I’ve been writing songs since I was knee high to a grasshopper, long before I knew you could make any money at it. I reckon that’s a good thing, because if you are writing songs just for the money, you are likely to starve to death. What you are writing today may not pay you for 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road. It takes some commitment to chase this crazy ass dream and I am committed…or at least I should be. It’s not often that you hear someone say, “Hey, ain’t that the songwriter’s Mercedes sitting out back of the studio?” I did, however once own a Vette…a Chevette! The point is, not many folks will bust their humps for years just for the possibility of a paycheck that may never come. I have spent way more money over the years than I have ever made on this highway through hell. I think we songwriters are a bit touched in the head. So ya’ll remember to pray for me tonight. I guess if money is your only motivator when it comes to writing, recording, and performing, then you would likely be better off flipping burgers, or greeting people down at the Wal*Mart. As much as I like cheeseburgers, I would probably eat up all the profits, and weigh 400 pounds. And the very first time some little snot-nosed punk smarted off to his momma in Wal*Mart, I would be done bent his little ass over my knee. The lawsuits would surely follow, and I would definitely be unemployed, possibly in jail.
So, as you can tell, I needed a way to make a living while supporting my passion for Country Music. About two decades ago I took a job as a deckhand on a towboat. The boat life offers a 28 day-on, and 14 day-off schedule that provided me with a “foolproof” plan. I figured I could use my off days to shop my songs around Nashville, and in a year or two I would be this world famous songwriter. Well, here I am many, many, many moons later and I am still working on the towboats. That’s what I get for thinking with no more than what I have to think with. At least I am a captain now, and believe it or not, I am still writing them songs.
I did work my ass off on my off days for quite awhile trying to get my songs heard by the industry in Nashville, as well as across the country. I would send out 100 letters (the old fashion way, stamp and all) every time I was home asking for permission to submit my songs to various publishers, and record companies. For the most part I would be ignored or my request would be denied. A small percentage would grant me permission to submit 3 or 4 songs, and I would promptly send out a cassette tape (yep-way back when) package complete with a bio, cover letter, and lyric sheet. What I would get in return more times than not was a rejection letter telling me that my songs were not good enough. Some of the rejection letters were very nasty, and aimed at me personally instead of an assessment of my craft. How dare I even think of trying to break into the elite field of songwriting, or an industry of music professionals? I should go back to the farm, and forget about making it in the music business. I spent a fortune sending out thousands of letters, and hundreds of tapes, and all I accomplished was the spinning of the wheels on a sinking ship.
Well, I kept on plugging despite the rejection letters. Besides, from what I could gather music critics aren’t paid so well. I guess I might be a little shitty too, were I walking in their shoes. Here’s some suit, and tie sitting behind a desk who has never written a song, but he’s gonna tell me how it should be done-on key and in three part harmony. His old lady probably runs the show at home, leading him around by the nose, and making him jump to her every whim. Along comes my songwriter package, and now he gets to be the big boss man with the poison pen. These guys are ten feet tall, and bullet proof when they are safely tucked away in their little cubicles. I’ve often wondered how much of the vicious slander that they slung at me over the years would they actually have the nerve to say to my face. However, it doesn’t much matter, most are probably unemployed by now anyway. Some will, some won’t, who cares, who’s next? I tried to stay focused, and positive with the belief that I would one day make it. Where there is no vision, the people perish. I have always been a dreamer who believes with hard work, and dedication that anything is possible. It ain’t the first time I ever tripped over a cloud, and landed on a unicorn somewhere over the damn rainbow. Along about that time in my life, my wife, Miss Neci coined the phrase, Big Dreams In A Small Mind. It was an inside joke that helped keep me from taking the frustration of rejection too seriously. She, and I would laugh it off, and keep on moving. No one was gonna steal my joy.
Hope long waited makes the heart grow sick, and I finally did get sick of the music business, and the Nashville “Machine”. I wasn’t writing, and I literally hated going into my studio to try to create something. What little I did do, sucked. One day I had an epiphany. This art, and craft of songwriting that I have been blessed with is a gift from God Himself, and when I beg someone to listen, or allow them to berate me then I cheapen something that is a part of my soul. I vowed to never submit another song again, and I decided to take a break from it all. During the interim, I studied up, and obtained my captain’s license. For several years I concentrated on my career on the towboats, and was highly successful in that field. I was happy, yet there was something missing.
I truly believe that if I don’t write, and create for a certain amount of time, then my heart will swell and bust. I am equally sure that my head will fill up with too many words, and explode like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. So, the next thing I knew I was putting pen to paper, and writing songs again. Slowly but surely, and with more than a little trepidation, I made my way back into my studio and started recording a few of my newly written works. Much to my relief I found it to be fun, and good therapy for a rattled mind. I remembered why I started writing songs in the first place. It was, and is my passion. However, I was bound by my vow to never submit a song again. I don’t need anyone’s approval for what I create. I do this for myself as a way to express, not as a means to impress, and if someone doesn’t like it, then they can kiss my rebel ass.
One of the songs that I authored during those days of rebirth when I was finally writing things off (writing them off of my mind), was a tune entitled ‘Son Of The Highway’ . I wrote that song in about ten minutes one night at about three in the morning. I was on a towboat, underway and making way in the Alabama canal, approaching the Gulf Shores bridge. The words were finally flowing well again, and I felt good about what I was writing. As soon as I got in port I pulled out my guitar, and started working on some chords for my new tune.
