By April Anderson
Humor, thoughtful elegance and true inspiration were key elements when 2012 Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee and Board Member Don Schlitz graced the packed Frederick Loewe Theater last Thursday, December 1, for the latest in the series of SHOF Master Sessions at NYU.
After a warm introduction by NYU Associate Professor, Director & Chair of the Department of Music & Performing Arts Professions, Dr. Ron Sadoff, Schlitz disarmed the audience immediately by taking a cell phone photo of everyone from the stage.
He then settled in to discuss his four-decade-and-counting career with Phil Galdston, NYU Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Director of Songwriting. Schlitz has had over 50 Top Ten songs, 24 of which have gone to #1 and has won two GRAMMYs for Song of the Year (“The Gambler” and “Forever And Ever, Amen"), four ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year awards, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1993.
His hits include: “On the Other Hand,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” “Deeper Than the Holler,” “Heroes and Friends” (all sung by Randy Travis); “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” “I Feel Lucky,” “I Take My Chances” (Mary Chapin Carpenter); “When You Say Nothing at All” (Keith Whitley and Alison Krauss); “Learning to Live Again” (Garth Brooks); “Houston Solution” (Ronnie Milsap); “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain,” “Turn Me Loose,” “I Know Where I’m Going” (the Judds); “One Promise Too Late” (Reba McEntire); “Forty Hour Week” (Alabama); “If You Can Do Anything Else” (George Strait); “Give Me Wings” (Michael Johnson); “Strong Enough to Bend,” “My Arms Stay Open All Night,” “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love” (Tanya Tucker); “The Gambler,” “The Greatest” (Kenny Rogers); “Stand a Little Rain,” “When It’s Gone,” “I Love Only You” (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band); “Old School” (John Conlee); “I Watched It All (on my radio)” (Lionel Cartwright); “You Can’t Make Old Friends” (Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton); and many, many more.
Schlitz spoke of how fellow songwriter Bob McDill gave him his first break in Nashville in 1978, showing him open tuning on the guitar and encouraging him to “play simple.” Schlitz then went home and immediately wrote the hit song “The Gambler,” which was subsequently recorded by both Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash, becoming huge for Rogers in particular. This enabled Schlitz to leave his day job as a computer operator.
Galdston stated that Schlitz’s personality seems to color his songs, and Schlitz said, “Every song that comes out, I wrote for me. I always wanted to work on songs that I want to hear.” He talked about how Dave Loggins taught him how to co-write and collaborate. When they worked together, they’d take an idea and “make it smaller and smaller until there are 360 degrees that you can walk around, look inside the cracks and process, process, process!” He said “rhyming and meter are so important,” and when you “write a great first verse, make it the second verse.” Galdston asked,” Do you visualize walking that 360?” Schlitz replied that was a way of illustrating what is “in my mind.”
Schlitz went on to say “you cannot write country music looking down your nose at it,” and “don’t shy away from using good words.” Galdston illustrated that point by playing a few Schlitz classics for the fascinated audience.
In closing, Schlitz said, “if you’re going to write songs for money, do something else,” and “when they say it ain’t about the money, it’s about the money.”
The audience, made up of a mélange of NYU students, teachers, songwriters, musicians and executives all took away a new perspective on the mind, magic and methodology of a truly inspirational songwriter, who also had the gift of being able to put everyone at ease with a good laugh now and then!
In attendance that night were East Coast Education Committee Chair Karen Sherry, SHOF Board members John Titta and Linda Critelli, along with SHOF counsel Robert Epstein. Edgar Dobie, producer of the Broadway version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (music and lyrics by Don Schlitz) surprised Schlitz and was also in attendance.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions program at NYU is a major component of the SHOF educational outreach. Stay tuned to songhall.org for news of the next Master Session coming soon!