2012 Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and SHOF Board member Don Schlitz treated students to an insightful talk with Award-winning Nashville songwriter Georgia Middleman during a fourth SHOF Master Session at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on March 22. This virtual event was hosted by Dr. Jocelyn R. Neal, Professor of Music and Associate Chair of the Department of Music, and attended by her students.
Dr. Neal introduced Don Schlitz whose songs have played major roles in the careers of Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, The Judds, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Tanya Tucker, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Keith Whitley, Alison Krauss, and many other performers. Schlitz was the ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year for four consecutive years from 1988-91. He has won three CMA Song of the Year Awards, two ACM Song of the Year awards, two Grammy’s and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017. His huge catalogue of hits include such classics as The Gambler, On the Other Hand, Forever and Ever, Amen, Deeper Than the Holler, He Thinks He’ll Keep Her, When You Say Nothing at All, One Promise Too Late, You Can’t Make Old Friends and many, many more.
Georgia Middleman has had songs recorded by Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Terri Clark, Joe Nichols, Maia Sharp and Sheila E., among many others. In 2011, Keith Urban took I’m In, which she co-wrote with Radney Foster, to the top of the country charts. Her song When The Right One Comes Along was featured in the hit show Nashville, and her solo records include Endless Possibilities, Unchanged, Things I Didn’t Know I Knew, Plum and Requests. Georgia is also one third of the trio, Blue Sky Riders, along with Gary Burr and Kenny Loggins and one half of the husband & wife duo, Middleman Burr.
Middleman talked about how she began singing at the age of ten in Honky Tonks and grew up to be a songwriter. She waited tables across the street from The Blue Bird Cafe in Nashville, and one of her early co-writes was the song Table 32. "It was a little slice of life,” she said. “Songs are life drawn in pen and paper and that’s the job of the songwriter; to bring the details in and make it graphic, taking a big idea and making it real small so people can understand your story."
She said she learned a lot by being a drama major at NYU; "Everything I say and do has to lead to an objective, and as a songwriter, you have a title and a concept and every line and melody has to point to where that objective is. It became more of a craft as I got older. Once I write a song, they have a life."
Middleman talked about how she had always aspired to write with Schlitz, and after a fortuitous meeting in a Petco parking lot, they finally wrote a song together.
Schlitz asked her about the process of writing from either a woman's or a man's point of view and Middleman said, “I've always written from a male point of view speaking about women and trying to understand about me.”
Schlitz agreed, “We have two sides, and if you focus on the side that is not your gender it allows you to totally walk around an idea. Writing from the perspective of a woman allowed me to get in touch with my feelings as a songwriter.”
Dr. Neal then called on a few students with questions, and Schlitz wound up the hour saying: “Take a small idea and make it smaller, write little songs and one will lead to another one. We need more women to step forward to write from the heart.”
Middleman said, "Write with people who scare you...it keeps you on your toes, but don't write with people who don't respect you.”
This was the fourth SHOF Master Session at UNC featuring Don Schlitz, and plans for more are in the works!