by Clay Mills
Jan 18, 2018
I remember 6 years ago driving with my publisher Kurt Denny from Tennessee to Kentucky, where I was about to climb on the Hootie and the Blowfish tour bus. Kurt had arranged my first major artist co-write with rocker Darius Rucker. I was quiet the entire drive– I get that way when I’m nervous. I was excited, but headed into uncharted territory. I’d never been on a tour bus, never written with a big artist, and my publisher had gone to a lot of trouble to convince folks that I was indeed worthy of this shot.
I believed in my writing, after all I had penned a few big hits, but those were written with friends I knew well and was comfortable writing with. I’d never met Darius Rucker. Would he have a diva attitude? Would he be a great guy? Would he want to hear my country ideas? What if I choke and can’t think of anything to write about? A million questions raced through my mind. You see I had not learned to trust the creative process. I had never trusted it. It always seemed a mystery. Some days I got a great idea from some magical place and other days, nothing! But that was all about to change.
We arrived in somewhere small town Kentucky. I anxiously climbed on the bus and was introduced to Darius Rucker. He shook my hand, cracked joke, and we sat down and pulled out our guitars. He was so down to earth that you’d never have guessed he was a star who sold 22 million records. “Would you like to hear a couple of my songs,” I asked him. “Naw, man, let’s just jump in and write one’” he said. So jump in we did and two hours later we had written our first #1 song together: “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It!”
The Songwriter’s Lesson
I’ve reflected a lot on that afternoon and the huge affect that D (that’s what we call him) has had on my life. From the moment we met, he respected me as a person and as a songwriter. He didn’t even know me yet, but it was obvious he didn’t have to hear any of my songs to decide if our styles went well together. He didn’t have to hear me rattle off song titles and decide if any were right for him as an artist. He didn’t have to talk for two hours getting to know me to decide if we had anything in common or if we liked each other enough to write well together. He simply respected me as a person and knew we would write our best song that day. And we instantly connected through that respect and let the music take us where it wanted to go. Good or bad we were going there and live with the outcome. A guitar chord led to a lyric line that led to a melody that led to a new song.
It was really no more complicated than that. Those two hours of collaboration have changed my writing forever. No more second guessing, no more doubts, no more fears, no more fretting over ideas trying to decide which to write that day, no more thoughts about whether I connect with the person I’m writing with, or if they get me. Now I understand that writing, at its essence, is simply letting go, jumping into the creative river and riding the current.
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