ROWFAX Column # 18 (March, 2013)


The Producer’s Chair: Allen Shamblin



By James Rea


In acknowledgement of the 21st Annual Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival, The Producer’s Chair presents NSAI Hall of Fame songwriter Allen Shamblin on Thursday, March 28th at Douglas Corner at 6pm. Details @ www.theproducerschair.com


There aren’t too many producers in Nashville who haven’t cut an Allen Shamblin song or two, since his arrival in Music City. In 1992 Shamblin received his first Grammy nomination for Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me, co-written by long-time friend Mike Reid plus to-date he has penned six number 1 hits including He Walked on Water by Randy Travis, Walk On Faith by Mike Reid, In This Life by Colin Raye, We Were In Love by Toby Keith, Don’t Laugh At Me by Mark Wills and Miranda Lambert’s first number 1 The House That Built Me, which he co-wrote with Tom Douglas. THTBM dominated the 2011 award shows by taking home CMA Song Of The Year, ACM Song Of The Year, ASCAP Song Of The Year, Music City News Song Of The Year, NSAI Song Of The Year and Shamblin’s second Grammy nomination. Shamblin’s 13 top 10s and over 150 cuts have further garnered a dozen ASCAP awards and a Dove Award for In God’s Hands Now, by Christian Contemporary group Anointed. In 2009 Shamblin was inducted into the Texas Heritage Music Honor Roll with Willie Nelson, Guy Clark and Michael Martin Murphy and in 2011 he was made a Distinguished Alumni at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. That same year, Shamblin, his body of work and his contributions to the songwriting community were further honored as he was inducted into the NSAI Songwriter’s Hall of Fame with Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Thom Schuyler and John Bettis


Growing up in Huffman, Texas, Allen’s first dream was to become a professional baseball player, but during his junior year in high-school he came down with mononucleosis and started to teach himself to play guitar on his fathers old Gibson LG1. When his baseball dream didn’t work out, Allen attended Sam Houston State University where he majored in Marketing and continued to teach himself guitar and first began to dream of becoming a songwriter.

After graduating from Sam Houston State University, Allen took a job loading airplanes, got his real estate license and started appraising property in Houston and then moved to Austin, Tx. It was in Austin, after hearing Townes Van Zant and Billy Joe Shaver perform at the Soap Creek Saloon that Allen began to pursue songwriting in earnest.


I saw dignity and truth in what they were doing and was profoundly moved by the poetry in their songs. It was during this time that I prayed and asked God to help me be a songwriter because I knew it would take a miracle. I only knew a few basic chords and didn’t read music”.

Allen began coming home from work everyday and writing songs. After six months of writing every night no songs had come together and he remembers praying again. The following week six songs came together.


The morning after he wrote the sixth song, a chance meeting in a cafeteria with Linda Orsak, whose best friend in Nashville was Martha Sharp, Exec. Vice-President of Warner at the time and whose brother-in-law just happened to be legendary fiddle-master Johnny Gimbel served as the first pivotal moment in Allen’s quick journey to songwriting stardom.


I was so fired up that I wrote 4 more songs the following week, then, I had 10 songs. So Linda invited me over to meet Johnny and we played all ten songs, Johnny recorded them and Linda sent them to Martha in Nashville.”


3 months later when Shamblin called Martha to follow up, she told him that she and Barry Beckett were going to be flying to San Antonio to see an Artist they had just signed by the name of Randy Travis and she asked if Allen would perform for them, while they were in town. Allen had never performed in his life, but he said; Sure.


When it came time to play, Martha and Barry weren’t there so Shamblin did his B songs figuring he’d play his best songs later, when they arrived. When he came off stage, he looked down and there was Martha & Barry. They’d been there since his first song but, they liked what they heard and encouraged Allen to move to Nashville.


This experience greatly encouraged Allen but at the same time threw him into a two year writing funk. “I went from a young man trying to express my heart, to a young man trying to impress somebody. I began second guessing everything. This was 1985 and I was 26 years old”.


During this difficult time of writing, Shamblin decided to visit his parents in Charlotte, North Carolina hoping to glean some inspiration.


