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