Songwriting

8 Things I Learned About Life From Legendary Songwriter Kim Williams

by Marty Dodson
Nov 1, 2017

Last week, I posted ten things I learned from my mentor and friend, songwriter Kim Williams, who passed away. Most of that list was about songwriting. I was thinking about all of the LIFE lessons I learned from him as well. Some of them overlap, but I thought I’d share some of those life lessons here:

Sometimes you have to bite back.

Kim was a funny man. He grew up in a rough and rowdy era in a rough and rowdy area. He told the story about being out drinking with some friends when they were in their early twenties. They decided to go visit a friend in the wee hours of the night but forgot that the friend had 3 very mean rottweilers. Kim and his not so sober friends sneaked into the fenced yard and were immediately met by the angry dogs going crazy. One of the friends wound up receiving an ugly bite on the backside before he could get out of the fence. He was bleeding and they were discussing taking him to the hospital.

He told them he had to finish some business. He went back in the fence, chased down the dog that bit him and bit the dog back.

After that, any time they went back to that house, the dogs would go run and hide instead of attacking. I had grown up being taught that you shouldn’t make waves or retaliate if someone treated you poorly. That plan didn’t always serve me well. I learned from Kim’s story that sometimes, you have to stand up for yourself and “bite back”.

You are not defined by the way you look on the outside.

On several occasions, Kim joked around with artists who tended to be very good looking people that “Pretty ain’t everything”. Whether you were beautiful or scarred, Kim encouraged people to shine from the inside instead of using their good looks to navigate the world or from shrinking away from what they perceived to be an unattractive exterior.

Outwork The Competition.

Kim used to always say, “They may be able to out-write me, but they won’t out-work me”. He worked relentlessly in pursuit of his goals. And always with a smile on his face. So, he practiced what he preached.

Help your brother.

At a time when Kim was the hottest writer in town, a struggling young artist came in and told us that he was stuck in his publishing deal. The publisher was “refusing” every song he turned in just so he wouldn’t meet his quota and would still be under contract if and when his record took off. It was killing him financially. Kim said “How many songs do you need?” The artist told him he needed three songs. Well, he went over to his file cabinet, took out three sets of lyrics and work tapes and said “Put your name on them and turn these in. Have them call me if they don’t like them.”

The artist turned in the songs, got out of his deal and moved on to something better. Kim knew the publisher wasn’t about to call the hottest writer in town and tell him that his songs weren’t good enough. Checkmate.

Songwriter Kim William’s answer was always “Write More”

Any time the opportunity arose, Kim would throw out the idea that “writing more’ is the answer to whatever ails you. Therefore, it transferred over to his life in general. The principle is this: If you want to get better at anything, do more of it. Volume leads to success.

Love what you do or find something else to do.

Songwriter Kim Williams lived and breathed songs. I can’t count the times he would jump out of his chair and say “Boys, we’ve got a hold of a good one”. He loved getting a great song idea going and seeing it through to completion. One time, I wrote all day and then drove 5 hours to his cabin in East Tennessee. When I arrived around 1 AM, he met me at the door and said, “I’m about to write all over myself! Let’s go write one!!!”. It was hard to say “no” to that. So, we wrote until the sun came up, slept for a few hours and wrote some more.

My first hit, “While You Loved Me” by Rascal Flatts came from that trip. Kim’s love for writing was infectious and lives on in me today. therefore, The day I don’t love it is the day I will quit!

If you can’t laugh at yourself, someone else will.

Kim was always the first to lighten the mood if his scars made any conversation awkward. Countless times, he would make jokes about the way he looked. He would also point out BAD songs he had written any time someone started acting starstruck around him. Kim told the story of being in line at a store one day when he overheard two teenage guys making fun of the way he looked. He turned to them and said “I was in a torch fight. You should see the guy who lost.” and went back to whatever he was doing.

Kim always encouraged us not to take ourselves too seriously. And he practiced what he preached. He wasn’t just the legendary songwriter Kim Williams, he was our teacher.

Fly the kite.

I saved this one for last because it’s very emotional for me to talk about. After his daughter, Mandy, went away to college, Kim told me that he had gone in her room to find something that he thought had been left in her closet. In the back of the closet, he found a kite that he had bought Mandy when she was much younger. It was still in the package. He told me that he broke down. When he bought that kite, he imagined that he and Mandy would make some great memories taking it to the park and flying it. As it turned out, life got in the way and they never flew it at all. He wrote an amazing song called “The Kite We Never Flew”. That story reminded me time and time again to enjoy my children while they were young.

I didn’t fly all of the kites either, but I made many more memories with them than I would have if Kim had not shared this story with me. Whether it’s children or dreams. Fly the kite. Don’t leave regrets in the back of the closet to find later.

Kim was big on what he called “Hillbilly Wisdom”, but I think maybe he sold himself short. He was a wise man with a tender heart that just happened to be wrapped in scars. RIP Kim.

~Marty

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson

Marty Dodson is a multi-hit songwriter, co-founder of SongTown, and co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Cowriting and Song Building: Mastering Lyric Writing

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