I wrote 400 songs in 40 years. It began as I was turning 18. I began hearing songs that did not exist. That made me a songwriter. There was an old, beat-up guitar at my grandmother’s house. Chords were easy to make, and I quickly understood how they fit together to form patterns. I transposed from one key to another. The problem was, I had no rhythm. Bill Davis would help me with that years later. The neck of that old guitar was terrible. Strings dug into my fingers like barb wire. The pain in my fingertips woke me in the night. Calluses formed. My first songs were about breaking up with girl friends. This is true for most writers. Self-pity is a factor. Most songwriters are introverts as I was. The creative process and schizophrenia are closely related. Creating music which no one else can identify with tends to isolate a person. He finds himself cut off from society, misunderstood and misunderstanding. That is how it was. My mother bought me an electric guitar, a Gibson. I was no guitarist. I banged out chords and screamed, sweat pouring out of me on hot summer days. My first songs were imitations of what was on the radio. Elvis Presley and The Beatles were influences. Coherent efforts were Welcome Mat and Long Live Rock & Roll. The culmination of that period was the gospel songs I wrote after coming out of the Army. My religious phase was crazy. As America rejected the Vietnam War, I began reading books of a spiritual nature. I delved into the writings of Aldous Huxley. One thing led to another, and I fell in with a group of Jesus freaks. We went to a Pentecostal church where the congregation danced in the aisles. We spoke in tongues. I threw away all my possessions except for my clothes, Bible and guitar. I went off the deep end and was admitted to the mental ward at the Veterans Hospital. I was given shock treatments. My gospel songs sprang from the turmoil. Jesus Paid My Debt was the best. I recorded Jesus Paid My Debt with Kymberly 36 years after it was written. No problem because the song sounded 100 years old from the beginning! It reeks of old time religion. Kymberly grew up in church and got her flair for gospel from her mother.
1973-1985 – Comeback
I rose from the ashes. I began going to the Dipperwell, the restaurant where my mother worked. The Dipperwell was run by my mother’s cousin, Thelma Lee. She introduced me to a drummer in a local band. He helped me produce Long Live Rock & Roll in a Louisville studio. I did the vocal. We took it to Nashville and pressed 1000 45s. I mailed them to radio stations, publishers and record companies across the country. Doing this record was like a resurrection. Good songs followed, the strongest of which was Phoenix. Phoenix was based on the bird of Greek mythology, and I was that bird. I soon found myself in Nashville recording with Bill in a makeshift studio in his back yard. I had a 4-channel Teac, and he had a Dokorder. We used the two decks together. Our collaboration led to an album with students from Castle Heights Military Academy where I worked. We called it Rising from the Ashes. My renditions of Leaving and Belle Meade Blues were on it. These were comeback songs. Tim Morrison sang Too Late For Love and Lori Powell did Losing Makes You Stronger. Of course, it was a misadventure. Working with Amy Plummer that summer, Sailing Out came out nice. My first female songs were really male. I simply changed the pronouns. As things played out, I pressed final cuts on Jim Colyer Records. Karen did Somebody To Love, and I backed it with I Am The Greatest. Silence! I realized the futility of putting out records on my own label. It would be years before I recorded again.
1989-1996 – Rewrite
After becoming a parent, I questioned music and my involvement in it. I had a young son to take care of and had squandered my resources. My songs suddenly seemed second generation imitations of what I had heard on radio. Few held up, and even those were mediocre. They reflected my life at a particular level. Entering middle age with a son to raise gave me a different perspective. I retreated to my parents’ basement after my divorce. Nothing sounded good, and I did nothing in music for a long time. The rewrite began unconsciously. I wrote lyrics for Agnetha and Stockholm Lady over old melodies. When I Was A Boy evolved lyrics relevant to my life. I pieced together a jukebox musical, Phoenix Rising, 30 songs strung together with a story around them with characters and dialogue. It was about an American soldier named Frank Logan who had a daughter in Sweden he had never seen. Frank was on the verge of fathering a second child with a young British singer. The plot revealed my infatuation with younger women. I discarded Phoenix Rising, knowing it was a phase and not what I ultimately had to say. The rewrite continued as fragments sprouted verses and bridges.
1997-2004 – Explosion
I had an environmental song called Save The Planet and thought it could be an international hit. When I advertised in a Louisville music paper for a female vocalist, it triggered a chain of events which I could never have predicted. A lady in Indiana recorded my song, but it was no good. Shortly thereafter I was talking to a clerk in a video store. She told me her cousin wanted to be a country singer. I gave my phone number. Three days later Ron Coogle called looking for songs for his daughter Rachel. I went to their house with a song called Satisfied. We took it to Doc Dockery’s basement studio in Indiana and did a demo. Rachel performed my song on a public access show for songwriters. Doc then introduced me to Pam Ingold. Pam recorded 8 songs with me including Half Crazy Half The Time. Suddenly I was back in Nashville writing songs in an apartment on Music Row. This was what I had always wanted anyway! I bought a white Takamine guitar, and songs poured out of me. Many were female. I wrote Always The First Time for Donna Carter and Common Man for the Gentry Cousins. My best songs were coming in my 50s during the Shania Twain era. The girl songs I was writing were different from the early ones. There was female psychology in them. I was writing as if I were a woman. People joked about my “feminine side.” It came with being older. By now women sang the way men used to. They were strong and independent. They liked my tough girl lyrics and rockin’ beat. I recorded with Kenny Royster at Direct Image Studio. I did I Promise with Veda, sub-titling it (Wedding Song). I began to think it a good idea to identify songs with entrenched institutions. I Feel So Country was filled with patriotism and flag-waving. I wrote Merry Christmas using the same melody and sang it over the track. I promote it every December. Good Christmas songs are hard to write. The best ones came before the rock era. I found Music Row impenetrable, signed artists surrounded by managers, attorneys and A&R people who work only with major publishers. It came down to the Internet, and jimcolyer.com was the definitive site.
