Friends, family and business associates flooded the cavernous lobby of the BMI building in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon (July 1) to honor Eric Church and Luke Laird for writing Church’s third and latest No. 1 single, “Give Me Back My Hometown.”
It was Laird’s 15th No. 1 as a songwriter.
BMI’s Jody Williams told the celebrants that witnessing Church’s slow but steady rise to fame was “like watching the little engine that could.”
As a songwriter, Williams continued, Church is “outspoken and likes to rewrite the rules. He knows who his audience is, and he never disappoints them.”
Williams noted that Laird, apart from his string of No. 1’s, also co-produced Kacey Musgraves’s Grammy-winning album, Same Trailer Different Park, and is currently co-producing her follow-up project. He also co-wrote Kenny Chesney’s new single, “American Kids.”
Laird’s wife and business partner, Beth Mason Laird, presented Church and her husband custom-made wooden plaques in the shapes of their home states — North Carolina and Pennsylvania, respectively — with a star emblazoned over each of their hometowns.
She related that her husband is from Hartstown, Pennsylvania, a town of approximately 200, “half of whom are Amish and the other half his family.” Visits to the Pizza Hut were the big deal for the Lairds when he was growing up, she added.
Along with the wooden plaques, she handed out gift certificates to Pizza Hut for the principals involved in making “Give Me Back My Hometown” a success.
“Ironically, Eric Church’s goal has never been to have No. 1 records,” said Mike Dungan, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group and the man who signed Church to his original recording contract. “His goal was to make great records.”
Dungan said Church’s music has reached the point that “it now impacts our culture.”
As if to illustrate Music Row’s convoluted networking, Laird recalled that when he was just getting his start and singing his songs at Nashville’s Broken Spoke saloon, he was encouraged by music publisher Katherine Blasingame, who then worked for Williams’ publishing company. That was before Williams moved to his present post at BMI.
Blasingame is now Mrs. Eric Church.
Laird told the story of driving from Nashville to the palatial “cabin” Church had rented in North Carolina for a co-writing session.
On his way there, his old car began giving him trouble. So he called his wife to arrange for him to travel to Knoxville to buy a vehicle he’d always wanted — a Ford 150 pickup truck. He went to the car dealer, got the truck and proceeded to his destination.
Laird said the first thing he told Church when he arrived was that they had to write a single that would enable him to pay for the truck he’d just bought.
Church suggested they write a song about what was happening in the mind of a Confederate soldier.
Laird all but rolled his eyes at that idea, realizing it had no commercial potential at all. But he said he did appreciate Church’s imagination.
The two wound up writing five songs together, one of which was “Give Me Back My Hometown.”
In his brief remarks, Church spoke repeatedly of “doing battle” on behalf of his music.
“Music is the most important thing,” he said, “but without a team behind it, the music has no avenue.”