Book review: ‘Nashville Songwriter’ by Jake Brown
Jake Brown has written an insightful book looking at the methods of the 20 most influential songwriters in country music
ake Brown is best known for his In the Studio book series, focusing on the recording careers of artists as varied as Iron Maiden and Tupac Shakur. With his latest release, Nashville Songwriter, he has focused his attention on country music and the city of Nashville, to provide an enlightening glimpse into the elite pool of songwriters that have collectively written the majority of No 1 country hits of the last decade, as well as plenty more from way back when.
Each of the 20 chapters focuses on a specific songwriter, interviewing them and their co-writers about their most famous hits. Some of their names may not be familiar to all, but the songs they’ve written and the acts they were recorded by read like a Who’s Who of country classics. Greats such as Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and ‘The King of Country’ himself George Strait, as well as crossover acts like Lady Antebellum and the Everly Brothers, have all recorded the songs written by this pool of talent and it is amazing to read how often they also appear as co-writers on each other’s tracks.
The geneses of many of country music’s most famous songs are discussed by their creators. It’s fascinating to read that Sonny Curtis wrote I Fought The Law as a way to rejuvenate The Crickets after the death of Buddy Holly, or that Jeff Silbar originally intended Wind Beneath My Wings to be a rock n’ roll number for Bob Seger. Equally interesting is discovering that many smash hits were the result of a group of songwriters sitting down in an office together and throwing out lyrics and melodies until something stuck. The majority of subjects are keen to demystify the process and emphasize that simple concepts such as turning up on time, working hard and not taking no for an answer are just as important in Nashville as they are in every other walk of life.
“Practical advice for anyone who is interested in the art of songwriting”
What this book does best is provide practical advice for anyone who is interested in the art of songwriting. Whisperin’ Bill Anderson is eager to share the most important thing he was ever told: “Your song is like a story: it’s got to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’ve only got a certain amount of time, and you’ve got to make everything fit in there, and if a line doesn’t add to your story, it takes away from it.” Neil Thrasher imparts some useful tips such as “really pick apart songs when you hear them on the radio”, and the book’s final chapter features John Rich of Big & Rich and his five tips to close with, which alone are worth investing in this book for.
Nashville Songwriter does not intend to be a salacious exposé of country music’s most successful songwriters, and this is to its credit. However there are times when it would be interesting to delve a little deeper, in order to find out what it feels like to have your best songs cherry-picked by record companies or see the artist that has recorded your song receive all the glory.
It’s also a shame that there is not a single female songwriter featured, though that’s perhaps an indictment of Nashville itself rather than Jake Brown. Overall, this book is a wonderful insight into the careers of those who wrote the songs that have helped shaped the country landscape for well over a decade, and contains plenty of knowledge that can be gleaned by amateur songwriters in every genre.
Verdict: A practical insight into the world of country music and the elite songwriters behind so many of the genre’s biggest hits
Nashville Songwriter is out now, published by BenBella Books, priced £10.99