Nashville Songwriter Jane Bach Talks About Her Hit Songs and Much More
Imagine if you will that you move from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee and you become a prolific Country music songwriter. Now imagine within your first six months of writing songs in Music City one of the biggest stars in the history of Country Music records a song that you wrote. That is how the songwriting career of Jane Bach began and since that time she has written hit songs for people such as, Reba McEntire, the late Ray Price and Jo Dee Messina, to name but a few.
“I obviously was not raised on Country music, but in the late seventies, I guess it was during the urban cowboy days when Country music became a little bit more Popish in its orientation and I was listening to the radio and I thought I can do that. I had been writing songs since I was a child and I knew I could do that. One thing led to another and I went to a NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) workshop in New York. I went to a few of those and then I decided that I needed to go down to Nashville to check it out. I went down for a NSAI weekend and the rest just kind of followed. I moved to Nashville in 1982 and I just started writing. I knew how to write, but I thought the best thing for me to do was to learn the craft. I needed to learn how to write commercially and I was very fortunate to meet some wonderful people. My dearest and oldest friend is Becky Hobbs. Becky and I began writing together and it just kind of worked from there.
I got a publishing deal very quickly within three months after moving here. Three months after that I got my first cut and it was by Tammy Wynette. It was a song called “After Dark,” and it was just one of those where do I go from here moments? It was wonderful and it was great. It was a process and not only is the writing a process, but the building of a career is a process as well. It has been a wonderful journey and I have been very, very fortunate and the key to it is to do it constantly and keep doing it almost to the exclusion of everything else. It can be difficult at times. That’s it. It is one hundred and fifty percent effort and one hundred and fifty percent focus on what you are doing,” says Jane Bach.
With the recording of the song by Tammy Wynette, so soon after Jane Bach arrived in Nashville one wonders if she might have been tempted to think that this was easier than she thought it was going to be.
“It is funny, because it is the first Country song that I ever wrote. When I got the phone call I happened to be at the publishing company that I was signed to and at the moment Jerry Crutchfield who was producing that album called to tell them that he had recorded the song. (In addition to Wynette, other artists that Crutchfield produced included, Anne Murray, Charlie Pride, Tanya Tucker, Buck Owens, Brenda Lee, Glen Campbell) My publisher said you know what, she is standing right here, let me put her on and he said, I just cut your song with Tammy Wynette. When I hung up the phone I thought wow this is going to be piece of cake. This is really easy. It wasn’t a piece of cake. It was a fluke (she laughs). That’s what it was. It was being in the right place at the right time, which is a lot of it anyway. I realized very early that it wasn’t that easy. It is a lot of hard work, a lot of grit, a lot of gritting your teeth, a lot of thickening your skin and more than anything else knowing how to take a rejection. The moments of joy definitely outweigh the moments of disappointment. My attitude has always been, hey you know what, I am gong to do this, whether you think my songs are great or not. I learned along the way it has nothing to do with that, as a professional writer, it has nothing to do with whether your songs are great, it has to do with whether they need them and whether they fit into their plan and whatever that plan may be. Sometimes, they don’t know what the plan is until they hear it. You just say, I’ve got more, you don’t like this song, here listen to this one. I have been fortunate and I have kept a really positive attitude about it. I just take joy in the fact that I am doing what I love to do and hopefully earning a living at it,” she says.
Since her arrival in Nashville in 1982 a lot has changed concerning the city’s music scene. It has become more diversified with more musical flavors being reflected both in the the creative and production aspects and with Nashville now being considered as one of America’s top cities, the influx of new people have also brought with them an appetite for a wider variety of music. Has that changed Jane Bach’s approach to songwriting?
“It has to. If you are writing commerically, in order to be viable as a writer you have to have something that they are looking for and you have to keep up with the trends. I always try even if I am writing something that I consider trendy, I always feel I have to be true to who I am as a writer. I find that is the way you have honesty in your songs regardless of what the genre is. I don’t care if it is Hip-Hop, if it is Urban, Rap, it doesn’t matter to me, as long as you are honest in your approach. Your songs will be honest and that is the most important thing. We have to grow.
