“And the number one song this week is …”
Wait a minute. Long before your favorite song made to a radio station, countless people were involved in its creation. It all began with the God given ability to hear a song before the first instrument is picked up, before the vocalist rehearsed. It started with the songwriter.
Over the last 20 years of Pat Gwinn At The Beach syndicated show, I have talked with dozens of artists. Interviews of just where, how and when can the inspiration for a song occur? From international stars to regional writers there’s one constant: passion.
The Songwriters in the Round!!!
Kim Williams, Wil Nance, Buddy Brock! Power writers for Nashville! Over 150 million albums, number one hits for Garth, Reba, Brad Paisley, Randy Travis, John Montgomery, Arron Tippin and others! What an honor!
‘‘I try to find an “Honest Premise” that comes out like a story. It may sound like it’s my story but that’s just way it comes out. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s about others and sounds like a “First Person thing”. My last album had a bit more personal material ‘cause I’d gone through a lot since my last solo album. I read that it isn’t art if it isn’t personal. I agree but I’ve written about other people’s “personal stuff”. I could go on forever Pat but I’d put you to sleep.”
I knew when I was 13 I wanted to be a songwriter. I’m not sure if I picked it or it picked me. My mother told me early that I couldn’t sing well enough to be a performer, but she told me performers need songs to sing. When she bought me my first guitar I knew I was hooked (pardon the pun). I moved to Atlanta in the late 60’s and met my first famous songwriter at Lowery Music Publishing Company. He was Ray Whitley ( writer of many of the Tams hits). I remember him telling me, “Don’t try to be a songwriter if you can do anything else. If you can’t do anything else then you have no choice.” He listened to my early songs and told me they needed a lot of work. I still work very hard on my songs. I later moved to Nashville and got a publisher’s deal and wrote songs with Hall of Fame songwriters Bob Morrison, John Jarrard, Tommy “Leonard” Collins and Kent Blazy. I thought for sure that I made it. Problem is these well known and established writers still had to work their tails off to get a cut, which were not guaranteed to be a hit. Rejection is the norm for a songwriter, even the best. Therefore, you have to believe in yourself, your songs and never give up. Red Lane once told me I had to write a 1,000 bad songs before I could write a good one. I’m almost there.
My songs ideas come mostly from my own experience. I see or hear something that creates some kind of emotion. This is what I call inspiration. These songs sometime write themselves. However most of my songs originate with an idea (story) and I have to work on them until I think they are ready to be demoed and pitched to an artist. Songwriting is communication and after I get an idea I try to decide why I want to write the song, it’s purpose. Is it an emotion I want to convey (happiness, sadness, loss) or is it a song for entertainment (dance, etc.)? “Ocean Drive” by Archie Bell was simply written to entertain. “I Miss You Babe” by Christina Cooper Black was written as a true life experience about death and grief. It ended with hope. “ Summertime Memories” by Craig Woolard & Tim Cashion was written as a song about loss love and the hope of reconciliation. Recently I wrote “I Knew God Loved Me” by Russell Henry which was a true song about him reconciling with his one true love. These songs to me are more rewarding. The song is about real people and real feelings. When I write a song I don’t write it to become a hit. Songs are personal. Some songs touch one person and the same song may not touch others. That’s why I don’t take rejection personal. Songwriting is my passion but it takes hard work to succeed. The journey (process) of writing is more rewarding than the destination. Ray Whitley was right. I can’t stop writing. I tried, but can’t quit.
Song writing for me begins with an emotional trigger. It could be generated by any emotion, happy, sad, angry or surprised, etc. So obviously the inspiration is immediate and not expected. Being a drummer it’s sometimes the lyrics that come first for me. But the lyrics will produce a melody from the story being told or the emotion being expressed. Happy songs are faster and upbeat for example. There are times when I am affected by the experiences of others by seeing or hearing about their experience which produces an emotion in me. Sort of like when you shed a tear while watching a movie.
