We Write Songs - 1/21/2016

     I’m up early this morning, too early to get the guitar out and try writing songs.  It would be a selfish act when everyone else is sleeping.  I was only in California for three and half days or so, but I have not adjusted since I have been back.  The warmth and sunshine were well worth making my sleep topsy-turvy though, a shot in the arm during this bone-chilling stretch in Northern New York. 
     Speaking of writing, I don’t know if there is anything more satisfying to me than writing a song, recording it, and performing it for an audience.  I know Leigh would say the same thing.  We have both been writing quite a bit lately.  I am so excited with the material that we are coming up with.  Our goal is to write and record an entire album of original material.   Brotherhood, our tribute to the fine brother acts that came before us, was a lot of fun and has been a good record for us in terms of sales, airplay, and critical acclaim.  However, 90% of our requests out on the road are for songs that we have written.  That says something, I think.  What a reward it is for someone to tell us that one of our songs has touched them or helped them get through a rough patch.  I know others’ songs have done that for me.  There was a span not long ago when Don Williams’ music soothed my troubled soul.  He was all I wanted to listen to, his voice and his songs like a warm blanket against a biting wind.  The thought that our songs have helped someone along the way, to help the hard times heal, makes me feel like we are doing something worthy.  I think a mixture of head and heart is where it’s at.  Joan Wernick gave us the best compliment one time when she said, “Your music is real.  It has dirt under its fingernails.”  I like that.
     There is a lot that has to go ‘right’ for a song to make it to the stage.  Once a song starts to come, my heart begins to race.  Usually I will have a little piece of melody in mind.  That always helps.  Finding a melody after all the words have been written is tough for me, so I will usually have a working melody that I can always change later.   It seems every time I pick up an instrument, if I am left alone for awhile with no interruptions, a melody will come.  I am not saying all of my melodies are good, but I am proud of a lot of them.  Then when I am in that state, a phrase might come, something that has been on my mind, something someone has said, or something completely out of the blue.  I think that is what Tom T. Hall meant when he said that songs are on the wind.  He also told me they are inside guitars.  Who am I to argue with Tom T.?   The easy part is that initial burst of energy when the first verse and chorus appear.  It is harder to write that second or third verse that measure up.  Every song is different.  Some take me years to write while others take less than an hour.  It seems these days that I do more revision, and that is a good thing. 
     I used to make the mistake of showing my songs to Leigh or Mike before the ink was dry on the page.  I would call them like a hyperventilating puppy and make them listen over the phone, always convinced I had something.  Many times I could tell in their voices that they were searching for something nice to say like, “Oh, I like that melody” or “That one line was cool.”   I always love the song when it is first written.  The question is, do I still love it the next morning?  I seldom do, admittedly.  For every keeper, I bet I write twenty duds.  The key is to never let the world hear the duds.  Also, never throw the dud away.  One line from that dud could make its way into a potential keeper.  Leigh and I have gotten pickier and pickier with our writing, especially since we’ve written with the likes of Tim O’Brien and Shawn Camp.  Those guys make every single word count.  That is what we’re trying to do as well.  When we wrote “Something Comin’ to Me” with Shawn, he read the lyrics aloud like a poem.  When it flows poetically, it will flow musically as well.
      I will admit that I run every song by Corina.  She never lies.  She never trashes a song either.  She’ll just be kind of quiet when it isn’t hitting her.  I love it when I am working on one and she says, “Where’d you get THAT?”  I know I am on to something at that point.  Kelley is funny.  If he likes one, he’ll say, “That’s good.  You should get Uncle Leigh to sing it.”  Thanks, son.    
     It am always nervous to show Leigh a new song.  I can tell immediately if he doesn’t like it.  He doesn’t come out and say he doesn’t like it, but I have known him since 1971 and I know his body language.  And he knows when I’m not crazy about one of his.  We have agreed to be honest.  Neither of us wants to be on stage singing songs we don’t love.  That is one perk of this job, singing what we want to sing.  I am sure there are times when his feelings have been hurt as mine have, but we’re not babies about it.  If he doesn’t like one, I’ll write another.  Same with him.  Leigh and I have a lot of co-writes together.  In the past, it seems our co-writes were mainly songs that one of us wrote 90% of and then needed a little help sealing the deal.  Lately, we’ve written a few nose-to-nose in the same room from the ground up.  I like that. 
     Once we both agree on a song, we bring it to the band and work up an arrangement.  We have been so lucky to have guys in the band who enjoy new material and bring it to life with their wonderful musicianship.  Sometimes we have a preconceived arrangement in mind while other times an arrangement evolves.  Mike, Clayton, and Jesse can make anything sound good, but they can make a good song sound great.
     It is scary to show a new song to the world.  Will anyone like it?  If they don’t like it at first, will it grow on them?  Have we written something worthwhile?  Have we said what we want to say?  Can they sing along?  Musicians are all insecure, but I think we’re doing something right and have made some good choices.  We have put a lot of years into this and have those songs like old friends to lean on.  We have never had any big mainstream ‘hit,’ but our songs have taken us many miles and have made us many friends along the way.  You can’t put a price tag on that.