My Heroes Have Always Been Songwriters
By: Bill Lord
Yes I know the title to the song is “My heroes have always been cowboys” but I can’t help but believe that it’s a song about “songwriters”. After all, the writer, Sharon Vaughn, a hit song writer in her own right was married to Bill Rice, half of the legendary songwriting team with partner Jerry Foster.
I think the opening line of the song could easily describe the typical Nashville Songwriter, “Cowboys are special with their own brand of misery from being alone too long”. That pretty much sums us up alright. We are a special breed indeed. It’s not that we are necessarily alone that much, it’s just that like other poets and writers we live in our head a lot, always working out the “hook” or “phrasing” of that next big hit we hope to write.
Nashville is a town built on songwriters. Probably the least recognized but most vital part of the country music industry, songwriters provide the fuel that keeps the fires of country music burning hot. The Nashville Songwriters Association International, of which I am a proud member, has a slogan that spells it out it up nicely, “It All Begins with a Song”. Can you imagine Hank Williams without “Your Cheating Heart”, Haggard with no “Okie Form Muscogee or Carrie Underwood if there had been no “Jesus Take the Wheel”?
At any one time in Nashville there are a few hundred “successful” songwriters making a living writing. That’s special enough but the fact that every morning several thousand country poets rise with a song in their hearts and pick up a pen and a guitar or sit at a piano, driven only by a dream, is phenomenal.
Why do they do it? Well if you ask just about any songwriter they will likely tell you it’s not really a choice. I don’t know of one struggling writer who hasn’t tried to walk away from it, but like an eternal love, you may leave it but it will never leave you. For most it’s not about the lure of fame and fortune but rather more about being understood, having something that came from your heart move someone else to feel what you felt. A verse from the “Alabama” song “My Home’s in Alabama” described it nicely. “What keeps us going, I don’t really know, it can’t be the money, Lord Knows we’re always broke, could it be the satisfaction of being understood, when the people really love you and let you know when it’s good”.
One of the things I like most about ABC’s new hit show “Nashville” is that it often spotlights songwriters. There is hardly an episode that doesn’t at least mention the Bluebird Café, probably Nashville’s best known songwriter venue. The Bluebird is a great place to hear songwriters and the place you will hear a lot of already famous songwriters, but by no means the only place to hear original compositions sung by the folks who wrote them.
On any given night in Nashville several local clubs and restaurants feature “Songwriter” nights. One of my favorite rooms to hear songwriters in is the Commodore Grill, especially when Debi Champion is hosting, located inside the West End Holiday Inn,. At the Commodore you can hear a great mix of songs, some already hits and some that will likely be hits of the future.
Not every song you hear at these events will be commercial and most will never be “cut” by a major artist, but all are the heart felt work of the writers. Every night in Nashville hundreds of songwriters open their hearts and souls hoping to touch something in us. After all as the motto of the Nashville Songwriters Association goes it really does “All Begin with a Song”.
Some of Nashville’s Great Songwriters: L to R: Jerry Foster, Adam Fears, Eric Lee Beddingfield, Willie Nelson, John & Jacob, Striking Matches Photos: Kris Crosby Lord