledge of the music industry and the process of songwriting.

 * * *

Walt Aldridge

Alabama native Aldridge engineered more than 200 records during his time at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals and later, in Nashville. His cuts include Ronnie Milsap’s “There’s No Gettin’ Over Me,” Earl Thomas Conley’s “Holding Her And Loving You” and Tim McGraw’s “Some Things Never Change.”

I always had a fascination with making records. Writing songs allowed me to produce, play, sing on and engineer my demos. When I got started, the studio was a hallowed ground that you had to be invited to, or have a lot of money so you could rent one. So, by becoming a songwriter, it gave me the opportunity to do what I’d always been intrigued by – making music.

Rick Hall (right) signs Duane Allman as session guitarist at Fame, 1968. Photo: Getty Images

I remember walking into Fame and seeing the records hanging on the wall, thinking, “This looks like the set list for the band you were in, in sixth grade,” with “Mustang Sally,” “Land Of A Thousand Dances” – all these great soul records. Knowing you’re sitting where Duane Allman sat to play a guitar part on a Wilson Pickett record challenges you to dig deep and do your very best.

Rick Hall was my first my boss and mentor. Rick has always preached the preeminence of the song. Some of my favorite recordings are not technically or vocally the best, but they always connect and hit a nerve. Very often, you’ll have a fantastic singer with a great band and engineer, but if the song doesn’t hit that nerve with people, it doesn’t matter.

Songwriting picked me as opposed to me picking it. Tommy Brasfield was a writer in Nashville who was more experienced. He heard some of my songs and said, “You have a lot of ability, but I think I could help you frame your music more towards the radio.” If I ever did anything right, it was being open to that, rather than saying, “I like my music the way it is and I don’t need your help.”

No Getting Over Me

So Tommy and I started writing and eventually we wrote “No Gettin’ Over Me,” which was my first hit. That was back in the golden age of crossover, so it was a No. 1 Country record, a Top 5 Pop and No. 1 Adult Contemporary. After that hit I said, “Okay, it looks like I’m a songwriter – and a country songwriter, for that matter.”

My writing equipment is a guitar, a laptop and some kind of caffeine. I like to start in the morning when I’m fresh. But I’ve written all different ways.

“Power through writer’s block”

When I have writer’s block, I power through. So much of what we do is crafting, is a learned instinct. The old saying that sometimes inspiration comes after perspiration is very true. And you don’t know when the muse is going to visit.

Marty Stuart playing Hank’s guitar

One time I was writing with Marty Stuart and we were stuck. He said, “Why don’t we just swap guitars and see if that jogs anything loose?” I said, “Boy, this is a really cool old Martin guitar. What’s the story?” He said, “Well it was Hank’s guitar.” I said, “Hank Jr.?” He said, “No, that was Hank Sr.’s guitar.” I was holding the Holy Grail of guitars. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” could have been written on this guitar. So, I don’t know whether it’s imagined or whether there’s real energy coming from the wood and the wire. But different guitars inspire different moods and words.

I wish I’d written “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Every line in it is absolutely perfect. Couldn’t have been better.

A song’s demo is a critical part of it. You’re not only writing the lyric and melody, you’re often writing the guitar intro lick that’s going to be a hook. You’re writing the production, somewhat. On “Holding Her And Loving You,” we just didn’t get it on the demo. But somehow, Earl Thomas Conley and his producer Nelson Larkin were able to hear through the demo and imagine it. When they played us the record, it sounded like a hit. When you heard Earl sing it, you believed it.

“Write to express yourself”

You don’t write songs for the money or the gold records. You write because you want to express yourself in some way that you’re unable to express yourself otherwise. Getting this induction means my colleagues who have written some of my favorite songs – people whose opinions I value the most – are willing to say, “Hey man, you did good.” It’s quite a club to be voted into. I’m deeply honored.

~~~

Again, my thanks to Lon Helton and all at Country Aircheck for allowing me to reprint this article. I recommend that you visit this link to the Sept 25 edition of Country Aircheck to read the original article and see why Country Aircheck is a ‘must read’ for anyone involved in Country radio and the music industry. – Preshias.