1. The story behind ALABAMA’s #1 single “IN PICTURES”
This song was born after walking into my song plugger Bobby Boyd’s office at BMG Music Publishing, located on the second floor of 1 Music Circle North, sometime in 1992. He had a new photo of his son, who I believe lived in Texas, on the window ledge in his office. I remarked, “that boy is getting big”, Bobby’s somewhat mournful response was “yeah, I’m watching him grow in pictures.” I immediately made a mental note, that sure sounds like a good song idea, but I didn’t say anything about it and went about our typical conversation, about who knows what.
I soon took a trip back home to Rhode Island to visit with my family and on these visits, I usually stayed with one of my sisters, who had recently begun having children and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the little ones. On the flight back to Nashville, I began to think of how sad it would be if they were my own kids and I only got to see them a few times a year, missing out on all their childhood milestones. First steps, first words and so on. Which of course, led me back to the phrase Bobby had uttered; “yeah, I’m watching him grow in pictures.” The next day I stayed home and sat at the baby-grand in the converted garage of our old house in Kingston Springs and the chorus “I missed her first steps, her first words and I love you daddy is something I seldom heard, oh it hurts me so to watch my baby grow, up in pictures”, just fell out. I remember thinking to myself; this is a good “verse”. Shows how much I knew.
The next time I stopped in the office to visit with Bobby, I told him I had used something he had said to me in conversation in a song and had a chorus and some verse ideas mapped out. I politely asked if he didn’t mind me using what he had said to me. Over the next week or two I would stop in and ask him what he thought of my latest ideas and we discussed the realities of the situation I was attempting to write about.
In a short period of time after demoing the song, Linda Davis recorded a wonderful, heart felt version for her Arista debut CD, produced by John Guess. As luck would have it, Alabama would hear her version listening to her CD “Shoot for the Moon” while driving the through the Georgia mountains and decided to record it themselves and make it the title track of their 1995 RCA release. It would become a #1 Country single in December of 1995.
In December of 2014, Craig Wayne Boyd performed the song on the finale of “The Voice.” Craig went on to win the competition and released “In Pictures” as a digital single, peaking at #3 in digital sales. What a beautiful surprise!
2. The story behind RHETT AKINS’ Top 10 Single “SHE SAID YES”
Rhett had an artist development deal on Warner Bros. records with A&R staff member, Paige Levy. Sometime in 1993 or 1994. I had recently pitched songs to Paige for consideration to be recorded by members of her stable of artists. She liked one particular song “It Ain’t Easy Being Me” which I had written with my friend Joe Collins. Paige kept the song in her “good songs” file to play for her artists in the future, who were searching for material. She eventually played it for Rhett, he liked it, which led to our co-writing appointment at 1012 16th Avenue South, a short time later. The building was rented to The Malloy Boys, a co-venture with BMG, owned by Jim and David Malloy who had much success with producing Eddie Rabbit, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton among many other hit artists.
Upon sitting down for our co-write, Rhett played me what he had started of what would become his Top Ten Single “She Said Yes”. I liked the verse he had begun and agreed the title of the song could provide us with a suitable destination for a good song. One of the most memorable moments in writing the song that day, was when I thought of the line; “they lit a flame with the match that God had made” to precede the hook; “…when She Said Yes”. I will never forget the look on Rhett’s face as he said to me “you Yankees are good for something.” This of course, because Rhett was from Southern Georgia and I, originally hailing from Rhode Island.
After completing the song, to celebrate, Rhett and I stopped into a Music Row watering hole called “Toucan’s”, which was located at 26 Music Square East, in the same building that would later house “Sammy B’s” and “Figlio’s On The Row.” While there, we struck up a conversation with songwriting legend Harlan Howard, who proceeded to warn Rhett of the pitfalls of making a habit of stopping in for a “cool one” after co-writes too often. Rather ironic, considering Harlan’s frequency of haunting the same type of establishments for similar purposes. RIP Harlan.
After a short period of time we demoed the song and pitched it around a little. It was put on hold by legendary producer Jerry Crutchfield for his artist Tracy Byrd, who was at the height of his career at the time. As young writers we were obviously excited at the possibility of Tracy recording the song, but as often happens, he eventually passed on the song. In the mean time, Rhett had left his development deal with Warner Bros. and had secured a deal with the newly re-opened Decca Label, a subsidiary of MCA Records. Mark Wright produced Rhett’s album and “She Said Yes” was the 4th single released after two false starts and on the heels of his first radio hit “That Ain’t My Truck. “She Said Yes” was released in October of 1995 and eventually peaked in the Top Ten after six months on the charts in April of 1996.
