Hit and Run

I was in a pretty bad car accident today. I was hit head-on by a (drunk?) driver who was driving the wrong direction down my side of a very busy street in downtown Nashville. Then, the guy drove around me, turned onto a side street, parked his car for a minute, got out to survey the damage (he had left his bumper lying in the middle of the street), and then had the gall to jump back in the car and drive away! In the meantime, I was sitting there dazed in the steaming, smoking pile of junk that used to be my VW Beetle.

It’s stunning how fast something like that can happen to you. I must have had some serious angels watching over me, ’cause it looks like all I walked away with was a stiff neck, a sprained pinky finger, and a considerably lighter bank account after having to pay the deductable on my insurance policy, which will end up covering the damage to my car in the hit-and-run. (I would complain about the loss of my favorite car – and favorite car stereo – but that seems petty when I think about what could have happened!)

The experience really made me think about human nature. Like the woman who just happened to be passing by, who spent about a half an hour chasing the other driver in her vehicle as far as she could until she realized his temporary tag wasn’t going to be any help at all (what good are temporary tags if they don’t ID the vehicle?)…and like the witnesses who came forward and stood there with me in the rain while the police wrote up their report – surely they had better things to do at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning….and like the man who hauled me and my Beetle to the collision center, who broke the rules and drove me all the way home to my house afterwards so I wouldn’t have to sit for hours and wait for a rental car….

…and like the man who hit me. Where is he tonight? What is he thinking? Is he hurt? Is he wondering if I am hurt? Does he feel the least bit of guilt for his actions? My mother always told me that the worst thing you can ever lose is your integrity. I wonder if he feels that loss, like a little piece of himself missing. I would. But then, I guess there’s no way to know what else was going on in his life, and why on earth he was driving down the wrong side of the road at 9:30 in the morning.

I’m just happy to be alive right now.

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Recording a New CD

I’ve been having a blast in the studio recently working on a new CD.  It’s intended for national distribution in Canada.

With the help of engineer and mixer extraordinaire Eric Legg, I put together a one-day intensive recording session last week.  We used some of my favorite “A-list” musicians – collectively they have performed on CDs by Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Reba McEntyre, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, LeAnn Rimes, Lonestar, Gretchen Wilson, Alabama, Joe Nichols, Billy Currington, Chely Wright, Joe Diffie, Blake Shelton, George Jones, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Trace Adkins, Amy Grant, John Michael Montgomery, Hank Williams Jr., Phil Vassar, Sammy Kershaw, Randy Travis, Leanne Womack, and Pam Tillis just to name a few.  Two of them have produced CDs (by Point of Grace and Trace Adkins), and one of them is even a performing member of the band Toto!

I am producing my record myself, but musicians of that caliber make it easy.  The tracks are so good that it’s SCARY!!! Now it’s just up to me to get the vocal tracks recorded, which I’m working on now.  We singers are always our own worst critics, and it’s especially hard not to obsess when I’m producing my own project. (Can you say Type A personality? Ha ha…)  One thing I’ve learned already is that sometimes it’s better to get a flawed vocal take with personality than it is to get a take with perfection.  Perfection is boring!!!  So I’ve had fun experimenting – rolling out of bed in the morning and going straight to the microphone for that low rasp…staying up til the wee hours for a more intimate and vulnerable sound…and singing the ballsy, angry parts when I feel like screaming at my dog, Sammy Davis Junior Junior (who keeps crawling out under the backyard fence and making me chase him through the neighborhood in the middle of a driving downpour)….

Anyhow, needless to say I have been keeping really busy.  I’ve also continued to cowrite with Jessica Simpson (she’s getting ready to start recording her album next week) and Julie Roberts (we’ve been writing some great songs together).   Of course there are no guarantees, but hopefully some of these songs we’re writing will find their way onto the artists’ CDs.  I’ll keep you posted on that.