Pivotal Moment # 2: One day at Kinkos while making copies of lyric sheets in Charlotte, the gentleman next to him turned out to be good friends with Cliff Williamson, a prominent Nashville publisher who was with Multi Media at that time. Cliff wound up flying Allen into Nashville and demoing 4 of his songs, at Don King’s studio and signing those songs to single song contracts.


Pivotal Moment # 3: Almost two years later back in Texas, Allen’s co-worker, Tim Janacek, who was with him the day he met Orsak says; Do you think you’re ever going to move to Nashville? Later, Allen went back to his office only to find a little pink memo from Don King, so he called him. Don said; If you ever decide to move to Nashville, we’ll hook you up with some of our writers. Allen walked into his boss’s office and gave 2 weeks notice, packed up and 2 weeks later, moved to Nashville, on August 11, 1987.


It was one affirmation after another that, this was the path I was supposed to take.

At that point Martha and Cliff were inviting me to send songs but it had been

2 years since I first met Martha and I hadn’t written another song.”


Shortly thereafter, someone recommended that I give my cassette to Ken Levitan, who was an attorney at that time. I did and he said “I might be able to help you”. He took my cassette over to Chuck Flood, Pat Halper and Don Schlitz, who were starting a new publishing company called Hayes Street Music.


I came home from parking cars one day and there was a message on my coda-phone from Don Schlitz saying; I think we’d get along really well. I’d like to write a song.


The first day we got together, it was like going to school. Don and I hit it off and they offered me a publishing deal. After about 6 months there wasn’t a whole lot of activity so I had a long heart-to-heart with Pat Halper and she encouraged me to go back to Texas and re-connect with my roots and come back to Nashville and write by myself. She said; “The kind of songs you’re writing are not the kind of songs we signed you to write. They don’t reflect the songs you brought from Texas.” At that point it had been 3 years since I’d written a song by myself.


My first thought was … O – oh, I’m busted … they’re fixin’ to find out that I don’t know what I’m doin’ and they’re paying me $300 a week. And $300 was a very healthy draw in 1988 and I was extremely grateful to be getting it.


So I went back to Austin and while I’m there I get a call from Don Schlitz. He says “I’m performing on Austin City Limits this Saturday, why don’t you come and hang out”. So I went for the sound check and while I was there in the stands, a man walks up and introduces himself as Mike Reid. He asked me what I did and I told him I was writing with Don’s company but the songs I’d been writing weren’t making me or my publisher very happy and I had pretty much exhausted myself. Mike said “great! You’ve been learning the craft, now go back to Nashville and start writing about something you care about”. After sound check, we went to lunch with Harlan Howard, Mark Wright, Mike Reid and Don Schlitz and I ended up sitting beside Harlan, who starts talkin’ off the top of his head, about writing by yourself. He said: “You young writers need to write more by yourself. Your career will advance 5 years faster if you learn how to write by yourself. You need to keep that muscle strong, so that when you co-write, you can bring something to the table.”


That was Saturday. Sunday I got on a plane and flew back to Nashville and Monday morning, I got up and turned on the TV, I just hit the “on” button and walked away and behind me I heard an early morning televangelist say: There’s somebody out there fixin’ to give up on a dream. He said; don’t give up, the race, it always gets toughest, just b-4 you cross the finish line. I got in my car and about 30 minutes later at Trousdale and Harding the words to this song started coming out of nowhere.


He wore starched white shirts, buttoned at the neck

He’d sit in the shade and watch the chickens peck

And his teeth were gone but what the heck


I hurried to my office and wrote the three lines out neater and I got up and started walkin’ around the room and it hit me, “I thought He Walked On Water” and I remembered my great grandfather, who my mom brought over to the house when I was a kid. The song literally poured out like honey out of a jar, as fast as I could write it. When I played it for Pat and she said: YES, that’s what we’re lookin’ for.

I was so excited. I felt that I’d written my first truly honest song, with some of the craft that I’d learned in Nashville. About 2 weeks later she called me up said; What happened to that song you wrote about your great grandfather, you wanna put it down on tape?


