“It’s been 15 pretty ungraceful years,” says Bobby Pinson during a phone conversation with me one Monday afternoon in November. “Nobody’s going to say that I had it handed to me, or that I was an overnight success.”
It may not have happened overnight, but with five No. 1 singles and his critically and commercially successful album, Man Like Me, it is impossible to question Pinson’s success as a songwriter and as an artist.
“I think they’re definitely entwined, and I think one has always determined the fate of the other,” he says of his songwriting and performing careers. “I joke and I say that I thank my record labels for making me a songwriter. I moved here as a singer and my songwriting started taking off. That’s the nature of the beast. It seems like in the last ten years, a lot of artists have developed through the publishing companies.
“As a songwriter I got a job that paid the bills, and through that I kind of discovered who I was as an artist. Then I took off and became an artist for, you know, about 12 seconds. Actually, I’ve been an artist for 15 years, but I was just street legal for about two. They’ve definitely been separate paths, but it’s been the same guy motoring both.”
Though Pinson’s intention was to be a performer when he first moved to Music City in 1996, his songwriting talents developed from necessity.
“When I had the realization that nobody was going to write a song for me the way I was going to write it or the way I was going to sing it, just one thing kind of led to the other, where I just realized that I was singing about things that most people weren’t writing,” Pinson tells me. “I think it just kind of created itself, where I was writing from the heart—not that other songwriters don’t write from the heart. I didn’t have any intentions not to sing anybody else’s songs, but it became evident that I was writing from my heart and it was all coming from me.”
Pinson is right to note that other songwriters also write from the heart, but his songs stand out in the crowded publishing world on Music Row because they’re often unconventional. In articles and interviews, you’ll hear songwriters cite members of country music’s old guard as their main influences, but Pinson’s lists Shel Silverstein, and his affinity for the works of quirky poet has contributed heavily to his atypical songwriting.
“I noticed right away how deeply [Silverstein] influenced me with the kind of scat-type rhyming and his internal rhyme,” says Pinson. “I’m one of the very few guys that works really hard at the internal rhyme. Some of [his poetry] is awkward, but some of it is really useful in my songwriting, where his lack of respect for the rules has made me respect his ideology and rhyme scheme.”
Silverstein’s poetry heavily influenced “Sailboat For Sail,” one of Pinson’s newest songs that may soon be cut by Toby Keith.
And though he’s busy writing songs and being an artist, he and his wife Lucy have recently undertaken a new endeavor as restaurateurs.
“I was fishing with my dad in Jackson, Wyoming and I saw this little place called Cowboy Cafe,” Pinson says of the inspiration to open the restaurant. “It looked like it was 70 years old. It was just one of those places that you couldn’t figure out how it was still open. And I said, ‘I want to open a place that looks like it’s 70 years old on the day it opens.’ ”
Lucy’s Country Cafe, slated to open the second week of January, will be located on Division St. near Winners and Losers, and the all-you-can-eat buffet will be open everyday from 11 AM to 3 PM.
“It’ll serve country cooking,” says Pinson. “Everything from turkey and dressing to all the casseroles, ham, and country fried steak. It’s hard to do a plate lunch, you know, with the rush of the songwriters. As a songwriter, we don’t have many options for delivery, so I decided that I wanted to make a place that does country cooking, where you can come in and be gone in 25 minutes, and also will deliver if you don’t want to go out.”
Pinson and his wife also recently opened Lucy’s Cafe Express in Music Square West, which offers soups, salads and sandwiches, and also delivers. For the grand opening, Lucy’s Cafe Express had 300 patrons in three hours, and Pinson hopes the grand opening Lucy’s Country Cafe will be equally successful.
And as if he weren’t busy enough, Pinson hopes to release an album in the next year of songs that, for one reason or another, didn’t get cut by other artists. After being around Nashville for 15 years and having success as a songwriter and artist, he’s now able to make records just for himself.
“I’m not trying to make a record to be famous or make a record to get a record deal,” he says. “I love making music, and they can kill you, but they can’t eat you. They can’t keep you from making music.”
By Andrew Miller