When songwriter Brett James first heard the idea for “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” he thought nothing of it. In fact, he said he thought it was kind of silly. But, as some songs do, this was one that pulled him back in.
“Sometimes, we miss things, but we were smart enough to come back and write it,” James said of the 2005 Carrie Underwood hit he wrote with Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson.
I had a chance to catch up with James during CMA Awards week before he took the stage at his CMA Songwriters Series show in Nashville. And he told me that back when he and his co-writers sat down to write the song, Underwood hadn’t even won American Idol yet.
“We’d never heard of her,” James said. “And we had no idea that that kind of lightning was about to strike. But when a song like ‘Jesus’ does happen, it ends up taking on life of its own. It becomes a combination of the right timing, the right song, the right artist. And ‘Jesus’ was the absolutely right timing, song and artist.”
The song went on to win prestigious awards and break country chart records. All that from the debut single off the debut album of a brand new artist.
Since then, James has gone on to write some pretty big songs with Underwood. And he questions sometimes whether the success is because of her or the songs.
“It’s one of those things where everything she sings sounds so good that you always wonder, ‘Are we writing a great song? Or does she just make it sounds so good?'” he said.
Either way, James said he’s always honored when an artist chooses to record a song he wrote. Whether it’s Kenny Chesney (“When the Sun Goes Down”), Jason Aldean (“The Truth” ), Martina McBride (“Blessed” ), Sara Evans (“Cheatin'”), Tim McGraw (“Drugs or Jesus”) or Kelly Clarkson (“Mr. Know It All”), James takes nothing for granted.
“That’s a big compliment that they chose your song,” he said. “So you feel like they thought enough of it to say, ‘This represents me.’ And then to hear it on the radio? That is really gratifying.”