Almo-Irving and Hayes Street Music were my co-publishers, so I went over to Almo and Chris Oglesby set up two Shure microphones and rolled tape and James House was there behind the glass with Chris and I sang one pass, just live and I looked up and said; “Guys, I think I can do it better” and Chris said, “you’re not touchin’ that, come-on out, that’s done”.


Pat Halper took the tape over to Martha Sharp and she played it for Randy Travis and Randy loved it and it became my first number 1, in 1989. His recording of He Walked On Water helped change my life.” Two years later, Allen married Lori, a girl he’d known since high-school and have since raised 3 children.


After writing He Walked On Water, everything changed because my whole approach to writing and my intent changed from looking out there for ideas and chasing things to trying to explore what was in my heart and tellin’ my story or my co-writer’s story and trying to serve the ideas as best we could and not try to force it into a genre or force it into anything.. Then writing became fun again.”


Allen had a great run with Hayes Street Music and Almo-Irving for 5 years and loved his time with Pat Halper, Kim Jones, David Conrad and Mary Dale Frank but in 1993 he and Lori started Built On Rock Music.


I haven’t done it alone, I’ve had the best of the best helping me pitch my catalog along the way like Robin Palmer and Celia Froehlig and Janie West and I’ve had great administrators and great co-writers with great publishers pitching our songs, so I’ve had a whole lot of help.”


I wouldn’t necessarily encourage a writer to do it the way I have because that was just my path. It’s so important to have a really good publisher and I did for 5 years and then I’ve had great independent pluggers for the next 20 years and great people around me. You need a team. BMG is my administrator now and they have a great creative staff. I’m working with Daniel Lee and Kevin Lane over there and I’m real excited.”


The Producer’s Chair: How much plugging do you do yourself?

Allen Shamblin: It’s hard to put a percentage on it because I don’t do a whole lot of that. But I do when a song comes through that I feel will fit a particular artist and I have a relationship. But my main focus is to keep writing and turn it in. Every now and then I’ll bump into somebody at an event and they’ll ask me to send them songs. I love those kind of opportunities.


Do you place any importance on “when” you pitch a song?

I’m usually pretty excited to get it over there. But I defer to my plugger or co-writer’s plugger as to the best timing of a pitch.


Is the producer, head of A&R or the artist your 1st pitch?

I prefer to try and get it to all of the above at the same time if I can and cover all the bases


When you get a “Hold” do you continue to pitch the song for a 2nd or 3rd hold?

I continue to let the song get exposure but, I’m up front about the fact that it’s on hold because this town is built on relationships and trust.


How often are you approached by un-signed writers, who have a great hook or song idea and want you to co-write the song with them?

It’s just too much of a slippery slope when you’re out in public and you don’t know who the person is to say yeah, tell me your idea. I try not to let it get to that point. I help young writers in different ways. I try to be an ear for them and listen to their songs and be a mentor in certain situations.


What is the one thing in a single song publishing contract that is the most over-looked by new writers?

I don’t know if it’s the most over-looked but the most important thing to me with a single song contract, would be to have a reversion clause; especially if it’s early in your career and you don’t have a large catalog, there’s a lot of weight on every song, so you can’t just sign it away forever.


When a new writer is offered a publishing deal, what are the most important questions that he should be asking of the publisher?

In my opinion one of the most important questions a new songwriter can ask an established publisher when considering a "publishing deal" is... how does the publisher see you fitting in to the overall plan and future of their company?... It's very important to know your publishers vision and perception of you as a songwriter. If that vision/perception squares up with your own convictions then you will have a better opportunity to help each other accomplish each others goals. I believe we achieve our dreams by helping other people achieve their dreams.



If a writer gets a pub deal and doesn’t need a draw, are they better to take one anyway, so the publisher is invested?

That’s a great question. In my opinion, if you don’t need it, don’t take it.


What other avenues can songwriters make money at besides film & TV, pin ball machines, play station music and video games?

I think songwriters really need to be aware of live performing. As long as you can’t download a human being, the value of a live performance is going to go up. And I can actually see that going on right now, especially for songwriters.


What is the biggest challenge you face as a writer?