The city of Nashville has grown exponentially and we are now a major cosmopolitan force in the United States. The bottom line is the music, but music is not our number one industry. When it comes to visible growth, it is because of the music scene. It is because of the TV show Nashville, which has done amazing things for this town. In the beginning when I first moved here from Nashville, my friends from New York were saying, you are going where? I said Nashville and they said, isn’t that in Tennessee? I said, yes. You know what they had running water and electricity and the view of the South at the time is not what it is now. Nashville was viewed as being this backwoods, redneck little hub and now people realize none of that is true. Nashville is a very cosmoplitan, very cultured city. We have a phenomenal symhony and we have a beautiful symphony hall that is just amazing. We have a performing arts center that can rival any performing arts center. We have a museum that is remarkable. I go to museums all over the world and we have an amazing museum and art museum. Not only has the music changed, but the city has changed and because the city has changed that affects the way you approach your music as well. There was a tremendous influx of people from all over, which is also going to affect the way that we write and the way that music is presented,” explains Bach.
Our conversation drifts back to the early days of Jane Bach’s songwriting career.
Bach says, “Once you get your first cut it definitely opens you up to more opportunities. People listen to your songs differently and they look at you differently. Truthfully, it isn’t always about the songs, sometimes it’s about the writer and like anything else in life it’s about who you know. It (“After Dark”) definitely opened up doors for me. I started getting songs cut right after that by artists of the day, T.G. Sheppard, Jim Glaser, Ray Price and then Reba cut a song of mine called “If You Only Knew,” which was on her Whoever Is In New England album and that was before “The Last One To Know.” That opened Reba and her people up to listening more to what I had to offer them.
There was a young woman named Karen Brooks who was signed to Warner Bros. back in those days and she was the one who cut “The Last One To Know,” first. It was going to be a single. It was going to be one of those, oh this is going to be my first big song and I am so excited. She did a really good rendition of it and not at all like Reba ultimately did. It was a little bit more Pop. They put a single out of hers from the album and then they dropped the album. I was so disappointed. I wrote the song with a friend of mine, Matraca Berg. We were so disappointed we thought well there goes the song. It was about a year after that Reba cut “The Last One To Know,” and once you have a number one record it just opens up a lot of doors for you. It was great.”
Bach talks about the story behind the song, “The Last One To Know,” “It wasn’t that way at all and truthfully I have said this many times since, you are never the last one to know, you are always the first one to know, you are just always the last one to admit it. Gee everyone else knew except me, no, no, no, you knew. Of course you knew. You lived in denial. It isn’t exactly the story, it is basically the story. I call it poetic license when I am inspired to write something from my own experience and “The Last One To Know,” is completely from my own experience, but it wasn’t exactly that way.”
With a songwriting career that is now in its 33 rd year,
has songwriting just become routine to Jane Bach?
“For me on a personal level, songwriting is always inspired, even when I have writing appointments, which I do just about every day. Even when you sit down to co-write with someone, whatever it is that you sit down to write about, whether it is their idea or your idea, you have to dig deep down into that little inspirational well to find out what is going to motivate you in that particular song. Sometimes I get inspired by something that I hear or that I see. I will be standing in line at the market and I will overhear a conversation and it inspires me to write a song. I can be inspired to sit down by myself and to write something. It happened last night when I sat down at the piano and I just started writing music. I believe it is divinely granted to all of us. It just came to me and I wanted to develop. When you are in a business, you have to approach it like a business. You have to have multiple approaches to what you do. You have to be open to that and one of those approaches is making a writing appointment and sitting down and writing. If you have an appointment at ten o’clock, you show up at ten o’clock and (you are) prepared to write. You just write until you have another appointment or you have run out of ideas for that day or you have run out of strength for that day. I do have different approaches, because like anything else in life it depends on where you are going with it and what you are doing with it. You just have to be open to it. You can’t always wait for inspiration,” she says.
Jane Bach credits the environment she was in during the early part of her career for helping to shape her songwriting skills.