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Sony/ATV Publishing Deal

Well, it’s official! I am now a staff songwriter at Sony/ATV Nashville. It’s an especially exciting time for this to be happening, because this deal was set in motion by my friend and fellow Nashville songwriter Tony Lane (he was able to bring a writer into Sony under his contract there) – and Tony was just nominated for two Grammy awards for his Faith Hill/Tim McGraw duet “I Need You”.

Some of the other writers on Sony/ATV’s Nashville roster include: Gretchen Wilson, Jennifer Hanson, Marcus Hummon, Miranda Lambert, Rodney Crowell, Bob DiPiero, Dean Dillon, Gretchen Peters, Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn, Merle Haggard, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, and Tom Douglas. Needless to say, I’m very honored to be the newest addition to the team.

Here’s to 2008! I think it’s going to be a very good year.

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Jessica Simpson and Walking Hard on Crutches

Rachel Proctor and I co-wrote with Jessica Simpson for the first time today. We had a great time, despite the fact that Rachel had lost her voice and I was hobbling around with a bum knee (I’ll tell you more about that in a minute!). Jessica is planning to release a country record on Nashville’s Columbia label, so she is collaborating with some of Nashville’s best songwriters – it was an honor to have the opportunity to work with her. As you might suspect, she is not only just as sweet and beautiful and person as she appears on TV, she is really very smart. She journals regularly, so she brought some of those with her for inspiration, and we got started on a song together called “Come on Over” which we’re scheduled to work on some more later this week. She is also really enthusiastic about recording a song Rachel and I wrote together called “Remember That”, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed on that!

After our cowrite was finished, I went with my friend Donny (a fantastic artist – check out his myspace page) to see a special premiere of the movie “Walk Hard”, starring John C. Reilly. The movie was great, by the way. The funny thing is, we had no idea that John himself would be introducing the movie in person, and then playing a concert later downtown as his character, Dewey Cox! I love Nashville! You just never know what the day might bring!

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard much from me lately, I have a good excuse! This fall I was diagnosed with a really rare condition called PVNS – which is basically an aggressive (and often recurring) benign tumor of the synovial tissue in my knee – so I went under the knife in November to have it removed. My mom, Nora, came down from Canada to help nurse me through the recovery. I don’t know what I would have done without her! After spending a month on crutches, I’m finally walking again. I’m still not moving very fast and it’s still pretty swollen, but with regular physical therapy and great medical and alternative medical care, I’m determined to do whatever it takes to beat this once and for all.

I’m planning to head home to Canada for Christmas this year, but by the time I get back to work in January I will hopefully be signed to a new publishing deal. Some negotiations are under way for that, so I’ll fill you in on how things turn out. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy 2008!

*****

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Beans & Rice & Greatest Hits

Here’s a funny little story about what it’s like to be a professional songwriter…

The other day, my friend Lisa McCallum emailed me through MySpace and said, “Hey, I saw Sara Evans being interviewed on GAC about her Greatest Hits album and she mentioned that your song “Saints & Angels” is on there – congrats!” Well, my jaw dropped to the floor, because I knew absolutely nothing about it! Some quick Googling confirmed that my song is indeed on the record, which is to be released on October 9th/07! (Check out www.saraevans.com for details.)

Getting a message like that is like someone saying “Hey, by the way, congratulations on winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes” when you had no idea you were even entered. Pretty exciting! Especially right now, when my 3-year songwriting contract at Full Circle Music Publishing is coming to a close and I’m determined to hold out on signing a new one until I find a company I’m completely satisfied with, even if it means living on beans and rice for a while. Writing is a lot of fun, but writing every day is also a lot of work – too much work to do if you’re not in a place where your work can pay off for you in hit records. I’m also a big believer in positive energy – if you’re working with negative people, it not only becomes a creative roadblock, but in my opinion it also becomes a roadblock to the success and abundance that positive energy invites.