Maintaining the courage and faith it takes to believe that I can write or co-write a song that will make its way from an idea, to the legal pad or laptop, through the system and into the hearts of the listeners and that the listeners will somehow find it meaningful is the biggest challenge I face as a songwriter.


Most producers produce more than one major artist at a time. When you pitch a song, do you specify what artist the song is for, or do you just play the song and leave it to the producer to decide?

I have my dream but at the same time, these great producers are producing so many good artists that, if they love the song and I see they have passion for it, I’m excited for whoever they cut it on.


If an un-signed writer has the interest of an independent artist in his song, what are the most important things that the writer must take into consideration before he allows that artist to cut his song?

Exposure for your song is good so if there’s an independent artist who I’m a fan of, I’d love them to record my song but if it’s an artist that you don’t have passion for, then I would re-think that.




Allen Shamblin Song Bio”


TOP 10 COUNTRY SONGS

HE WALKED ON WATER…….. ………. RANDY TRAVIS……………….. #1

WALK ON FAITH......................………. MIKE REID............................… #1

IN THIS LIFE.............................………. COLLIN RAYE.......................… #1

WE WERE IN LOVE.................………. TOBY KEITH........................…. #1

DON’T LAUGH AT ME..............………. MARK WILLS........................… #1

THE HOUSE THAT BUILT ME………….MIRANDA LAMBERT…………...#1

LIFE’S A DANCE.......................……… JOHN MICHAEL

MONTGOMERY..……………… #2

THINKIN’ PROBLEM.................……… DAVID BALL……………………. #2

WHERE THE BLACKTOP ENDS…….. KEITH URBAN………………….. #3

MAN OF MY WORD..................……… COLLIN RAYE…………………. #4

SIMPLE AS THAT......................……… MIKE REID……………………… #9

LIVE, LAUGH, LOVE…………………… CLAY WALKER………………… #10


TOP 40 POP SONGS

I CAN’T MAKE YOU LOVE ME………. BONNIE RAITT…………………. #9

(GRAMMY NOMINEE)

IN THIS LIFE……………………………. BETTE MIDLER……………….. #32


CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN

IN GOD’S HANDS NOW………………. ANOINTED

(DOVE AWARD WINNER, IN THE

URBAN CONTEMPORARY” CATEGORY)

SAMPLING OF OTHER RECORDED SONGS


WHY………………………………………………… RASCAL FLATTS

IT’S NEVER EASY TO SAY GOOD-BYE.......... WYNONA, KENNY CHESNEY

RODEO ROAD................................................. WILLIE NELSON & ROY ROGERS (DUET)

WHY CAN’T WE............................................... DOLLY PARTON

I ALREADY MISS YOU..................................... PATTY LOVELESS

WHAT A WONDERFUL BEGINNING............... KENNY ROGERS, KATHY MATTEA

EVERY DROP OF WATER............................... RICKY SKAGGS

JERRY JEFF WALKER

AINT NO TIME TO BE AFRAID......................... LITTLE TEXAS

I CAN’T MAKE YOU LOVE ME.......................... “PRINCE”, GEORGE MICHAEL, KENNY ROGERS, NANCY WILSON

LIFE OF THE PARTY........................................ NEIL McCOY

WHAT WOULD LOVE SAY……………………… NEIL McCOY

NO JUDGMENT DAY.....................................… GARY ALLAN

I’M IN LOVE WITH HER.................................... SAWYER BROWN

SWEETWATER................................................. AARON TIPPIN

PRAY FOR ME.................................................. TY HERNDON

HE’S NOT ON HIS KNEES YET........................ CE CE WINAN

YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN…………………. LARI WHITE

DON’T LAUGH AT ME…………………………… PETER, PAUL & MARY

VALLEY OF PAIN………………………………… BONNIE RAITT, RANDY TRAVIS

THIS CHRISTMAS PRAYER……………………. STEVE WARINER

WHO WE ARE……………………………………. KATHY MATTEA, BETH CHAPMAN

MY HEARTS NOT A HOTEL……………………. BROOKS & DUNN

DON’T WATER IT DOWN……………………….. LEE ROY PARNELL