Years later, I discovered that Clay Akins, the former American Idol contestant and successful recording artist had recorded a version of our song and submitted it to be considered for the show. Funny what you can find on YouTube. ☺
3. The Story Behind “BUYING HER ROSES” Recorded By Reba McEntire
“This song was born upon stopping into “Maude’s Courtyard”, a popular Music Row watering hole some late afternoon in late 1989 or early 1990. Behind the bar sat a vase filled with a dozen beautiful red roses. After some inquiry as to where they came from, someone let the cat out of the bag that it was a friend of ours who had bought them for the attractive young bartender. This was confirmed a few days later as I was covering the phone for Miss Sharon at BMG, my publishing company’s little house on 17th Avenue. As I sat at the front desk with my guitar in hand, the phone rang and it was one of the song pluggers calling to see if he had any phone messages. This was of course, before everyone had voice mail, rendering hand written phone messages, a necessity. As I was relaying his messages, I heard a code-a-phone greeting in the background with the familiar voice of the aforementioned bartender from Maude’s. It didn’t take long for a kid to figure out something was amiss and in fact, a little “old fashioned” cheating was taking place. After hanging up the phone, I thought about turning the sordid story into a song from the perspective of the wife being cheated on and began strumming my guitar singing the phrase “he’s out buying her roses and where that leaves me, God only knows.” I was playing in the key of C and having grown up playing drums and my guitar skills still in their formative stages, the four chord or (F) in the key of C, was still a challenge, it was a barr chord after all, and one of the toughest to form, being located at the first fret and especially challenging on my cheap, Yamaha acoustic guitar with its rather high action. This actually turned out to be a blessing, as I went to hit the F major chord, my middle finger didn’t find its way to the G string in time and an F minor chord was voiced instead and it sounded wonderful to my ears and really made the line “God only knows” stand out. Thank the Lord for beautiful mistakes!
As would often happen in my first years in Nashville, I would get a song started and hit a stumbling block and recruit one of the more seasoned writers I had gotten to know to help me finish up. My good pal Rick Peoples, who was kind enough to have given me a chance early on, was usually my first choice of co-writer. Rick knew all three characters in the story and liked what I had started and we commenced on bringing it home utilizing his well-developed, lyrical talents. The customary procedure once your publisher likes a new song is to set up a demo session to have a good representation of the song to pitch to artists, producers, record label executives or anyone else with the ability to secure a cover of the song for you. So we scheduled a 3-hour tracking session at Studio 19 on 19th Avenue South with Dave Mathews (not that Dave Mathews, but I digress) engineering. I hired Biff Watson to be leader for the session playing acoustic and electric guitars, along with Rodger Morris on piano, Glenn Worf on bass and Lonnie Wilson on drums. Since “Buying Her Roses” was obviously a song from a female’s perspective, we hired Dana McVicker to sing the demo for us. She is a wonderfully talented singer and had put out records of her own on the Mercury label just a few years earlier. Dana was kind enough to come by the tracking session and sing the scratch vocal for us as the musicians were laying down their parts. I recall walking past her in the parking lot as she was listening to my work tape in her car, learning the song. Often times, the demo singer arrives after the basic tracks have been recorded to add their vocal. This was a blessing, with Dana’s beautiful and powerful voice, the musicians really were truly inspired to play with a little more enthusiasm. Besides, I always dread singing scratch vocals a 4th or 5th above where I would comfortably sing it.
Once the demo had been recorded, my song pluggers began pitching the song to any female artist they thought might be interested in the song. The usual nibbles came in and it was even put on hold a few times and quickly fell back off hold. Reba of course, came to mind as she was recording a new CD and was known for singing powerful, emotional songs. It was pitched to her A&R person at her management company and quickly passed on. Bobby Boyd was our tape copy person at the time and he was determined to get the song directly to Reba so he went to see his girlfriend who worked in Reba’s office and somehow managed to leave it on her desk.