That being said, I’m very excited about some of the publishers who are interested in signing me, so if I continue to write through the negotiating process, we’ll be able to hit the ground running with new songs when the legal ink dries. In the meantime, ASCAP has invited me to join Dennis Matkosky (“Maniac”), Deanna Bryant (“Stupid Boy”), Marc Beeson (“When She Cries”), and a couple of other writers in mentoring some Middle Tennessee State University students through their Commercial Songwriting course, which should be a lot of fun.

Let’s see, what else has been going on…oh, I played some great acoustic shows in Roswell, Georgia over Labor Day weekend with Rachel Proctor and Dave Berg. Rachel is a long-time cowriter of mine and a great talent – you might know her Martina McBride hit “Where Would You Be”- and her in-laws, who live in the area, took us out on their boat for the day on Saturday – a great way to spend the holiday. But I think the highlight of the weekend was sitting on stage next to Dave when he played “These Are My People” and announced to the audience that it was the #1 Country song in the country! What a rush! Dave has had a great run recently, so he also played a pile of hits including “If You’re Going Through Hell”, “Stupid Boy”, and “Moments”, all of which were #1 songs in the past 6 months. Incredible! Here’s a photo of Rachel, Dave and I (with Rachel’s friends Nicki and her son Cole, who came along for the weekend):

I also went to a great party at Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s house last weekend – there were about 15 of us there, all Canadian girls (and one who married a Canadian, so she’s got honorary status). It was a celebration of many things, including Carolyn’s win in the “Best Female Vocalist” category at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards, Patricia Conroy’s win in the “Best Independent Female Vocalist Category”, and there were also many toasts to Lisa Brokop’s new engagement (she and her sweetheart Paul Jefferson are going to tie the knot). Other than that, Actually, we toasted to a lot of things, including new records (Crystal Shawanda is just finishing hers), hit songs, good real estate deals, adopting babies, and the chocolate cake which was really delicious and deserved a toast in itself.

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Gratitude

I am so blessed, in so many ways. It’s a bit overwhelming just thinking about it. Every morning when I wake up, I take a few minutes to list, out loud, the things in my life that I’m grateful for. Sometimes I laugh while I’m doing it, because it amazes me to think about how much happiness is in my life…friends, family, my comfortable blue chair, the crazy loud mockingbird singing outside my window. Sometimes I cry, because I realize I’m saying thankyou for the painful things too…heartache, betrayal, divorce, loss, grief, and the strength that those things bring in their wake.

I get to do what I love for a living.

I get to hold my joy and my pain in my hands, and turn it around, and look at it from every angle, and then create something beautiful out of it.

I get to sit in a room to write a song with someone I’ve never met before, and cut through to the heart of who we are and what life means to us in a single afternoon.

I get to write and perform with artists I admire who have shaped my own life with their work.

I get to share my songs with audiences of people who cry tears that echo my own.

When I wonder how I will pay the bills, a check somehow always arrives in the mailbox.

When one of my songs is turned down by an artist or dropped from a record yet again, and the frustration of this business pulls me down into the dark, I always somehow get a message from someone whose life has been touched by my music, and it pulls me up into the sunlight again.

When I start to feel alone living 800 miles from the family and home that I love, one of my girlfriends makes me laugh until my belly hurts.

When I wonder sometimes if the sacrifices I’ve made to do this for a living are too great…if I would have been better off with less loneliness – paying fewer dues, crying fewer tears, wearing fewer scars…I hear an exquisitely crafted song on the radio…I see the look in a friend’s eyes when they’re performing their music…I sing a piece of my past into a beat-up, smoky microphone…I hear a new idea whisper in my ear…and the tears and the scars become the stained glass that makes the light that much more beautiful.

Life is good. Really, really good.

*****

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Dallas, Tin Pan North and the Grand Ole Opry

6:59 pm last night…musicians and stage crew were running willy-nilly all over the place…I was fighting my way through the crowd to find my spot on the stage next to Pam Tillis…the techs were plugging my guitar in and setting up a microphone in front of me…I was strumming my guitar and singing a few notes to check the monitor mix…then it was 7:00…and up went the red velvet curtain in front of me to reveal thousands of screaming fans while the drummer counted us in…and I was PLAYING MY FIRST GRAND OLE OPRY ON LIVE TV!!!

