Wednesday, September 1, 2010
So for the best part of 3 days it was like Sonny had dipped us in 20 years of Country music history (the previous 20 years before my arrival into the business from '64-'84). I tried my best to remember as much as I could of what he shared with me. Sonny was a easy going man with such a sweet smile, gentle disposition and big loud laugh that was hard not to get you to laughing even if something wasn't that funny. My pitiful memory and writing abilities will greatly limit the experience but here you go.
He was a Pentecostal minister's son who knew he would always make a living as a songwriter or artist.
His "Creative Writing" teacher asked him (in front of the class) what are you going to do when you flunk out of school (or this class). He said, "I guess I'll be a songwriter". She laughed right in face. This memory came to mind when he was being inducted into the "Songwriters Hall of Fame" (along side the likes of Roy Orbison) :)
Don Gant is the reason it all happened for him. He'd already written all of these songs (3 or 4 years previous) when Don came to Tree, listened to them and told his A&R staff that these songs (that had been on the shelf) were hits! He'd already moved back to Brownwood when after about 3 months got a call from Buddy Killen (who'd told him over the phone) "You gotta get back here! They're cutting your songs faster than I can find 'em!"
It wasn't until he was 50 that his father told him that he was proud of him. It was after someone else had told his dad about all of his accomplishments and after his "Hall of Fame" induction.
He hated scheduled "co-writes". He'd call his friends in the morning: Braddock, Curly, Whitey, etc.. and see if they were going to be headed into town. They'd then just go in, hang out, drink a few beers and sometimes write a hit (he'd ended up writing over a 1000 cuts including over 75+ hits).
Kristofferson would be the janitor who'd go on the "beer runs" while they'd be playing high stakes "ping pong" games over at the Quonset hut with Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin and others . Said he never knew Kris wrote songs until later on.
He 1st met a 16 year old Dolly Parton while playing bass with Dolly's uncle.
Fred Rose was the best songwriter that'd ever been in Nashville. He gave MANY a song and song idea away without ever caring about who got the songwriting credit (much less money).
Here's one I loved! How one day when he and Whitey Shafer and a coupla others were playing golf at Henry Horton. They were "putting out" on #5 green (I think he'd said) when Whitey raises up from the putt and says something like "I don't know what you guys are talking about (over hearing the other's conversation) but all my ex's live in Texas". Paused and then said "now you #@**^%'s don't write that 'cuz that's my idea and I'M gonna write it!". Which he ended up doing, with his wife.
He wrote George Burns only hit "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again".
Sonny just quit and moved back to Brownwood, Texas in '83 or '84 (I think it was).It was WAY early especially given his age. I asked him was that an easy thing to do. He said "Hell yeah, it was easy" and he didn't miss it at all. I don't think that it was the music so much as the pressures of it all that he was glad to leave. That and I think somewhere inside it had to hurt him on some level that he'd never got the deserved credit as an artist, only having a coupla charting singles after quite a few record deals. I could be wrong though.
There's just a million other things that I was trying to remember while me and Jim Lane (far right in the picture above) sat there and talked but I couldn't catch the half of it!
He also sat there and played me some new songs and had just written one with Patty Griffin. Good GOD that guy is still writing some really great stuff!!!!
I can't thank Jim Lane enough for making it happen and Sonny for wanting to talk about it all.
All of this "hangin' out" was in the house (Sonny now owns and is in the background of the pic above) that Willie lived in while the IRS was busy taking it all away. It was a friends house, I think. Cool history, huh? I'm off to explore a little Fredericksburg, TX. S