CMA Songwriters Series Reveals More Than Songs

Every Writing Session Starts With an Apology

When you put four country songwriters up on a stage together and give them microphones, they’re going to do more than play you hit songs. They’re going to let you in on some secrets of the music business.

And that’s just what happened on Thursday night (July 30) at Joe’s Bar in Chicago when Brett James, Jim Collins, Lee Thomas Miller and Ryan Hurd showed up for the CMA Songwriters Series.

First, Miller said their job was to sit around and look for something to rhyme with truck.

Then Collins admitted that when he wrote “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” he never thought anyone would even hear it, let alone record it. But Kenny Chesney did.

And then Hurd told the story of Blake Shelton’s producer telling him, “No, thanks,” when he pitched him “Lonely Tonight.”

When it was James’ turn to give the fans a peek behind the velvet rope, he explained how songwriting sessions always start with an apology.

“We don’t just call these guys up and say, ‘Hey, man, do you want to write?’ It doesn’t work like that. They have to call you. But I just never got that call until finally Dierks (Bentley) called,” James said. “And part of the deal is when you’re in a writing room with someone else, you always apologize. Even if you have what you know is the best idea in the world, you preface it with, ‘This probably sucks.’”

All songwriters apparently do it.

“You want to lower the expectations,” James said.

Which is just what Bentley did the day he went to James’ barn studio to write “I Hold On.”

“He apologized and said, ‘This is nothing.’ Then he pulled out a napkin with some words written on it. My jaw dropped,” James recalled, “and I thought, ‘Man, it’s gonna be a fun day.’”

In between their behind-the-scenes stories, the group managed to play a few of the hits they’ve written, like “Mr. Know It All,” “Out Last Night,” “Later On,” “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not,” “Everybody Wants to Go the Heaven,” “Perfect Storm,” “Southern Girl” and more.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.