What an amazing weekend. I got the call a couple of days ago, asking me to play acoustic and sing high harmonies for Pam on several shows – we played the Friday night Opry with Emerson Drive, two more Opry shows on Saturday with Darryl Worley, Hal Ketchum and Mel Tillis, and then we rode the bus down to RiverStages in downtown Nashville today to play the big CMA FanFest Festival outdoor stage. The televised Saturday Opry was particularly great, because it was a really special night for Pam – she got to induct her dad, Mel Tillis. I was even able to arrange for backstage passes for two of my cowriters, Shane Yellowbird and Troy Kokol (pictured below – they have the current chart-topping Canadian country song “Pickup Truck”, and like Mel Tillis, Shane has also overcome a stuttering problem by singing).

Anyhow, all of this excitement just landed in my lap the moment I got home from Toronto, where I was playing a few gigs last week. I performed in the “Source of the Song” concert series in Glen Williams (which also featured Cindy Church), and I also headlined the Toronto NSAI Tin Pan North Songwriters’ Festival, where I shared an acoustic set of original songs with country songwriter/artists Colin Amey, Jamie Warren and Chris Ward. I hadn’t met Chris before, so I didn’t really know what I was in for…but when he began to play the first few chords of his huge Alannah Myles hit “Black Velvet”, I thought I was going to fall off my stool. What a treat to be able to sing along with that song on stage!!! After the show, I had to tell him “thank you”, because that song was probably responsible for about half the tips I collected to earn my way to Nashville when I used to perform it back home, years ago!

Actually it’s been a whirlwind around here for a while, because a couple of days before I flew up to Toronto, I also flew down to Dallas to accompany Pam Tillis on some live TV & radio shows. My friend Mary Sue Englund (low harmonies and acoustic) and Pam and I performed as a trio on the “Good Morning Texas” TV show, and then we visited KHYI radio 95.3 FM to play a few songs.

You have to be ready for ANYTHING when you’re doing live shows…Pam had asked me to learn 3 songs for that radio gig, and I knew them inside out…but literally in the last minute before we went on air, she changed her mind and decided that we should play something new that I had NOT practiced, or even heard before! So I fished around in my purse for something to write on, found an old receipt and a lip-liner pencil, and wrote down what I could grasp of the words while she sang it to me…and then it was 3, 2, 1…off we go, live on the biggest Americana radio station in Texas with a song I’d never played in my life!

But that wasn’t the end of it! As the DJ was signing off, he said “Pam, how about if you and the girls close the show with one of my favorites, ‘Shake the Sugar Tree'” – and it was 3, 2, 1, off we go yet again, singing and playing a song I had never played before, LIVE on the radio!!! But the funny thing is, I have a great memory of forcing my sister to sit in the car with me for HOURS singing along with the fantastic harmonies on Pam’s “Homeward Looking Angel” record…and “Sugar Tree” was one of those songs…so actually, it all came back to me anyways, every note of it! That’s one of the most surreal things about playing with Pam – I keep having flashbacks, seeing myself singing high harmonies along with “Maybe it Was Memphis” in my old Chevy Sprint…and this afternoon, I got to do the real thing, on stage next to her!

Well, that’s about enough excitement for me to last for a while. I’m going to sign off – I have to get some sleep, because I have a full week of cowrites coming up. But it has been an absolute blast!

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Pyjamas and the Tennessee Waltz

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in my home studio. I affectionately call it “The Rock Room”. The name is both symbolic and literal – yes, I do rock pretty hard in there sometimes (which my next door neighbor can attest to when I’m doing vocal olympics at the top of my lungs in the middle of the night), but it’s also because it has one wall made entirely out of a strange, haphazard collection of rocks – a real estate agent’s nightmare, but I loved it the first time I saw it – it makes me feel like I’m camping!