Not long after that Miss Neci wanted to buy me a computer, and an updated cellphone to catch me up with the times. I didn’t much think I needed a laptop as I only got about 3 emails a year, and I could not fathom just what in the hell I would do with such contraptions. It seemed like a waste of money in my opinion, and I said so. Well, you know how women are, once they get something on their minds they are gonna do it no matter what us menfolk say. Before I knew it my ass had done fell off my dinosaur, broke my stone underwear, and became a high-tech redneck complete with the latest in electronics. Thank you Miss Neci! Now I am as lost as a ball in a weed patch! What am I supposed to do with this stuff?
Fortunately, one of my crew members, Mike Sharp is very computer savvy, and he set me up. The next thing I knew, I was on all kinds of social media sites, making posts and burning up gigs like a 40 year old virgin in his momma’s basement. My relief captain at the time, Roy Horrigan, filmed a video on the boat for ‘Son Of The Highway’ and uploaded it to YouTube. I began to share my songs with family, friends, and eventually fans via the internet just for the fun it. It was a distraction from a demanding job, and the reality was that I was having fun, and a lot of it. It was an opportunity for me to share my songs, and get them heard by the people that really matter. After all my music would be just so much noise pollution without the great people who were now starting to listen. I had rededicated myself to what had been my driving force my entire life. I once again had purpose, and it was extremely enjoyable.
At some point, one of my Facebook friends posted a picture of a pair of her pants, and cowgirl boots that she had shed by the bed after a hard night of honky-tonking. The pant legs were still over the tops of the boots, and it looked like she had just been beamed up in some weird alien abduction that left her boots, and pants in a pile on the floor. I was entertained by that picture, and started making comments and replying to other’s comments. The thread of conversation on that photo became very colorful and funny real quick as you might imagine. Little did I know that my Facebook friend was the chief editor of the Nashville Music Guide, and the wife of the owner, and executive editor, Randy Matthews, who also heads TCM Records. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got a message from Kymberly Matthews introducing herself, and stating that she had watched my video ‘Son Of The Highway’, and that she wanted a story in the Nashville Music Guide about me. Wow mom, look at me! I’m Facebook Famous and a Cyberspace Celebrity! I will see YOU at the top of the charts.
The Nashville Music Guide set me up with a writer, Phil Sweetland, who is also a contributor for The New York Times. My story ended up in the December, 2010 issue with Blake Shelton on the cover. My story was titled Louisiana Captain’s Songs Making Waves On Music Row. Once the article was released, I got another surprise. All my friends, family and fans (the important folks) began to post comments under the article. My crew of followers actually out done Blake Shelton on feedback, and Mr. Randy Matthews was stunned to say the least. Here’s a no-name songwriter from South Louisiana that has more social media pull than ‘ole Blake Shelton.
Before long Randy, a.k.a. Rooster and sometimes referred to as Mr. Honky-Tonk, was after me to bring my happy ass to Nashville. And so I went. Mr. Honky-Tonk set me up to perform at a writer’s night with a group of legendary, hit songwriters. Among them was Tommy Barnes who wrote ‘Indian Outlaw’ for Tim McGraw. Tommy also wrote a song for my Idol, Hank Williams, Jr. entitled ‘Man To Man’. I stuck to Tommy like glue, and found him to be a very warm man that loves to honky-tonk. He told me all about writing the song for ‘ole Bocephus, and that we were standing in the very spot he was standing when he saw the performance of ‘Man To Man’ aired live, and on TV, for the first time during the CMA Music Awards. Later on that night Tommy, and I found ourselves drunk as a box full of rocks on a bicycle, staggering around the parking lot, singing every Hank song we could think of like a couple of alley cats howling at the moon. What a night!
Early the next morning, just after noon or two, Mr. Honky-Tonk introduced me to another hero of mine. Tony Stampley, and I met at the Nashville Music Guide’s office for a songwriter session. Tony is the son of the great Joe stampley, and he is also the writer of 14 Hank, Jr. songs. I was intimidated to say the least. Being the honest Joe I am, I told Tony that I was a bit overwhelmed by being in a room with the guy that wrote ‘Whiskey On Ice, Women On Fire’. He said, “Just come up with some lines son, and you will be fine. You like Hank? Well, let’s write one for Hank.” And so we did. We came out of that little room with what I was sure would be a hit.
We had just written ‘The Party’s On’.
My Nashville trip was a blur of activity. It was a major success for a no-name songwriter like myself. Mr. Honky-Tonk set me up with a photo shoot, planned a new article for NMG about me, and tried to keep up with me while we honky-tonked our asses off all over Broadway and Music Row. I now have an extended family in Nashville. All them folks up there in Nashville, and at the Guide are my honky-tonk brothers and sisters. The new article that documented my trip to Nashville appeared in the Nashville Music guide shortly thereafter. Smooth Sailing For Captain Joe Kent During Exciting Nashville Trip. Thanks to the Nashville Music Guide I no longer have to wonder if folks are listening to my songs, and I have a chance to see YOU at the top of the charts without breaking my vow to myself.
Write it down, what you found out…songwriter
Don’t let it all slip away
Speak your mind, all the time…songwriter
Someone is listening today
So write on…songwriter, write on…songwriter, write on…songwriter…
-From the soundtrack of the movie Songwriter-