When singer/songwriter Paul Overstreet had his first run as a hit songwriter, back in the ’80s and early ’90s, country radio was “embracing great songs,” he says in a recent interview.
Alone or with co-writers such as Don Schlitz, Thom Schuyler, Al Gore (not that Al Gore) and Nat Stuckey, Overstreet provided his share of those great songs. He has two Grammys, two CMA Awards and five awards for Songwriter of the Year, from Broadcast Music Inc., to show for it.
Most of his songs explored enduring love. “And when our days are through/I’ll still be loving you,” he vowed in “Same Ole Me,” a George Jones hit. “I’m gonna love you forever and ever/Forever and ever, amen” he promised in Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen.” And in “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love,” for Tanya Tucker, a wife says to a husband, “All the riches of the world could never be enough/I won’t take less than your love.”
Overstreet’s recordings of his songs appear on a CD, A Songwriters’ Project: Volume 1, released nationally on Tuesday (Aug. 22), on his own label, Scarlet Moon. As part of a round of interviews, performances and Internet appearances to promote the project, the Mississippi-born singer will join country.com at 7 p.m. ET tonight (Aug. 23) for an online chat.
Country radio has changed significantly since the days when he was writing hit songs for other artists and enjoying his own success as an artist, with tunes such as “Seein’ My Father in Me” and “Daddy’s Come Around.” “It’s more production and artist-driven than song-driven,” Overstreet contends. “That’s the difference. A great song, every now and then, gets through that filter system, but a lot of ‘em don’t.”
For several years Overstreet has wanted to do A Songwriters’ Project, but he hesitated to undertake it while still obligated to a major record label. “I knew that it would just end up on a shelf somewhere,” says the former RCA recording artist. “They wouldn’t see it as important. I see it as the history of a time period.”
One song on the new album, an Overstreet-Schlitz collaboration, has transcended that time period. The lovely “When You Say Nothing at All” was a chart-topping hit first in 1988 for Keith Whitley. Alison Krauss & Union Station took the same song to No. 3 in 1995. Last year, the song appeared in the movie Notting Hill, performed by Ronan Keating of British pop group Boyzone.
Surprisingly, Overstreet doesn’t remember much about the inspiration for the song. He and Schlitz wrote it, he says, during a time when they would get together every week, on Monday and Tuesday, working at their craft as if they were stock brokers or bank loan officers. “I remember Don and I writing the song and demo-ing it, and I remember Keith Whitley and them putting it on hold, and the first time I heard his version of it, but I don’t really have a recollection of exactly how we came about writing it,” he admits. “It’s just one of those things where you just go to work, you know? You show up for work.”
In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant make a nighttime foray into an English courtyard. Their romance blossoms as the song plays in the background. “That was a pretty exciting time for an old country boy,” Overstreet admits.
Consistent with the current country music climate, Overstreet’s most recent songwriting success is Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” a song not included on A Songwriter’s Project. Early this year, the song peaked at No. 11 on the country chart. Light and humorous on the surface, the song also works on another level, Overstreet contends. “There’s a courtship going on, an old-fashioned romance,” he says. “It’s humorous, but if you dig into relationships, it doesn’t matter what a guy does, if he’s into old sports cars, or this or that, the girl who loves him usually finds that to be very interesting. She will find a way to appreciate whatever he likes.”
Throughout his career, Overstreet, 44, has written about the positive side of love. He was married briefly to Dolly Parton’s sister, Frieda. In 1985 he met makeup artist Julie Overstreet, and they married three months later. They have six children.
“There are so many songs from the other side, where people don’t make it,” he says. “Very few people do make it, but they are out there. For me, it’s important that somebody write about that side of it.”
A devout Christian, Overstreet has another new CD, Living by the Book, out now in Christian bookstores, with plans for a mainstream release in January. The album was recorded initially as a gift to supporters of the ministry of Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.
He also has announced plans to expand his label, Scarlet Moon Records. The company will sign and release albums by artists like Overstreet, former major label artists who have written a significant number of songs for others. Distribution for the label is through Navarre.
On a number of fronts, Overstreet is becoming more active in the music business. Earlier this summer he attended International Country Music Fan Fair for the first time in years. “When the industry changed quite a bit, I lost interest,” he says. “It became so much of a promotional campaign. The big money took over. We had Billy Ray Cyrus and [others], and it turned into a sex market. It was all sex-driven. There weren’t any intellectual properties going on. I wasn’t interested. Doing this record, I found a new reason to talk to people.”