Gifted and acclaimed singer songwriter Benny Gallagher posted a picture on Facebook the other day promoting a concert by four accomplished songwriters from Nashville’s famous Bluebird Café. They are taking their show, In The Round, on the road.
Not only is Benny a genuinely lovely guy, he is a hugely talented songwriter; his songs include When I’m Dead and Gone, A Heart in New York and Breakaway, and with his musical partner Graham Lyle, Gallagher and Lyle tremendous success with Heart on My Sleeve and I Wanna Stay With You. Benny and Graham were actually signed by no less than the Beatles as songwriters for Apple’s artists including Mary Hopkin! Breakaway and Love on the Airways are outstanding albums but my favourite is actually an early one, Willie and the Lapdog, followed closely by The Last Cowboy. I first briefly met Benny at the old Post House hotel in Cardiff in the 70’s after their show at the Capital, when AFL took me to meet up with them afterwards, (he was on the same label, A & M).
Anyway, I digress; Benny was remembering writing with one of the four songwriters, J Fred Knobloch and what struck me was the calibre of the four writers individually.
The Bluebird Café is famous for where Garth Brooks got discovered, and apparently someone called Taylor Swift…., plus others. It’s a very small intimate venue, capacity around a hundred and most shows are ‘In The Round’, where the three or four songwriters sit in a circle and take it in turns to play one of their songs. In the Bluebird’s case, these are often million selling songs. The In The Round format has often been copied, in Nashville and indeed around the world but it only ever really works if you have great songwriters who have interesting tales to tell, stories behind the hit songs. The songwriters don’t even have to be the best singers, often they’re not, but they can tell you why they wrote that particular song that features in the soundtrack of your life; they know why they wrote it.
A few years ago I talked with the owner of the Bluebird, Amy Kurkland, about bringing over some songwriters to the UK, using the In The Round format. She liked the idea, and was very agreeable to it. The songwriters I met with at that time included Chas Sandford (Missing You), Jamie Houston (High School Musical, Santana, Disney), James Dean Hicks, Jamie Kyle (who wrote one of my all times favourite songs, Heart’s Stranded) and Kim Carnes and her husband, Dave Ellingson. Kim is of course best known for Bette Davis Eyes, but ironically she didn’t write that. Her own songs though for me are much better, my favourite being The Best of You.
Recession though hit and the plans were shelved. Also of interest though is that Amy told me that the Bluebird recorded every single show since it first opened, twenty something years ago. Given the calibre of the songwriters who have played there, and especially the special guests, well, that is quite some library of shows and I hope one day someone takes the time, as she asked me to do, and go through the tapes and releases the best of them. It will be some undertaking.
Many songwriters in Nashville have a way of writing. It’s like a formula – certain chord progressions, play on word lyrics, but it obviously works, country is the most successful genre of music in the US.
After one breakfast meeting we’d arrange at Fido’s (great Huevos Rancheros) with Jamie, Chas and James, Jamie was off to record Billy Ray Cyrus but the other two had arranged a song-writing session and that’s how most songs in Nashville are written. Two or three writers will arrange to meet up, in someone’s house, or a rehearsal studio, sit down and just start playing, in the hope that a song emerges. Often one of them might have a line or two and start from there.
I have to admit I can’t write this way. I can’t force myself to write. Months have gone by and I haven’t written but I’ve never worried. They’ll come when they’re ready.
So, if you’re ever in Nashville try to catch an In The Round show at The Bluebird, (which is now run by the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International – the other night they had Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson perform!), or perhaps catch one of their shows on the road. Another show in a similar vein to watch out for is the Wine, Women and Song trio of Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss, again, all outstanding, successful and accomplished writers.
Apart from continuously playing live, Benny also runs songwriting workshops, incredibly valuable for any songwriter. http://www.bennygallagher.com.