Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reconnecting with my songwriting roots

Enjoyed a trip back to the ol' stomping grounds of Chattanooga last weekend. I attended a songwriting seminar presented by the NSAI Chattanooga workshop, featuring pro writers Rodney Clawson ("Amarillo Sky," "Sweet Southern Comfort") and Brian White ("Rough And Ready," various songs by top CCM artists). The event was held at the church building the NSAI group uses for meetings. I led music there for a couple of years and was the "hookup" for the meeting space for the group, of which I was co-coordinator. I'm really happy to know my "legacy" of sorts endures.

I was interested--and pleased--to see the upgrades in the building, now that the former church has become a "satellite" of a larger church in Chickamauga (led by a former youth director and pastor of mine...these connections never end).

The format of the seminar was very close to what I did in Cape Town: all-day seminar (10 - 4), with expert advice and a songwriting exercise, and then a 7 pm coffeehouse concert featuring the guest writers plus "selected" attendees (the picture shows Rodney and Brian at Mocha Joe's in St. Elmo).

I chose to pretend I didn't know everything about songwriting already (as if I had to) and participate as a student. It was good for me. The group co-write (they split us up into knots of 3 or 4 with a short list of titles to choose from & one hour to write) went OK and it was fun to see how the 4 our group worked together. I didn't feel like we were always on the same page on the process, and it seemed to me the group had a hard time committing to an approach (or even a title), so my control-freak nature was a little frustrated while my laid-back nature kind of enjoyed the unpredictability of the whole thing. The results were OK given the circumstances (strangers trying to come up with something brilliant in a short time); the point was the educational value, and there was plenty of that.

I had the pro's critique "Texas Hold 'Em." One of those I thought I was done with. I was still open to their input but as we all do in these situations, I was actually hoping they'd say "I have to have a copy of that for so-and-so" and that would launch me into a writing career with a 10am-3pm workday (when I felt like working that hard). No such luck on that so far, but they did make some valid points and got my wheels going on a re-write, which I've done (though I'm still open to improving it).

The night before the seminar I dropped into American Pie on Hixson Pike to witness songwriter Roger Alan Wade in action. Like Ben Folds, Roger's got some stuff I wouldn't recommend (being a Baptist and all) but I admire his genius as a lyricist, regardless. I think that has to do with redemption, but I couldn't argue the point very well for very long. His "Country State of Mind" was a Hank Wms. Jr. co-write and hit, and his "If You're Gonna Be Dumb, You Gotta Be Tough" is, appropriately, in the Jackass movie (cousin Johnny Knoxville was the hookup on that). But what struck me was how Roger has poured his heart and soul and talent into songs about things and places that only a relatively small group of folks could really appreciate, such as in "Down Brainerd Road." Not the formula for radio hits, but what a gift to hear your own life experiences in these songs--and brilliant ones at that. It makes them more valuable, not less. Roger sheepishly apologized for the problems he was having with the sound system when I spoke to him after his set, but it really only seemed a natural match of a raunchy sound for raunchy songs.

Overall, the weekend was a nice reminder of how far I've come, but also how far I have yet to go, musically and otherwise.


Anonymous said...

hi, this is denise rains,
i liked your commentary, really thought out and down to earth, enjoyed reading it....
as far as roger allen wade, he is outside my comfort zone a little, brilliant but still outside... i did a show in chattanooga and he was also on before me, kinda likes to sing a little long, still a somewhat nice guy .....
thanks for the oppurtunity to read your mind.

Mark Kelly Hall said...

Thanks for the compliment, Denise.

Now that you mention it, Roger did say goodnight and sang another couple of songs two or three times before he actually quit playing. I was fine with it but then it was his gig and he was the one I was there to see...and I wasn't following him!