After a few weeks, I was loitering around the front lobby of the BMG office talking with the ladies who manned the phones and Todd Wilkes who was one of our song pluggers. The phone rang and Gerry Travis said out loud “it’s Reba on the line and she wants to know if she can put a song called “Buying Her Roses” on hold. My head turned around as it took a second to realize, oh yeah that’s my song. So Todd took the phone and politely told Reba she could indeed put the song on hold and thanked her before hanging up. Needless to say, I was very excited but still a bit gun shy about getting too excited. Even though I’d only been signed as a writer for about two years at this point, I had many “holds” on other songs that never panned out and even a recording by an artist on Warner Bros. records that never was released. I must admit that I did have a good feeling about this one. I just felt it was right up her alley. This was January of 1991 and we learned Reba wasn’t planning on going into the studio to record her new record until sometime in the summer. So the waiting and the sweating it out, began. Periodically, I would stop by the office and inquire if the song had come off hold or if we were still hanging in there. A few months had passed and I was at home washing my old pick up truck with the radio on and first heard the terribly sad news that Reba McEntire’s band had perished in a tragic plane crash. Somehow she was able to carry on and continue to make music. Summer came and the recording dates were set. Miraculously after eight months and the tragic events Reba had endured, the recording of the new CD had begun. I remember anxiously awaiting any news each day of the recording. When recording masters, the schedule is usually to track two or three songs a day until the 10 or 11 songs are finished. I recall stopping in Maude’s Courtyard a couple of times that week and heard other writer’s rejoicing that Reba had cut their song today. I was happy for them, but they all were my second choice, as Peeps used to say. I was 25 or so at the time and I really needed for my song to make the record in order to keep my publishing deal and kick start my career. Well, the final day of recording had come and this was the song’s last chance. I was so elated when the call came in the following day that Tony Brown, the producer, had indeed tracked the song and that it came out great.
Typically, an album will have 4 singles released to radio. We were slated to be the 4th single, even song books had been issued listing “Buying Her Roses” as one of the hits from the album, but alas, at the last minute, the MCA Record’s label head decided instead to release my pal Layng Martine’s beautiful song “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” as the final single from the album.
The “For My Broken Heart” album was the first Country female, studio album, to reach double platinum status. It has gone on to sell well over 5 million copies. I’m thankful to this day for Miss Reba recording our song, it certainly helped me keep my publishing deal and allowed me to continue to do what I love.” – Joe Doyle
4. The Story Behind “Someone is Me” Recorded by Kenny Rogers and Blaine Larsen
This song was composed over a couple of writing appointments with my frequent collaborator, Josh Kear. He and I had a routine of meeting once a week, at my place here in the Western hills of Davidson County, with the intention of coming up with something a recording artist would be interested in covering.
One of us, I can’t recall who, had seen a billboard sign on White Bridge Road that would eventually inspire the song. Neither do I remember exactly what the billboard was advertising, but I do recall the message. It read “somebody should do something”, but the word “somebody’ was crossed out and the word “I” was written above it. Ah ha, that would make a good tune, if we wrote it right!
After completing the rather lyrically simple chorus, we began discussing what the verses should be about. We tried to think of problems we routinely witness all around us and to be sure they were problems, we as individuals, could actually solve. We didn’t want to make the problems so lofty, we on our own, could do little to correct.
There is a little town named Pegram, just down the road from where I live and we decided to take a ride and grab some lunch. This is where the concept of chronicling someone’s experiences, through a typical day unfolded. The first verse was describing the sites the protagonist viewed on his or her drive to “Ferguson’s Grille”, where the second verse content lives. “Aluminum cans and cigarette butts are lining the sides of the street. Baseball field in the county park is buried in a blanket of weeds. There’s a Swastika sprayed from an aerosol can displayed on the overpass. Driving around it’s easy to see this town’s going down-hill fast.”
Once we completed the song, we turned it into our respective publishers who deemed that we had written a “demo worthy” song. So, into Station West studio we went. It turned out to be an unusual session, as two of the studio musicians were missing in action come our 10 AM start time. Gordon Mote was scheduled to play keyboards, but had forgotten, and guitarist Tom Bukovac, was caught in terrible traffic on I-40. We found another talented piano player named Michael Rojas at the last minute and Tom showed up an hour late. Thankfully, they both agreed to stay an extra hour past the 3-hour recording block, to lay down their parts on the songs they were absent from. One thing I do recall is picking up the tempo from our work tape a bit and giving it somewhat of a “Don Henley” styled, eighth-note rhythm. I then proceeded to record my lead and background vocal parts. All in all, we were very pleased with the results and our song pluggers began the process of promoting the song to record labels and producers, in an attempt to secure a much-coveted cover of our song. Which brings up an interesting and somewhat unusual life, this song has led.