2009-2020 – Commercial
The time came for me to give up other music and to concentrate on my own. It is time to stop losing money because of music. My catalog will stand on its own and generate income only if it goes commercial. Music is a luxury, not a necessity. It is ego-based. The songwriter’s favorite word is “I.” John Lennon could stretch the word “I” over several seconds. From my own catalog of 200 titles, about 70 of them begin with the word “I.” Music people care chiefly about themselves and their families. They want money. When they get it, they are gone. They are self-oriented. Every generation produces its own music and seldom relates to that of previous generations. Music is like language. It is tied to the sexual mores of the people who produce it. Everybody writes, and writers care about their own songs. It is ego and money! Radio hits are recorded using state-of-the-art technology. Production cannot be overestimated. Listeners respond first and foremost to sound. Songs are intellectual things. A bad song with a good production can be a hit. A good song with a bad production cannot. The ideal situation is to have both a good song and a good production. I publish my catalog using the Internet. If people like something I have, they can use their resources to record it. I am conscientious about the songs I pitch. I am interested in those which are positive, having the power to raise people up.
Colt Records was founded by J.K. Coltrain in 1998. J.K. is from Ashley, Ohio, and works out of Nashville. He has several acts signed to his label. One Night Stand is one of them. ONS recorded my song I Looked Twice! and included it on their CD Thank God For Country Music. There was a release party at the Nashville Palace, March 28, 2009, and Michael and I went. ONS is managed by Jamie Lemmer.
Donna Ray is signed with Colt. She and her producer, Ed Gowens, did Old Time Country Song. It is very traditional and went to #3 on the SoundClick Country and Western chart. Ed means to put it on Donna’s forthcoming album.
Katrina Lynn from Pennsylvania recorded I Feel So Country with David Walker in Lavergne. Katrina is with Triplestrand Productions.
LaDonna Fay in eastern Kentucky recorded I Feel So Country. She has it on her myspace and will follow with All Roads Lead To You.
Terry Lynn in Georgia is with Farm Boy Music Group. She is recording All Road Lead To You.
Myra LeBlanc in Canada said she would record four of mine. I sent her mechanical license forms which I printed from the Harry Fox site but have not heard from her lately.
It is my best demos that are getting recorded by these independent artists. My goal is for one or more of these songs to jump to a major label with or without outside publishing.
I did a CD called God Given Talent with Kymberly Bryson. We recorded it at Direct Image. We started with God Given Talent and went through 10 pre-recorded tracks. We got airplay in Japan and across northern Europe through Dixie McCorkell and Triplestrand Productions.
I first met Kymberly at BuckWild Saloon on Second Avenue in Nashville in January, 2009. I wandered into BuckWild quite by chance, sang a few songs and asked Kymberly for her card. I actually threw it away after leaving BuckWild, thinking nothing could come from the encounter. I was back in BuckWild in March, and Kymberly was again running karaoke. I did not even recall her name, but she gave me her myspace address. As I heard Kymberly sing song after song, it dawned on me that her vocal style fit my writing style. I could hear her singing my songs. She had that blues element. She sang new country hits as well as standards. She did male songs. She sang Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Seger and The Eagles. She got me when she sang Roxette and Ace of Base. She was the most natural singer I ever heard. I told her she was the one I had been looking for, for 30 years. I want to keep working with her. She is the last one.
At 5’1,” Kymberly looks and talks like a little girl. When she sings, she comes off like this powerful diva. Kenny Royster recognized her vocal capacity.
Francis King, an attorney, joined us at a session at Direct Image. I gave him our songs on CD so he could show them to his producer friend. I told him of my plan to press 100 CDs at We Make Tapes.
Francis wants to help me copyright the 10 songs. I may copyright them myself.
Having written 400 songs in 40 years, it behooves me to critique my own catalog. I am 64. From this point, I am content to throw out the songs based on self-pity and those that communicate depressive emotions. I want to leave behind songs which inspire people, especially the young. My Christmas song and handful of gospel songs do that. So do the Shania-type girl songs which tend to encourage women. There was a time when all I wanted was to get a cut or to have a hit. Now I am conscious of the effect my lyrics have on people. We are affected by the movies we see, the books we read and the music we hear.