Georgia’s Biggest Songwriters Cole Swindwll, Hillary Lindsey, Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip, Dallas Davidson and More Take Country Music Fans Inside the Writing Room for the Stories Behind Over 300 No. 1 Hits
A new book in stores now, “NASHVILLE SONGWRITER II: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits” (Baker & Taylor), puts the spotlight on some of the biggest stars and songwriters to come out of Georgia, including country sensation Cole Swindell (“Middle of a Memory,” “You Should Be Here,” “Chillin’ It,”), the famed Peach Pickers: Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip (writers of a generation of hits such as “All About Tonight” by Blake Shelton, “Huntin’, Fishin’, Lovin’ Every Day” by Luke Bryan, “Put a Girl In It” by Brooks & Dunn), the legendary Hillary Lindsey (“Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood, “Girl Crush” by Little Big Town, “Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban, “Stronger” by Sara Evans) and more. To order “NASHVILLE SONGWRITER II: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits,” click HERE.
The book features the stories behind over 300 No. 1 hits, including chart-toppers by Georgia-natives Luke Bryan (“Most People Are Good,” “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” “Drunk On You,” “Fast,” “I See You,” “Kick the Dust Up”), Florida Georgia Line (“This is How We Roll,” “Dirt,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Sippin’ On Fire,” “Confessions”), Jason Aldean (“Burnin’ It Down,” “Amarillo Sky,” “Just Gettin’ Started,” “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” “Crazy Town”), Sam Hunt (“Body Like a Back Road,” “Leave the Night On,” “House Party,” “Break Up in a Small Town” ), Thomas Rhett (“Life Changes,” “Get Me Some of That,” “T-Shirt,” “It Goes Like This,” “Die a Happy Man”) and many others.
The release marks award-winning, Nashville-based music biographer Jake Brown’s 45th published book and the second in the critically-acclaimed series. Throughout the 35 exclusive, chapter-length interviews, country music fans are taken quite literally inside the writing room for the true stories behind the writing of the greatest hits hits by a collective roster of the biggest multi-platinum country superstars.
Exclusive Excerpts from Several of the Songwriters Profiled in the Book:
“This is How We Roll” – Florida Georgia Line
Cole Swindell: At that point, I just had a publishing deal and didn’t have a record deal. I was just out writing with Luke and Florida Georgia Line here and there. I was on their Dirt Road Diary tour. It was the second night of that weekend run of shows, and I was sitting in the back of the bus with BK. It was just him and I at the time, and we were getting ready to write, waiting on Tyler. So it was just going to be us three, and BK said “Man, I heard something Luke was talking about last night at the show, about being out in the country, out where nobody can bother you and you could shoot bullets at the moon if you wanted. I just thought that was such a cool thought,” and that’s how the whole song started, was from something Luke said on stage the night before.
I remember Luke saying that. It was part of the show, but that’s the funny thing about how songwriting works. So we started writing around that, and had a melody kind of, and BK threw out the title “This is How We Roll” and wanted to see what we could come up with. He was singing the “This is how we roll,” the first line of the chorus, but that’s about all we had melody-wise. Then Tyler came in and he loved it, so we started writing the song, and we got into the first verse, and out of nowhere, Tyler said, “Man, I wonder if Luke would like this?” So I happened to send a text from the bus and said, “Hey, the guys are asking, you want to come check out what we’re working on?” So sure enough, he came over, and we had just started it, so he listened to what we had and was like “I’m in!”
We were in that little back lounge, all four of us with a computer and a couple guitars and went to work on it. A couple hours later, we were done, and I remember listening to the work tape we recorded just so you don’t forget how things went. Those aren’t the most glorious sounding things, but just the memories on there, of Luke saying at the end of it, “This is going to be a hit!” We couldn’t get it out of our heads!
“Jesus Take the Wheel” – Carrie Underwood
Hillary Lindsey: There was so much freedom in writing that song because back then, we were all so willing to just try anything, and everybody supported everybody in such a beautiful way that I still say “Dare to suck, when you have an idea, just go for it.” Whether it’s a line you think is stupid, say it out loud, or if it’s a melody that you think might be absolutely ridiculous, sing it.
The three of us have all had different people come up and say something to us, or random letters that will show up in the mail from complete strangers about how it changed their lives or helped them through a really hard time. One that is kind of in my head right now was actually a man in the business whose wife had gone through a very, very serious, scary operation when she was pregnant, where they had to deliver the baby very early on because they had to perform this surgery on her. He told me this story at the ASCAP Awards the year “Jesus Take the Wheel” won Song of the Year when Brett, Gordie and I performed it at the Ryman, and afterward, he grabbed me by the hand and just said, “I just want to tell you how much this song means to me and how it’s helped me get through a very, very difficult time in my life,” and he was tearing up and it was unbelievable.