This week, producer Ted Hewitt hired me to sing background vocals in my studio on a new record by Patti Page. Yes, I mean THE Patti Page. Remember her? “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “The Tennessee Waltz”, “Mockingbird Hill”…my Dad has gramophone recordings of her singing those songs back in the 1940s. Well, she’s 80 years old and still sings like a bird. Not only did I get to sing on rerecorded versions of those old standards, but she’s also throwing in some new songs which are really tastefully done. Can’t wait to hear the final product – I think it’s in the process of being picked up for distribution by Curb Records. I hope I’m still singing like that when I’m 80!

Speaking of impressive women, I hosted a really fun event recently. I invited all the talented female singer/songwriters I know to my house for a “Girl Power Pizza in your Pajamas Party”. We had a blast. No makeup, just jammies and sweats, a few teddy bears and a security blankie…ok, I admit it, that was mine…and we ate pizza and chocolate and gabbed the night away, all crammed into my tiny house. (Ok guys, insert mandatory pillow fight comment here, ha ha.) This was actually the second Girl Power Party I’ve hosted, and lots of fantastic girls have participated, including Lisa Brokop, Amy Dalley, Tia Sillers, Trenna Barnes (from Cowboy Crush), Lauren Lucas, Anna Owens, Patricia Conroy, Mary Danna, Mary Sue Englund, Tania Hancheroff, Billie Joyce, Tiffany Goss, Jenni Schaefer, Lisa Torres, Evie Nicole, Julie Forester, Wendy Janz, and Kirsten O’Rourke – quite a bunch! I made up a playlist on my ipod for background music, consisting of a couple of songs written by each girl – lots of big hits on there! Lord knows it’s important to celebrate the successes of your peers just as much as your own, and we have a lot to celebrate. 

Let’s see, what else has been going on? I’ve been writing up a storm, I’m planning a new demo session, and I’ve got a slew of shows booked in the next month.

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“New York, New York!”

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!” That was me, 24 hours ago, singing to myself at the top of my lungs as I ate the chocolate off my pillow in a posh 45th floor hotel room overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. I flew up there with Pam Tillis, to accompany her along with Matt Spicher on mandolin in a guitar/vocal performance on Naomi Judd’s “New Morning” TV show (airing on the Hallmark Channel at the end of April – I’ll keep you posted on the date).

The weekend didn’t exactly start as planned – and it’s a bit of a long story, but here it is…. In addition to my usual full schedule of cowriting appointments in the past week, I produced and sang a full demo session and shared a full-band show with Rachel Proctor (all in the same day). I also had a full plate of overdubs and vocals to sing from the session, a Bluebird round to play with my friends Tania Hancheroff, Mary Sue Englund and Lisa Brokop, and background vocal parts to learn on ex-American Idol finalist Carmen Rasmusen’s televised showcase which I got called to sing on at the last minute. So when I got the call about the Pam Tillis gig in the midst of all this, what else could I do? Of course, I said, “YES!”

Anyhow, I woke up Saturday morning with severe stomach flu and less than 24 hours left before our departure, and when I dialed Tania up to whine “I have the FLU”, her answer was “I have the flu TOO!” So I called Lisa, and then Mary Sue in a search for someone willing to go on a soda cracker run…but I got the same answer from both of them! It appears that somehow during the round we played together we were all exposed to the same bug and it was so potent that we ALL came down with the same symptoms within hours of each other. (And poor Mary Sue – bless her heart – had to play the TV broadcast portion of the Grand Ol’ Opry on Saturday night, which she managed to pull off with her usual panache, even with a concave stomach and a burning fever). But I was still DETERMINED not to miss this opportunity. So Saturday night found me gingerly trying to pack a bag for the trip, which consisted of putting in a pair of socks, sitting down to rest, picking out some jeans, sitting down to rest, putting in some shoes, lying down for awhile, etc….

