Writer’s Night Legend Steve Bivins Battles Cancer

Steve BivinsSteve “Bulldog” Bivins is known for many things in Nashville, including for leading possibly the first songwriter’s night with a full band, for leading the band at the legendary Cowboy Church, and, with his wife Lori, for being the pastor of his own church, River of Faith in White House. But perhaps more than anything, he’s known for being a friend of many, a man who has helped countless songwriters and artists learn the ropes in Nashville through his writer’s nights and by sharing his own experiences.

Bivins came to Nashville after spending years as a touring musician in the western states, opening for such acts as Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. He went on to cuts four sides with the members of Buck Owens’ Buckaroos, and eventually led his own band in Montana which charted with two singles. But in the early ‘80s Nashville beckoned.

“Lori and I along with our son, Jeremiah, drove into Nashville, with our van and everything we owned,” Bivins recalled. “I remember pulling up in front of the Ryman, where there was just a field before the convention center was built, and a cop came down and said we better move because it was not a good area.”

Writer’s nights back then were occasions where a guy or gal got onstage at a bar somewhere and strummed and sang alone. But within a few years of making friends and performing around town, Bivins changed the way writer’s nights operated in Nashville, with what is thought to be the first writer’s night with a live band that followed charts the writers brought in at a now-defunct club on Nolensville Road. And while the years have passed and rumor has become legend, some of today’s stars are said to have come up through the ranks playing one or more of those writer’s nights backed by Steve Bivins and his Pick of the Litter Band at the Hall of Fame Lounge and other locations.

Artists and writers such as Leann Rimes, Craig Wiseman, Richard Fagan, Tim McGraw, Tammy Cochran, Otis Blackwell and others are all said to have graced the stage at one of Bivins’ writer’s nights at one time or another. And Bivins knew a little about songwriting himself; along with Charlie Williams and Diane Dickerson, Bivins wrote the humanitarian anthem “Pass It On,” which Willie Nelson cut for his 1986 Promiseland album.

In 1991 Bivins made the acquaintance of Pastors Harry and Joanne Cash Yates, who had begun holding services in the Holiday Inn on Elm Hill Pike on Sunday mornings at what they called the “Cowboy Church.”

“Steve was doing a writers night in the Holiday Inn on Sunday nights, and we had started Cowboy Church there on Sunday mornings,” Pastor Harry Yates said. “I’d see him setting up for Sunday night, and one day he played at our service and people just loved it, so that was the start of our having full bands at Cowboy Church.” Through that connection Bivins and his band backed Johnny Cash, as Pastor Joanne Cash Yates was Johnny’s sister. And when Cash’s mother, Carrie, died during that same period, Bivins performed “Family Bible” at her funeral.

“A few years later we moved over to the Texas Troubadour Theatre and the band went along,” Yates continued. “Steve eventually became my associate pastor and also the song leader and praise and worship leader at our services out in Goodlettsville before he left to start his own church.”

Steve Bivins, right, with Chas Williams (left) and Ray Mann of Bivins’ Pick of the Litter band.

Bivins played at the Cowboy Church for nearly a decade, worshipping God with numerous stars, nobodies, and people who went on to enjoy fruitful careers. Bivins’ son, Jeremiah, is now the drummer for EMI Records Nashville flagship act Troy Olsen. Jeremiah said that his father is definitely the inspiration behind his own musical career.

“I started hanging out with him at writer’s nights when I was about eight, I guess,” Jeremiah said. “And I started playing with him at the Cowboy Church when I was 17, and of course I’ve played at my mom and dad’s church. Anywhere my dad has needed me to play, I’ve done.”

“My dad’s a great guy,” Jeremiah said, “and he was real well known for helping a lot of people get started when they first came to Nashville. He still is, I guess.”

Today Steve Bivins is battling cancer, and is in the thoughts and prayers of his many friends and colleagues in Nashville. No matter the outcome of his illness, there are a lot of folks in Nashville whose lives wouldn’t be the same without him.

“Steve is very loved and respected, and he’s helped a lot of people over the years,” Pastor Harry Yates said. “We’re all praying for him very diligently.”

18 Comments

  1. This is so tragic. Such a loss of a dear, special friend. He is the reason I met my husband at the famous Western Room in Printer’s Alley. The song he wrote called “Your Such A Nice Surprise” quickly became Bob’s and my song. He included me in so many of his writer’s nights. Thank you Steve…thank you God for lending us such an inspiring man.

  2. Just came across this and had to say something. I love my dad and miss him more than anything! I remember all the times he helped people and just wanted to be recognized for what he could do, musically and personally. He loved everyone! He was a great man that deserves honor and respect. I thank everyone for their prayers. He fought so hard and never said a word about how much he hurt. He was and will always be the greatest man I’ve ever met! The music business lost an innovator and his life should be in the Hall of Fame! I love you Papa. See you in the morning.

  3. I KNEW STEVE BIVINS IN 1998 @ NASHVILLE COWBOY CHURCH AND HE WAS VERY GOOD TO ME. HE INTRODUCED ME TO HARRY YATES @ NASHVILLE COW BOY CHURCH. I WILL ALSO JOIN THOSE PRAYING FOR HIM. GOD HEALS ALL MANNER OF AILMENTS.–STEPHEN AIKHOJE from Nigeria

  4. Pastor Steve “Bulldog” Bivins, Rest In Peace my Brother. I know this trail we all will ride. Till we meet that sunny morning when we cross the Great Divide.

  5. Our much loved pastor and friend, Steve Bivins, passed away on June 20th, 2011. He will be sorely missed. Visitation is June 22nd at Austin & Bell Funeral Home in White House, TN from 3 p.m to 8 p.m. and 8:30 a.m to 9:30 a.m. on June 23rd with funeral proceedings immediately following. Burial will be in Lebanon, TN. I will see you again, my shepard!! Thank you for leading me (and countless others!) back to our Father!! I love you!! Your sister in Christ, Candy Cantrell.

    • I was informed wrong concerning Steve’s final resting place. He will be buried at Middle Tennessee State Veterans Cemetary on McCrory Lane in Nashville. Military Honors will be presented at the Committal Service.

  6. hey steve, if it was not for you my music carreer would never have prospered. you treated me like a brother, and so many other people, i learned so much from you, i still have the hall of fame special guest slip with a free meal at krystals with your signiture on it, last i saw you was at holiday in, we have a group now the new outlaws , thanks for being my friend, our prayers go out to you,larry casabella

  7. Montana Skyline Band was one of the best times in my life. Get well Steve. I’m pullin’ for ya.

  8. It has been 10 years. I met you at the Cowboy church at some meetings. I signed your songwriters guitar. What an honor!! My church along with myself hold you and your family in prayer. God Bless you friend..Yours and His Pastor Dave

  9. Hello Steve,Its been many years since we have talked.Paul sent me this to my e-mail and I just what you to know that I will put you on the prayer list at church.I hope that all is well with you and just remember that God can do all things.
    Your Brother In Christ
    Jerry Allen Pearson
    Tehachapi,Calif,

  10. This is a wonderful article. I wish I could have been there to see my brother put on a great night in honor of our father.

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