“Dirt” – Florida Georgia Line
Chris Tompkins: With “Dirt,” what I took into Rodney with the verse, “You get your hands in it, you plant your roots in it, you spin your tires on it,” I basically had a few of those different things, the “Corn through Whiskey, Bonfires on it,” and I knew the song was called “Dirt” but that’s all I knew.
Rodney Clawson: Chris came in and said, “You’re gonna think I’m dumb, but I want to write a song called “Dirt.” You’re the only guy I would ever throw this idea out to, because anybody else would just laugh at me, but I think you’ll get it.” So I asked him, “Well, what have you got on it?”, and he had a couple of the lines from the first verse, “You get your hands in it, you plant your roots in it,” and “You write her name on it, you spin your tires on it,” and I was immediately in because I was out on a tractor at 12-years-old growing up on a farm in a small town like that, so I knew where he was headed.
Chris Tompkins: If I get an idea, I can scratch it out, but I’m not disciplined enough to stay with it too long, and now that I’ve had hits, I’m even worse at that because I’ve seen what happens to ideas. You can have all these lyrics, but most the time it gets picked apart anyway. So I’ve found it to be better to just scratch it out, and then see what happens in the writing room. So Rodney jumped right on it, and it was a weird scenario because it doesn’t usually happen where you have a cool idea that you feel cool about and you get a plan of who you want to write it with, and exactly what you want to happen happens, and “Dirt” is a good example of that. Rodney’s a farmer, so I felt like he would kind of get the whole hometown dirt kind of thing, I knew he would deeply understand what I was trying to do.
Rodney Clawson: The trick with that was figuring out a way to wrap it at the end of the chorus, and I remembered when we kind of put the girl in there, and for me, it was trying to make it a little bit more of a serious song, like this guy’s got this girl he wants to marry, and when you want to marry somebody, you want to buy them a house and have kids. That’s the whole American dream: live on a little piece of land, own a house, have kids with your wife, and I don’t know, but “10% down, white picket fence house on this piece of dirt” just fell out of my mouth, and Chris turned around and looked at me, and at first I said “That’s kind of weird,” and his response was “No, I think that might be it!”
It wrapped up that chorus, that girl with the summertime smile and you love her so much so you want to build that house on the dirt to live with her in and raise a family. It just all ended up saying so much in that one little space. That was a really cool song to write, because I was just going back and anything from our childhood growing up you could think about that involved dirt. So for instance, “Drift a cloud back behind county roads that you run up,” that’s back where I lived, we had colegio dirt roads, which is kind of a white rock they crush that they lay instead of gravel, so we don’t have gravel roads, we have colegio dirt roads that turns into a really white hard almost concrete on top of the roads. When it gets dry out there and is so flat, table-top flat, you can see for 20 miles, and when you’re out on a farm or a ranch and somebody’s coming, from the distance, you can see a dust cloud like five miles away. So just images like that we were able to pull from and put in the song, it was a really fulfilling song for me to write.
“Most People Are Good” – Luke Bryan
Josh Kear: That was a song I needed…The song is really just a laundry list of our most basic beliefs hopefully mixed with a bit of humor and deep honesty about where the three of us were that day. The hardest part was really trying to figure out the most common ground between the three of us and whether we felt those ideas represented something that a lot of people could also agree with. So much of the country seemed to be divided at the time, we were looking for something that would serve the opposite purpose.
“Body Like a Back Road” – Sam Hunt
Shane McAnally: The writing of that song went on for a really long time. My memory of it the first time is being over at Zach Crowell’s place. He lived in East Nashville at the time, and Sam came in and we just talked and threw around things. He told us about this title, “Body Like a Back Road,” and we all lit up! Just the title, so we started Googling first to make sure it hadn’t been recorded already because it sounded like it would have been, and it wasn’t, so we proceeded to write every cliché of comparing a girl to a road that we could possibly think of.”
ABOUT JAKE BROWN:
Award-winning music biographer Jake Brown has collaborated on authorized books with artists and bands across the stylistic spectrum, including Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees HEART (Ann & Nancy Wilson), late, great country music legends Merle Haggard and Freddy Powers, living guitar legend Joe Satriani, late metal pioneers Lemmy Kilmister/Motorhead, and late Hip Hop legend Tupac Shakur (with Afeni Shakur/the estate) and country rap pioneer BIG SMO on his upcoming memoir among many others since 2001.