Somehow, thanks to the advice of my friend Elise Curry and the miracles of homeopathic medicine, I was back on my feet and raring to go by Sunday morning, and Pam, Matt and I (along with Matt’s 8-year old niece Brandy) hopped a cushy JetBlue flight to JFK Airport. After finally settling into the hotel, I even felt up to exploring the snobby 5th Avenue haute couture shops, dancing on the giant FAO Schwarz in-floor piano keys, and taking in a late-afternoon Bach pipe-organ recital at St. Thomas Cathedral before joining the gang for a great dinner at the Park Cafe (including some stunning desserts provided on the house by a world-renowned pastry chef).

Monday morning found me at the TV studio in Brooklyn, sitting for hair and makeup with Pam, Naomi Judd, and Mary Lou Henner – not a bad crowd to hang out with – and then a couple of takes later, we had recorded Pam’s songs and we were off to explore some more. What can you pack into 3 hours in a Manhattan afternoon? You’d be surprised. We power-walked through the Mammalian exhibit, the African peoples exhibit, and the Dinosaur exhibits at the Museum of Natural History. We meandered through the Butterfly Conservatory (where vibrant-colored tropical butterflies fluttered around our heads – and one wandered around on top of my hat for a while). We raced over to the Central Park Zoo, which was unfortunately closed, and then visited the skating rink instead. And then we closed off the night with some incredible Indian food before hopping the taxi back to the airport and flying home to Nashville by midnight. A few hours later, I was heading off to this morning’s co-writing appointment, feeling like a true jet-setter and randomly mentioning to complete strangers that I’d had dinner in New York City last night.

Is there such a thing as too much fun? ‘Cause I think I’m having it. Thanks, Pam and Matt!

Posted in Blogs

Nashville Star

I have to admit – I’m hooked on “Nashville Star” this year. I’ve never really watched the show before, but this time around it’s different, because I know four out of the six remaining contestants! Josh Stevens is a friend and cowriter of mine, and a fellow staff songwriter at Full Circle Music. Whitney Duncan is also a cowriter – she used to have a record deal on Capitol Records and we wrote some songs together for that project. Zac and Angela Hacker, a brother and sister from Florence, AL, are friends from my days of being a staff writer at Fame Publishing and demoing my songs at the Fame Studios head office in Muscle Shoals. All four of them are talented musicians who put on a great show, so watching them grow and blossom on national TV is really exciting.

Last week, Josh reserved me a ticket for the taping of the show. It was great to be there and see the competition in person, and to cheer, clap and shout out the contestants’ names in the crowd. Looking around, I saw audience members holding up signs with my friends’ names on them, and it made me a little teary-eyed to see them finally getting some of the recognition that they have worked so hard for. Some people would consider it tacky to be excited about something like this…you’re not supposed to jump up and down about anything when you’re a professional…but I say “POOH” to that! If you can’t celebrate your friends’ successes, you are not going to be a very happy person in this business. And successes are hard-earned, few, and far-between, so we should celebrate them with every chance we get!

Yesterday, I was playing tour-guide for my cousin Barb and her boyfriend Brian who were visiting from Canada. We went to the huge Opryland Hotel for dinner, which also happens to be where the Nashville Star contestants are sequestered for the duration of the show…and lo and behold, after dinner we unexpectedly stumbled across the contestants doing an acoustic performance on one of the hotel’s stages. We sat in the front row and cheered them on as they performed some of their original songs in-the-round. At the end of the show, Josh even surprised me by inviting me up on stage to play my song “Saints & Angels” while they all sang harmony, which was very sweet of him. I don’t know what it is about this city, but somehow the stars always seem to align to provide a fantastic experience for my visiting friends and family, and this one couldn’t have been better!

So this Thursday at 9pm (central), I’ll be glued to the USA channel once again, cheering on my friends!

P.S. Now that I’m reading this entry after the show is over, I wanted to add congrats to all the great finalists, and especially to the winner Angela Hacker and runner up Zac Hacker!

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