In our song-plugger Dan Hodges’ own words of how the song unintentionally ended up on two different artists releases, simultaneously: “I played the song for artist manager Jim Mazza and he loved it for Kenny Rogers and sent it to him. Kenny loved it and Jim called me to say he was cutting it. The recording dates weren’t for about six months, however. Kenny was being produced by Dann Huff. As the recording dates came close, Jim called and made sure it was on hold and reiterated that Kenny was planning on cutting the song. Shortly, after that, I had a meeting with the production assistant for Dann Huff, the producer. I asked about the song and he said it was not on the list, and that they weren’t cutting the song. I took his word and started pitching the song around again. I played it for Rory Feek who was producing a new artist on RCA named Blaine Larsen. Rory and his co-producer Tim Johnson loved it and put it on hold with plans to cut the song. During that time, I ran into Kenny’s manager, Jim Mazza at lunch and he came up to me and said Kenny is cutting the song the following week with Dann Huff. I was worried that both may cut the song and we’d be in a situation, so I met with Dan’s production assistant to ask about the song and if it was on the list for Kenny the following week. He said no and told me that he had answered that question already and not to ask again. He even showed me the list they were planning to cut and said “see, it is not on the list”. I then assumed that Kenny wouldn’t cut it, so I didn’t worry about Blaine cutting the song. Rory Feek and Tim Johnson cut the song on Blaine Larsen. What we didn’t know, was that Kenny cut it as well. I had assumed it was not recorded by Kenny, since Dan Huff’s production assistant was so sure and irritated that I was even asking, so I didn’t follow up with Jim Mazza. No one called us to let us know, and I assumed Kenny didn’t record the song. Additionally, whoever did the label copy for the Kenny album did not get the correct information on the song, so the wrong writers were credited on the first 200,000 units. In the end, the song came out on both Kenny’s record and Blaine’s record within a week of each other. I received a call from Tim Johnson chewing me out for letting Kenny record it, but I explained that I didn’t know, and he seemed to understand.”
We finally were able to get the label copy information corrected and were assured by Capitol Records that the royalties from the sales of Kenny’s album would be allocated to the proper writers and publishers. Unfortunately, that did not end up being the case, and we had to have our publishing company’s royalty administrator resolve yet another mix up. This time a financial one. To this day, I still wonder how many royalty payments were sent to the wrong places.
Another long and winding journey of a song in this crazy business. Thankful for both covers and for Dan Hodges working so diligently to secure both recordings.
I still perform the song regularly, in fact, I played it at The Bluebird Café a few years back and was approached after the show by a woman who told me “hearing Kenny’s version of the song had inspired her to make a decision to go forward with a mission trip to Africa.” I guess this is why we write, to connect with people. Thanks for your time, friends!
5. The Story Behind “TACKLE BOX” Recorded By Luke Bryan
The seeds of this song were planted after a visit with my father in Tampa to celebrate his 80th birthday in May of 2004. There was a carrier ship that had recently been restored very similar to one that brought my Dad home from Europe at the end of World War II. While we were aboard the ship, standing together on the bow, he began relating some stories from his recollections of that journey. One in particular was the fact that on that trip across the Atlantic, a storm crossed their path and tossed them on the waves and set a record for the angle at which they were tipped without capsizing. He recounted that after all of the horrors he had seen and experienced during the War, he would meet his ultimate fate on the journey home. Thankfully, not to be the case!
Upon my return to Nashville, I had a writing appointment with a then unknown singer named Luke Bryan. We were both signed as staff writers at Murrah Music. As was our usual fare, we would knock song ideas back and forth, hoping to land on something that piqued both our interests. I relayed my story about my visit to Florida and the carrier ship tour. Luke found the premise interesting and proceeded to relate a story to me about his brother’s early passing and the fact that he was buried with his Grandfather’s tackle box. We decided to combine the stories and the song began to take shape. For me, it was actually quite an easy song to write, as my Dad and many men of his generation didn’t express their feelings with words. Hence the hook, “he opened up, every time he opened up that old tackle box.” The verses began to be filled with the stories that the Grandpa in the song might relate to a young boy out there on the lake on a sunny Saturday morning. “He’d bait my hook and keep on telling stories, about nickel Cokes, girls and sandlot glories, pickup trucks and peanut fields, long before this town knew black top.”
I don’t recall if we finished the song in a day or if we reconvened to complete it, but I do remember we both believed we were on to something good, which is always a blessing. Once we were done we laid down a simple guitar vocal with both of us singing and playing. Luke had not yet learned the bridge I’d found by going to the 6- and walking it down, so I sang the bridge.
A short time passed, a demo session was organized and “Tackle Box” was included and was finely produced by Paul Compton and Bart Bush. The song began to get a little attention and was put on hold for a Blake Shelton project, but alas, did not make the final cut. Thankfully, Luke was signed to Capitol Records a short time later and “Tackle Box” was included on his gold sales certified, debut release “I’ll Stay Me.”