While in Nashville attending the CMS's earlier this month, I was afforded the rare opportunity to witness from 5 amazing songwriters testify as to what happens "behind the scenes" when one writes a song. The CMA Songwriter Series: LIVE LIFE LIKE A SONG was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame's prestigious CMA Theater offering ideas, inspiration, and how to magically transform those "bolt of lightening strike ideas" into creating a #1 Hit song. Ideas ranging from watching a movie, reading a book, hearing a conversation in a restaurant, and even the driven desire to write a song about jumbo shrimp! Inspiration is all around us, we just have to stop, listen, and write it all down (even on napkin, if need be) before we forget. Once the song is written, it needs to be recorded, pitched to artists, and then wait,( sometimes for many years), for a slew of rejections before the song finally gets cut by an artist.
The five songwriters offered their stories as to how they wrote certain songs, or how they pitched a song to an artist. Both Country Music Hall of Famers, Don Schlitz and Gary Burr, along with Gary's very talented wife, Georgia Middleman, and the both Warren Brothers; Brad and Brett. All five offered a menagerie of helpful insights, funny stories about their songwriting, and tips into writing a song.
Those of us who write songs know the importance of jotting down every idea when it hits us, much like Gary Burr and his "jumbo shrimp" song. Gary confessed his passion for jumbo shrimp and thought to himself, "I should write a song that has jumbo shrimp in it", and so he did with a song entitled "NOTHIN' BOUT LOVE MAKES SENSE", recorded and released by LeAnn Rimes.
Or maybe you just love beer so much you decide to, and I quote the Warren Brothers here, "write the stupidest song ever", entitled, "RED SOLO CUP".
Maybe you have an artist approach you wanting to write a specific song for a specific event, or about a certain special person; much like when Tim McGraw approached the Warren Brothers about writing a "Dear John Letter" song about a soldier returning home from war. The stunning and heart-string tugging of "IF YOU'RE READING THIS" earned The Warren Brothers a Grammy nomination and #3 on the Billboard country chart in 2007. Tim climbed into a car once to meet with the Warren Brothers to hear some songs they had written. They had barely pitched a few words of the first song to Tim when he said, "Nope". Second song a "Nope"; the third song a "Nope". Tim had rejected all three songs pitched, then asks, "Do you have anything else?" The Warren Brothers pulled "IT FELT GOOD ON MY LIPS" out of their hat, and Bingo the song hit #1 and stayed at #1 three weeks in a row! With Brett accompanying on the harmonica, the duo also performed their #1 song, cut released by Dierks Bentley, "MAKE HER FEEL THAT FIRE", and Keith Urban's duet with Taylor Swift, "HIGHWAY DON'T CARE".
Jokingly, Gary Burr, told us he is from Connecticut where there is no country music, only the Beatles and Paul McCartney while growing up. Spending many of his years as an electrician he decides to start writing songs in his spare time and at night after a hard day's work in a hot and stuffy attic. This being back in the days of MTV and being the newest thing, Gary gets a call saying someone is cutting one of his songs! He gets all excited thinking he's going to be the next biggest songwriting sensation: he throws all his electrical tools in the trash can, quits his job, and tells his boss he is now a bonafied songwriter! Later that day he is told, "I hope you know it will take at least 9 months to get paid for your song through any Publishing Company". The next day he returns to work like he had never quit the day before, gets his tools out of the trash, and goes back to work for nine more months. "LOVE'S BEEN A LITTLE BIT HARD ON ME" was Gary's first ever song cut and released, and was one of the first ever videos aired on MTV. He also went on to write "A THOUSAND WILD HORSES", "BATON ROUGE", and "A THOUSAND TIMES A DAY" recorded by Patti Lovelace and George Jones, all affording him the prestigious Songwriter of the Year and Hall of Fame status.
Gary's lovely wife, Georgia Middleman, started the CMA Songwriter Series with the song Reba cut and released "I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING" which was also in the movie "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY". The first song Middleman ever wrote only took about 30 years to get cut and recorded. After failed promises of a "cut" from several artists and being "put on the shelf", Keith Urban and Capital Records releases "BABY I'M IN" on his album "RIPCORD" which reached #1 on the Billboard charts. While living in Texas and working as a waitress, Middleman, wrote the song "TABLE 32". It is only a 2.5 minute song, short by most standards, but it took her 5 years and two awesome co-writers who finally understood her story, to write it, and get the song cut. Most of you know or have heard of the t.v. sitcom, NASHVILLE, I am sure. Georgia wrote "WHEN SOMEBODY NEW COMES ALONG" and is known for a certain wedding that took place on the show. Georgia had to tell the story of how her hubby had a huge "Showcase" at the BlueBird Cafe in Nashville before she performed this next song for us that night. She said, " He had all his music, a full band, and even had a moonlighting backup singer who was a receptionist by day. He was so excited after finishing his showcase set, only to see everyone but one person still there. He walks up, introduces himself as Gary, only to have the Warner Brothers representative ask if he could meet Gary's backup singer. Gary introduces his backup singer saying, 'Meet my backup singer, Faith Hill'". Faith Hill later went on to record Gary's song, "FIND SOMEBODY NEW".
Well known and acclaimed country music songwriter and Country Music Hall of Fame honoree, Don Schlitz, has earned 2 Grammy's as well as 4 ASCAP Country Songwriter of The Year Awards. Mr. Schlitz got his 1st big break back in 1978 when the first song he wrote and took him to Songwriter status was Kenny Rogers' country cross-over hit and Kenny's "signature" song, "THE GAMBLER". Among Schlitz's biggest hits are "FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN", which was also a "signature" song for Randy Travis, and "WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL" by Keith Whitley. POTUS, George H. W. Bush, also commissioned Schlitz to write a theme song for his "Points of Light" program. "POINT OF LIGHT" rose to #3 on the country charts for Randy Travis back in 1991. He also performed "HELLO AMERICA" released by Alabama, and the Bluebird Cafe's "TATTOO REDO".
It was a great night full of "behind the scenes" stories, great music, songwriting tips, and inspiration alike! LIVE LIFE LIKE A SONG gave us all new meaning and inspired us all to write from our hearts, even if we seem crazy, or as Gary was jokingly referred to as, "dumb but infectious" by some when starting his music career.
I hope everyone enjoys themselves and haves a great week! It's time for me to start cooking the cornbread, the turkey, some collard greens, and lots of yummies for our Thanksgiving feast! Until next time...... Peace Out!!
-Penney D. Holley
Cc: pdh/Country News International 22Nov2016