Writing a song for me is both a joy and hard work. I am excited by the project but do work hard to make the lyrics communicate what I want to express from what I’m feeling. I am determined not to go to my grave with my song still in me and not shared.
Hey Pat. I began writing in elementary school in Sumter, SC. I played in a band called The Tempests (of Sumter), which was an eight piece soul band. After high school, I went to USC in Columbia and really started writing in earnest. I hooked up with Michael Zager of NYC, and he published a disco song of mine called Goodtime Music, which was recorded by several beach groups and became a turntable hit by Take Five of Los Angeles. It eventually was played overseas, including in South Africa, Europe, et al.
After I began playing and doing studio sessions with a number of Beach Music bands, Mike Branch and General Johnson asked me if I'd write for some of their bands. We wrote and I produced Ocean Boulevard, the first Beach Music song of the year. That song was based on the years that our family came to Garden City and the experiences that many of us had. Mr. Beach was a song I wrote at the request of Willis Blume, Sr. about a character named Beach Billy, the creation of Leo Windham of Columbia. I Could Be Your Everything was a song co-authored with Paul Craver. I had laid down the music for Shagtime the night before we went on a European tour . When I returned, Paul had put lyrics to it, and DJs were playing it.
A few others: Southern Belles was recorded for the Band of Oz and is in my top five songs I've ever written. Clifford Curry, my old friend and I used to write, and two of my favorites we wrote together were Just Driftin' Along and I'm the Original recorded by the Drifters.
“As for where this stuff comes from, I'd say it comes from the heart. I usually start with the music then write the words,” Warren concludes.
“Songwriting comes to people in different ways. I can be walking the streets and all of a sudden a melody, a title and maybe even some of the lyrics come to me. The melody always dictates the tempo. Here’s an idea: She is a real sexy lady and I really want to know her name. That sexy lady. If I wrote a song with you and you gave me the title, I could hear the melody.”
“Songwriting is therapeutic…being able to express myself thru music and lyrics is beneficial and healthy for my mind and soul. Imagining a song I’ve written and recorded could potentially improve the mood of a listener gives me joy. Knowing my songs will outlive me provides peace and motivation to keep writing.” Deb Browning.
“My first songs were beautiful stories I made up in my head. But lately, I’ve begun to take real life experiences and create songs. For instance, my latest song was inspired by a conversation with a woman sitting by the dance floor at Fat Harold’s. My song before that was about a “flirty” woman I met at a party…she got too close to “MY MAN” and I wrote a song about her. I can only imagine what will be next!
I believe a good “hook” is the foundation of a well-crafted song. It not only grabs your attention, but is often the first thing a listener remembers about your song. A hook can be simple, lyrical, melodic, or rhythmic - but it needs to be GREAT!
Browning said in closing, “I thank God for my songwriting. I believe He is the source of all good gifts…and songwriting is one of the greatest gifts I have in my life.”
I once asked General Johnson if he was a “romantic”.
“Who me? Heck NO!” Laughing loudly.
General Johnson said he wrote songs about ‘subject matter’… Patches… Somebody’s Been Sleeping In My Bed.
“Personal experiences are what inspires my thoughts to write songs. The hook on the other hand can be something you’ve heard that applies or sometimes a thought that pops into your head as you think about it.
The last part of it being why, is also easy. It’s a way to vent or say something to let others know how you feel! The difficult part about writing a song is most people don’t know how to do these things in conjunction. In my opinion, great writing require a good grammar base and being able to express your inner emotions with no fear of repercussions. If it is contrived or made to work, it usually will not make a great song and in my opinion, what’s the point?”
“Sometimes it starts with a chord progression or a guitar lick or groove depending on the type of song. I like co-writing the most. In the case of writing with my brother Mickey I would pitch the idea for a song title with the cord progression and he would write the lyrics. We wrote a lot of songs like that.”
Songwriters with Pat Gwinn