“When I first started in this business I was with a company called Merit Music and it was such a training ground for me. I was so blessed to be among some of the greatest writers, not only from Nashville, but some writers from L.A., (including) a young man named Tommie Jans, who passed away way too young and who wrote a song called “Lovin’ Arms,” by Dobie Gray and “My Mother’s Eyes,” for Bette Midler. There was also Jim Hurt, who is not with us anymore and who wrote “Love In The First Degree.” He was a great writer. These are the people I was surrounded by and they taught me number one how to be a professional songwriter and how to let go of “Janey you can’t wait for for inspiration.” You don’t have time to write for inspiration. This is a business bottom line and it is not a hobby.
Something that I also tell students is you always want to write up. That doesn’t mean they are better than you are, they are just more experienced than you are. You always want to write with people. You need to write with people at your level, so you can grow together, but you can write with somebody at your level who may be stronger lyrically than you are or stronger musically than you are. It is like anything else in life, you are constantly learning. The best way to learn is from the people that you share that creative process with. Even when I teach I learn from my students. It is just constantly learning and constantly growing and you have to be open to that. You also have to be open to the fact that if you are doing it as a business you want to earn a living at it and you have to take it seriously enough to even make appointments with yourself. I do. I will make writing appointments with me and nothing is going to come in the way of that. I will say, oh no I can’t do that, because I had this time setup for me to write with me. That can very easily fall by the wayside. (That can be) especially true for me, as I have gotten older and I have been doing it for as long as I have been doing it. That initial spark that youthful enthusiasim as we go along, sort of wanes. I still have the enthusiasim for writing, but I don’t get up at two in the morning to write anymore and I used to (she laughs). I need my sleep more now,” she says.
The casual music fan often does not realize that the solo artist or band peforming a song or that turned a tune into a hit, did not write the song. Songwriters often live in a world of anonymity and we wondered if that ever was difficult to cope with for Jane Bach.
“No. While I am very outgoing and very social and sociable, I tend to be much more comfortable when I am by myself, writing and sitting at my piano or with my guitar in my writer’s room and my music room at home. I am much more comfortable with that therefore I am much more comfortable being anonymous. I never wanted to be a performer, so I always knew if my songs were going to get out there other people were going to have to sing them. Honestly, I used to also assume that people who performed songs wrote them. That’s why when I first started thinking even remotely about it…it was John Denver. I was a huge John Denver fan back in the seventies and I can remember I heard somebodey else cover one of his songs and I thought, they’re doing that song and they didn’t write it. I went and started to actually look at the album liner notes and at the credits to see who wrote the songs. I realized for the most part, but not people like Paul Simon or Neil Diamond, because they were great writers, but for the most part at the time (other artists) were doing other people’s songs. I got the bug in the late seventies and I thought, well I can do that. I can do it and I don’t have to worry about getting up on stage and worry about making records, I can have other people perform it. That hasn’t changed over the years. The main way that anybody earned a living was through publishing and the only way that you received any money for the song was if you wrote it or you were the publisher of it. A lot of the artists who were not writers or who had not thought of themselves as writers realized that if they really wanted to earn a living as the economy started changing, they had to write their own songs and these were not singer songwriters. These were not the Mary Chapin Carpenters and they were not the Neil Diamonds or the John Denvers. These were the remarkable artists who sang everybody else’s songs and they now realized they had better start singing their own. It has changed and mostly now you will find the artists are singing songs that they have a part in and you will see their name on the credits and they were there participating in the writing of the songs. Some of them are great writers and some of them participate in writing the songs and it helps to make (the songs) their own and that is huge. It is better for them, because they earn royalties. It is better for the co-writers, people like me, because it certainly doesn’t guarantee getting you on a project, but it gives you a leg up on getting on a project if you wrote the song with the artist. It just is what it is. As far as anonymity is concerned I still crave anonymity. I love doing interviews, I love doing writers rounds, I love teaching and I love having my songs cut and having them heard. That being said, I want to go home and be able to be with my husband, my dog and my kids when they come to visit and to just be anonymous. I have friends who are artists. A good friend of mine is one of the stars of the TV show Nashville and I see what that kind of life is like and for me it is not something that I ever wanted and I am grateful that I don’t have that, because that’s just not something that I would ever be comfortable with,” she says.
In 1987, the late Ray Price released the album Just Enough Love and the title song was written by Matraca Berg and Jane Bach. It is one of her career highlights.
