Usually, the high point of a No. 1 party for a songwriter is when the artist who recorded the hit shows up to slap a few backs and grin for the cameras. Since the three members of Rascal Flatts were on tour, no one from the group showed Wednesday (July 7) at SESAC’s Nashville headquarters to help Arlos Smith celebrate his chart-topping composition, “Mayberry.” But no one complained. Smith was a show in himself.
Making the event more special was the fact that Smith was the sole writer of the hit, a rarity in country music these days. He is a 10-year member of SESAC, the smallest of the nation’s three performance rights societies. “Mayberry,” a dreamy ditty about the joys of small-town life, scored a No. 1 in both Billboard and Radio & Records.
Looking out at an overflow crowd that included Smith’s drinking and songwriting buddies, his mom and dad, his mechanic and the garrulous wife of a restaurant manager, SESAC’s Tim Fink observed, “I think we only sent out two invitations. This is what you get when you deal with Arlos.”
“It’s so freakin’ humbling,” Smith burbled as he seized the microphone. He was similarly humbled in 2000 when SESAC honored him with its top songwriter award for co-writing John Michael Montgomery’s “Home to You.”
A native of rural West Virginia, Smith told the crowd he was totally innocent about the music business when he first came to Nashville. One of his first stops after arriving was SESAC.
“I thought it was a [song] publishing company,” he admitted. Instead of ridiculing him for his ignorance, he said, Greg Riggle, who’s now SESAC’s associate director of broadcast licensing, sat down and talked to him about his ambitions. “He could have stolen my dream,” Smith said with amazement as he launched into a riotous, step-by-step narrative of how he got to where he is today.
Among the dozen or so people Smith singled out to thank was singer Michael Peterson, who stood in the crowd laughing. “[He] gave me my first cut,” Smith explained. “Of course, I wrote it with him. It was [called] ‘Love’s Great When You’re Not in It.’” Smith also told about a friend giving him a copy of Mitch Albom’s bestseller, Tuesdays With Morrie, and how the book inspired him to do a series of Tuesday writing sessions.
“I just love this town,” he concluded, “because we’re all square pegs in round holes.”