HOT DISH: Taylor Swift Talks About Songwriting, Friends and Good Manners

After Lots of Hard Work, the Young Star Is Anxious to Release Her Second Album

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at

Hank Williams, Harlan Howard, Alan Jackson. Three names that mean greatness when it comes to writing country songs. Your name, Taylor Swift, can be in the same sentence with these songwriters.”

The hottest 18-year-old in the biz, Taylor Swift is always sure of herself, but I think she was taken aback but for a moment when I told her that last week.

“They are awesome,” she replied. “It’s awesome you would say that. It is such an honor to be in country music and to look to the legends and to call Nashville home. It’s unreal.”

Fearless is the title of Taylor’s second album, set for Nov. 11 release, but it doesn’t mean she is completely unafraid. Don’t think for a minute that she will jump in headfirst without thinking or without fear. She thinks out situations. This smart girl would choose a career before romance.

Her favorite song on the record is “Fifteen,” a song she wrote when she first met her best, positive and constant friend, Abigail. Those two giggly girls both fell in love for the first time with boys who had cars. Abigail got her heart broken, but Taylor realized her dreams were more important than a boyfriend or a broken heart.

“The thing about high school, you don’t know anything,” she told me. “You don’t know anything, but you think you know everything.”

(I don’t know about you readers, but that last sentence from the lips of an 18-year-old just floored me. Wouldn’t it be great if the tabloids wrote about that!)

It’s difficult for the two friends since Abigail is off at college while and Taylor is either on her bus, on the stage or at a concert venue, but the two friends either talk on the telephone or chat by video every day to stay current.

“She shows me things in her dorm, and I’ll show her the hotel I’m staying in or the places where I happen to be,” Taylor said.

Her mom? “My mom and I are closer than ever,” assured Taylor. “Out in the big world, I’ve learned to appreciate my mom. I realize how smart she is. I know my mom knows more than I do. Our arguments become discussions. We are together on the bus or at home all the time, and it works for us.”

I’d learned that Taylor handwrites notes to radio programmers to thank them for interviews or for adding her record. This is almost unheard of in this day and time, so I asked Taylor about the practice.

“Well,” she slowly and shyly answered, “I think taking the time to write a letter or a card is more personal than an e-mail. E-mail is great but … I’d rather write something to someone so they can hold it in their hands. Besides, I owe something to radio. At 16, radio took a chance on me when I wrote ’Tim McGraw,’ so I owe them.”

She opened the songwriting door with the last statement, so I asked her about how she wrote songs — if the lyrics came before the melody or if they came together.

“Lyrics and melody are married,” she replied. “Hand in hand, synchronic, I write it all together. Sometimes after I’ve written a song and I’m thinking about it, a line will hit me that will suit better than the original, so I’ll change it, or I’ll come up with a line I want to repeat in the bridge. Song ideas never hit me at the same place or the same time of day. I might awake at 2 a.m. in my bunk on the bus with a song idea, and I wipe my sleepy eyes and write.”

Sleep can be a precious commodity for touring acts.

“I’ve had trouble sleeping lately, thinking about writing this album,” she said. “Obsessed with the album, not just the music but the photos. Picking which photo matches what song in the album booklet.”

Did Taylor watch the Grey’s Anatomy episode the night they played her song, “White Horse”?

“Yes!” she shrieked. “I was onstage with Rascal Flatts in Tulsa. My mom videoed me as I bolted offstage and rushed to watch the TV show. I was dancing around. Mom was videoing me. It was wild. I put it up on MySpace.”

“You are the MySpace girl,” I interjected.

“I’ve been doing MySpace since I was in the eighth grade,” she added.

“You’re the original MySpace country star,” I assured her.

“That’s what they say,” she giggled. “I have almost a million MySpace friends.”

Saying that’s all the time we had, Big Machine Records’ John Zarling interrupted Taylor before I had a chance to ask about boyfriends, but she did tell me what an incredible friend Kellie Pickler is.

“There’s much more to Kellie than lip gloss and a smile,” said Taylor.

Dierks Finds New Meaning in Charity Event
With a baby on the way, Dierks Bentley says his Miles and Music for Kids motorcycle ride benefiting Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has a whole new meaning. I had to write this before Sunday’s (Oct. 5) ride and concert took place, but the lineup was scheduled to include Tim McGraw, John Rich, Lady Antebellum, Jamey Johnson, Halfway to Hazard, the Warren Brothers and, from the first family of racing, Kyle Petty. Bless you, Dierks. Sending much love to you and your wife, Cassidy.

Mindy McCready Serving 60-Day Jail Sentence
Mindy McCready voluntarily surrendered to law enforcement authorities in Franklin, Tenn., to serve a 60-day sentence for parole violation in connection with a 2004 conviction for prescription drug fraud. McCready says she is working very hard to put all of this behind her so she can get back to singing, writing songs and entertaining. She thanked her fans, promised to work on recovery and to regain custody of her son, Zander. Like all the times before, we wish Mindy the best.

Willie’s World
I am blessed to receive Willie’s World, the quarterly newsletter from Willie Nelson’s fan club. I enjoy keeping up with my friend Willie and Dandy and Andy, who keep the club afloat. Imagine my surprise when I received the fall issue and saw my photo alongside an article titled “CMT Hot Dish — Hazel Smith.” What a thrill! Thanks gang. Described as a cherished friend of the great Willie … well, life don’t get no better than that.

To Darius Rucker, whose first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” has topped the country chart for a second week. It doesn’t go any higher than No. 1.

To Ronnie Dunn and Terry McBride for writing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry” for Brooks & Dunn. I just read the killer lyrics. Should be a home run, boys.

To Kenny Chesney for making his very own rum in cahoots with Constellation Spirits. Being from Luttrell, Tenn., where hills are almost mountains and where the locals made their own booze just two generations ago, I figure they’ll call the rum “hooch” like the hillbillies called their homemade products.

To Keith Urban, who was smart enough to marry a talented woman like Nicole Kidman, who even loves the road to her home in Tennessee. How lucky is that!

To Jason Aldean, on the launch of CMT on Tour 2008, his very first headlining tour, with opening acts Lady Antebellum and Eric Durrance.

To super songwriter Hank Cochran for his clean bill of health after being treated for pancreatic cancer.

To Carrie Underwood, whose will be issuing a holiday version of her Carnival Ride album. Available exclusively at Wal-Mart, the two-disc package will include Carnival Ride and a second CD featuring five Christmas songs.

To Little Jimmy Dickens on his upcoming 60th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins and George Jones will join Dickens for the Nov. 1 event.

To the Country Music Hall of Fame on their second annual All for the Hall benefit concert set for Oct. 15 in New York City. Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters will host the event with very special guests Rodney Crowell, Vince Gill and Emmylou Harris.

To the following new officers for the ACM board: John Grady (president), Bill Maine (vice president), Tiffany Moon (secretary) and John Doris (treasurer).

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Lemon Pie.