Bach recalls, “When we wrote the song, we actually wrote it hoping the Judds would cut it (she laughs). As we were writing it we were catering it towards them. When my publisher called to tell me that Ray Price had cut it, I was so blown away number one that a guy cut it and number two that the Judds didn’t cut it (she laughs) and then I found out that they never even heard it. It was never even pitched to them (she is still laughing). I think what happened is Ray Pennington who was producing Ray Price had somehow heard the song and it wasn’t actually pitched to him. Someone just said, oh ya’ I heard some demos and you have to hear this one and they played for him “Just Enough Love.” He literally went into the studio the next day or two and he cut it with Ray. Ray Price loved the song. I had the opportunity to meet him one time and I was just thrown, to have your song recorded by a legend like Ray Price or Tammy Wynette, I mean these are moments in a career that are just so meaningful and definite high points. They beat out walking the red carpet at anytime. It is a moment that touches me as a writer that someone of that caliber would relate to something that I had to say musically or lyrically. It was remarkable for me and I was very, very blessed that he did that. We were all blessed to have had him as an artist and to share his talent with us. To be a part of that is remarkable for me.”
Jane Bach has hosted and participated in writers rounds and songwriting workshops across America, often with her good friend Sandra Piller. She talks about why they remain important to her at this point in her life.
“When I first moved here (Nashville) we didn’t have writers rounds. The Bluebird (Café) opened up the year that I moved here. I credit Amy Kurland who opened up the Bluebird, as most people do, with creating the writers rounds. It’s an opportunity, and this is why I feel it is important. It is an opportunity to hear the song the way that it was written by the songwriter. You really get a sense of where that song is coming from when the person who wrote it sings it. Generally, we don’t perform it the way that you are used to hearing it, if it is a song that has been recorded or it has been a hit. With news songs that are being heard for the first time, it can be a wonderful way to gauge a reaction from an audience. They’ve never heard it and they don’t know what is going on in my head. They don’t hear the bass and they don’t hear the drums. They don’t hear if I can hear a mandolin or a fiddle or a French horn for all they know. All that they hear is me and the guitar or me and the piano.
It is just a wonderful way to be able to express what it is that you were thinking when you wrote the song and what it is that you meant when you wrote the song. That’s not always the way that the artist interprets it for better or for worse, although with most of my cuts I have been really, really, lucky. I have been so fortunate and they have been wonderful interpretations of my music and of my words. It always makes me feel good when that happens.
I did a writers round outside of America, in Sydney, Australia. It is a bizarre stretch from Nashville to Sydney, but I worked with a young girl who was a very, very big Pop star over there and I remember her when she was very young. She became a star there when she was thirteen. I met her when she was sixteen and we became close. She is like my daughter. When she got married one and one-half years ago, we went over for the wedding and we decided to make a two week trip out of it. I ended up writing with some writers over there and performing. It was wonderful.
I have worked with a number of artists from Ireland and England and Canadian of course, but from the European side, they love Country music. Their perception of Country music is somewhere in between where Country Music was at the beginning of Country music and where it is now. I am hoping that Country music gets a little more organic and gets a little more back to where we were. It has gotten really Pop and in some instances Pop Rock, which I love. I absolutely adore it and I write it myself, but I love that more organic Country feel. There is just something that really touches me. It is more lyrically oriented and they love it in Europe and they love it in Australia.
Right now I write with a young man who is a Danish singer-songwriter and he travels back and forth between Denmark, Nashville and L.A. and his sense of Country Music is a little bit more Pop. To me if it has that lyrical predominance then it is going to be more Country oriented and more storytelling than what we consider Pop music.
I have this feeling, I just really have this feeling that (rootsie feel) is where we are headed as a market. I think we are headed towards more Roots and more Americana style of music, which I love and of course that has its basis to me in a more Folk approach to music and I was raised on Folk music.
To keep up with the latest news concerning Jane Bach,
check out her website.
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Bottom Photo: Jane Bach on the right
Bottom Photo: Jane Bach on the right
Interview by Joe Montague, Published June 22, 2014 2014, All photos property of Jane Bach and are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved
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Riveting Riffs Magazine © All
All itext protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.