Jim McBride is a CMA Award Winning, Grammy nominated songwriter and former President of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. His writing career spans over 30 years and includes over 100 album cuts, 18 top 40 singles, 10 top ten singles and 6 number ones.
Originally from Huntsville, AL, Jim grew up in a house filled with music from his mother’s radio. He absorbed every note of every country song he heard and began writing songs at an early age. He had been urged to move from Huntsville to Nashville to be part of the country music scene but was reluctant to give up his steady job at the United States Post Office to pursue his dream. Jim told himself that if he ever had a song to reach the top ten, he would move his family to Nashville and in 1981 that is exactly what happened when Conway Twitty’s release of A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn reached #2 on the Billboard charts. That was shortly followed by his first number one song, Johnny Lee’s You Can Bet Your Heart On Me.
In the early nineties, he met a young singer looking for a record deal named Alan Jackson and an instant writing friendship was born. The two collaborated on a number of hit songs including Chasing That Neon Rainbow, Someday and Who Says You Can’t Have It All. Their biggest hit came in 1993 with the smash hit Chattahoochee. The song received the honor of Song of the Year from The Country Music Association, ASCAP, American Songwriter Magazine, British Country Music Association, Canadian Country Music Association as well as Billboard Magazine’s most performed song of the year.
Other notable achievements include his Creator Award from the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions to the musical heritage of his home state as well as an Academy of Country Music Song of the Year nomination for Angels In Waiting by Tammy Cochran.
In all his songs have been recorded by more than 80 major label artist including George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Travis Tritt, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Johnny Paycheck, Randy Travis, Alabama, Trace Adkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Crystal Gayle, Diamond Rio, Lonestar and many others. He has continued to write and have success over the years and has stayed active in the songwriter community, serving several years on the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Board.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve made my living from songwriting for the last 30 years although I’ve written very little in the last 5 years. I wrote my first song when I was 12, took a 7 year break and began fooling around with it again when I was 19. I moved to Nashville and Music Row 14 years later.
Tell us about the first song you wrote and what inspired you to start writing? I wrote my first song about Billy the Kid. I borrowed the melody from “The Ballad of Davey Crockett.” Someone to whom I told this story made mention of the fact that Billy the Kid does not meter to The Davey Crockett melody, to which I replied I, know, but William Bonny does. I took that lyric to a show at the local National Guard Armory and got Stonewall Jackson’s autograph on it. Wish I still had it.
Who are your biggest influences? Family wise my Mom loved country music and gospel music and the radio was on all day and she was always singing. My Dad was a country boy who joined the Navy during the war, spent some time in the Eastern United States and came back loving all the big bands and singers like The Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Harry James, Louie Armstrong, Peggy Lee, and of course Sinatra. My sister is named for Teresa Brewer. He was already a big fan of Bob Wills and Roy Acuff and many of the Opry stars so I got a real mix of music from the two of them. We sang without instruments in the Church of Christ and it made for some great singing but when it came to rocking out the Pentecostal folks had the drop on the rest of us. My biggest musical influence was without a doubt Hank Williams. I was 6 years old when he died and I remember my Mother crying when she heard the news. Later on I learned every word to every Hank song I could find and I’m not talking about just the singles. I have a friend who can recite all the Luke the Drifter lyrics word for word. Very impressive. If you don’t know who Luke the Drifter is, look it up. I honestly have been influenced by every great song I’ve ever heard. The list of writers I admire is way too long to list here. I studied those men and women and their careers with much more interest than I ever studied any subject in school except maybe literature. They made me want to be a songwriter too. I actually fought the idea for a long time and then realized I would never be content unless I gave Nashville and songwriting my best shot.
What was your first major cut and how did it come about? While I was still carrying mail, I wrote a song with Roger called “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn”. Conway cut it and put it on his album. I decided if it was a single I was going to quit the Postal Service and move to Nashville. It was indeed a single that went to number 2 (the first hit for both of us) and I quit the Postal Service the day after Christmas in 1980. Thank you God. I was afraid because it didn’t go number one, Conway would never cut another one of my songs. In fact he cut at least 3 more. What a great artist. I hate pitching songs but I loved going out to Twitty City to play him a song or two. I miss him. These artists today could learn a valuable lesson from him. He was a tremendous writer but he chose to record the best songs he could find from other writers. He had a long career and taking the time to find great songs was one of the reasons. He would also cover anybody. He was fearless.
Have you ever had writers block, and if so, how did you get over it? I’ve had writer’s block a few times. The only time I ever really worried about it was once when it lasted for three months. That was a little worrisome. I’ve found that walking away from trying to write is sometimes the best thing to do. You’re not writing anything anyway dummy, so why not go to the beach or elsewhere and have some fun. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and every baseball player who ever played for a living had batting slumps. That’s all writer’s block is. I found several ways to break out of those dry spells besides taking a break. One was to read some books, no particular genre. Watching old black and white movies is a wonderful way to get ideas. The dialogue has to carry the story for the most part and than means great lines. Don’t forget soap operas but you had better hurry; they won’t be around much longer. Be still and listen a little more during those times. You can also get a divorce but that’s a little extreme and I don’t recommend it.
Where are you currently writing at? I have a publishing company called Melmo Music which I own with my sons Brent and Wes.
What do you think of writers nights, and do you think they benefit the writers? In what ways? I think songwriter nights are great in several ways. There’s networking of course, sizing up your competition, getting inspired to try harder because some dude or chick played a song tonight three time better than anything you ever wrote. Who knows, Paul Worley might drop in, hear your song, love your song and decide give you that long sought after break you’ve heard so much about. I didn’t do a songwriter night the first nine years I was in town. Too shy.
What do you believe is the secret to getting your songs recorded by major artists? Curly Putman told me early on, there is a reason for every song you hear on the radio. It may be the wrong reason but it’s a reason nevertheless. If you are honest with yourself concerning your work, if you write a truly great song or one that is worthy of being recorded for other reasons and can find a way to get it a real listen by those who matter, what else can you do? Do you have a better song than one you heard on the radio today? Probably. So keep trying to figure out how to get your song on the radio and let some other poor writer try to figure out how you did it. Welcome to the music business.
What “tips” do you have for writers when they are going to a meeting with a publisher or someone in the business? Here’s your shot. Don’t waste it. If you don’t play them something that will get their attention you will probably never get that chance again. You gotta be honest about your work. If it’s not really ready to be heard it’s best that it not be heard. Wait until you’re sure it’s ready. There’s two kinds of impressions you know. Listen to what the publishers says, it’s important. Someday they may be kissing up to you to try to keep you on their staff but right now you need to be polite and attentive. I can quote many things verbatim told to me by Curly Putman, Bill Rice, Jerry Foster, Bobby Bare, Judy Harris and Charlie Monk. Some of those conversations were thirty years ago. You know what? Everything they told me was the truth and they were all trying to help me find my way.
Is there anything else you would like to say to aspiring writers that you feel will help them? Now is the time to go for it. If you do it from the heart, if you have God given talent and if you refuse to give up you will eventually get your shot. I hate to say it but just because you want it doesn’t mean you will get it. You may have the desire and fortitude but not the talent needed. Give it your best shot but if it’s just not working, know when to move on to whatever your real purpose is in this life.