1) For years I have heard songwriters, musicians, artists, and record producers make the statement, “The first time I heard that song I knew it was gonna be a big hit.” My question is what made you know? Was it the music, the singer, the lyrics, or something else?
Good question. First off, nobody “knows” that a song is or isn’t going to become a hit. Any anyone who tells you they “know” is lying. Only the public can decide whether or not a song is a hit. You can “feel” in your heart that a song has all the elements for success, but until that song is recorded and released and the listeners have a chance to “vote” on it, trust me, nobody knows. We’ve all guessed right and we’ve all guessed wrong…in both directions. Songs we felt sure were going to make it didn’t, and songs we didn’t think all that highly of in the beginning ended up making a lasting impression. Sometimes I think that uncertainty and that “game of chance” is a big part of what keeps us coming back and trying again.
2) I remember something I read one time about you and Jimmy Gateley co-writing “Bright Lights & Country Music” in the dressing room of the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, Canada, a place near and dear to every country fan visiting that city. Rather than try to find the back story on the internet, I thought I’d get it straight from the horse’s mouth. So could you please share it in your “Ask Bill” column?
So now I’m Mr. Ed?? Long story short, we were working the Horseshoe for a week in the mid-sixties, performing a show every night plus a matinee on Saturday. A fan who lived a couple of hundred miles away sent me a letter saying she would be at the Saturday evening show because, as she put it, “I like soft lights with my country music.” I showed the letter to Jimmy Gateley, we changed “soft lights” to “bright lights,” and wrote the song in the open doorway of the dressing room between shows…before several dozen fans who were waiting patiently for autographs. Only song I’ve ever written in front of an audience!
3) I’ve been to a lot of your shows and always enjoyed them, but I have always wondered what those box looking things are at the front of the stage. Are they footlights? Or do they amplify the instruments? Or block out feedback? Sorry, but I’ve never been around musicians and such and always wondered what they are.
I think you are probably referring to the monitor speakers. Back before my band and I began using in-ear monitors, we heard our own voices, the background voices, and the unamplified instruments through these speakers. We don’t use them much anymore.
Question Of The Month: How long was it between your drinking champagne out of a Dixie Cup to your crushing one for running out of wine?
Jo in Virginia sent this fun question, and it shows that she’s been listening closely to the lyrics of some of my songs. I guess the answer is that it was as long as the time between Mary Lou Turner and I recording “That’s What Made Me Love You” in 1975 and Sharon Vaughn and I writing “When A Man Can’t Get A Woman Off His Mind” in 1997. If my math is correct, that would have been a period of twenty-two years.
Quickies: What year did you do “Ride Off In The Sunset?” I recorded that song in 1978. My recording was used as the theme song for a TV series called Six Gun Heroes on PBS for several years. After 60-years of writing songs how do you avoid repeating something you’ve already done? Sometimes I don’t, and I catch myself “stealing from me.” It’s almost impossible to not repeat parts of a melody I’ve already written or a lyrical idea that I’ve visited before. I stay on guard and at least try to “borrow” from songs that weren’t hits! If someone wanted to record one of your songs what is the procedure they would go through? The record company would have to obtain a recording license from the publisher of the song. Did you ever find out Double S’s name? Yes, it was Sadie Sweathog. She played shortstop on a softball squad. And if you believe that, you are as silly and stupid as I am!
Sorry, I just had to throw that last one in there. Thanks for all your questions (including that one), and I hope you’ll keep them coming here in the New Year. Write me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what’s on your mind. If your question is chosen as our Question Of The Month you’ll receive an item of your choice from our online store completely free of charge. Stay curious, and we’ll see you back here again in February.