"If I was a painter who spoke with a brush
I'd use hues and shades and colors and such
I'm just a writer of songs, that's what I do
So what do you tune your heartstrings to."
-- From the song "Heartstrings"
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Songwriting is the lifeblood of popular music, so it was only natural that our recent musical tour of Music City included an introduction to the art and craft of creating tunes.
After a musical lunch one afternoon, our group of half a dozen writers was ushered in a tiny office at legendary Curb Records in the heart of Nashville's Music Row, where we met Billy Montana. Songwriter and recording artist, Mr. Montana has such hits to his credit as Garth Brooks' "More Than a Memory," Sara Evans' "Suds in the Bucket" and his first big hit, the Grammy-nominated "Bring On the Rain," recorded by Jo Dee Messina and released as a single on Sept. 10, 2001. The tragic events of the following day launched the song to the top of the charts.
Other artists who have recorded Mr. Montana's songs since he moved to Nashville from upstate New York in 1989, include Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Blake Shelton, Sister Hazel, Blackhawk, Kenny Rogers, Lee Ann Womack and Pat Green.
Laid back and affable, Mr. Montana began our songwriting session by explaining the creative process that lets him turn out more than a 100 tunes a year. "You can't wait for inspiration," he explained. "It's a job, and I have to work at it every day."
When he asked if we'd come with any song ideas, I offered a notion that had come up in the car ride over when one of our group, Rachel Bailit, remarked that Nashville had "plucked her heartstrings." I asked her, "What key do you tune your heartstrings to?" That was the grain of sand around which our pearl of a song was formed.
In less than two hours, we had explored the concept, developed a theme and banged out several passable verses, two of which Mr. Montana quickly backed on his guitar and recorded on his MacBook. While "Heartstrings" won't be showing up on the Billboard charts any time soon, with a little more versifying, a bit of artistic arrangement and a big name artist recording it, who knows what could happen. Stranger things happen every day in the land of musical dreams.
"If I was a sailor out on the waves
I'd count on the stars to show me the way
But I'm just a writer of songs, that's what I do
So what do you tune your heartstrings to"
-- By Billy Montana
(www.billymontana.com), David Bear, Rachel Bailit,
Jim Harrington, Lee Valentine Smith,
Mary Bergin, et al.