The paths, processes and possibilities in songwriting are pretty much without bounds and are always a source of engagement of mind, the infusion of ideas and words with music is a fascination for me. The opportunities to write songs come from all directions like a swirling wind … a fleeting vision of something, a distant but distinct sound, a world changing event or just a moment with friends there is a song in just about everything, if you are able to grasp it. However taking someone else’s fleeting moment and creating a song, well that is a bit trickier.
I was recently provided with a unique opportunity one which I had yet to experience and very different from my normal songwriting process. I was contacted by a Facebook acquaintance from a group involved in another interest of mine … dogs … I don’t generally cross pollinate my differing interest groups so I don’t really know how this came about. This fellow from Texas, Bill Joiner, who happens to be a published novelist and writer messaged me asking if I was a songwriter, which of course I answered in the affirmative.
Bill said he had written some pieces that he felt were song lyrics and asked if I would have a look at them. Sure why not … opportunity knocking. He sent to me the lyrics which he had written to two songs The Old Cowboy and Not Today. Now Bill being from Texas and right in to horses, dogs, guns and blue sky his lyrics were Lone Star State through and through … Cowboy Songs, not my normal material, but they had meaning and that is my cup of tea.
I had a look at the lyrics and saw that with a bit of structure verse, chorus, bridge there was potential to create songs from the raw material. I went back to Bill and said I think I can do something with these lyrics. I asked him if he was a musician played and instrument and would he be putting music to the lyrics or did he know someone that would? His answer was no he would like me to finish them in to songs with music … a bit more of a challenge … OK.
Like I said the song ideas were great they had heart they could be delivered with passion by someone who understood where they were coming from, I just needed to draw it out and shape it so they could be played and sung. I took some time to get my head around the process how to retain Bill’s original message and put the lyrics in to a song structure. I did not want to pollute the original vocabulary of the songs so I had to be careful in replacing, changing or deleting words and in arranging the structure to maintain the “Cowboy Song” genre and the original message. I added very little to the original lyrics changed a word here, rearranged a verse line there, the materials were Bill’s I was just putting them together, kinda like building a house.
Once I finished organizing the raw lyrics in to songs, I sent them off to Bill for approval from my now co-writer … and he was quite happy with what I had done, Phase One completed. Now to put music to them, somehow I needed to step out of my Folk Rock Songwriter shoes and slip in to my Cowboy boots. I have some history with Country Music so I am not completely unfamiliar with that genre but these were more Country Western than Country Rock more Johnny Cash than Neil Young so to speak.
I danced around with different keys Not Today worked in A and The Old Cowboy in G … I noted to Bill that Cowboy Songs are generally simple in nature made to be sung sitting around the campfire out on the plains, with that he agreed “three chords and the truth” he quoted … I knew I was on the right trail. I got both songs to a level I was happy with chipping around the edges of the lyrics to fit the 4 /4 timing. That done another problem presented itself how the hell am I going to present these songs to Bill, he is not a musician … I am going to have to play and sing them myself … on to Phase Three.
Not Today was pretty easy it came together with a simple strum on the acoustic guitar the chorus lyrics very vivid and easy to sing;
“One day my time here will be only a vapor in the mist I hope my memory will be like like the sweetest kind of kiss
I will be put out to pasture when the sand runs out of glass Until then tell the grim reaper not today and kindly kiss my ass”
The Old Cowboy was more difficult I had to get the feel and mood of this song about an old ranch hand cowboy and his horse … the cowboy’s best friend. I tried picking it on acoustic, different strum patterns it all sounded OK but not really where I thought it should be … then I played it on my Guild semi-acoustic electric and it just caught it … electric cowboy.
Both of the songs were recorded to demo level and sent off to Bill … now they are Bill’s songs and it is up to him to do with them as he sees fits, he is a pretty clever guy so no problem there. My Co-writer is happy with the results, he had the raw material that he thought may be songs and now they are songs, if something becomes of them great and if not … well the Grim Reaper can’t take songs they are here forever.
I have blogged about this because I have enjoyed the process of taking raw material I did not write and molding that material in to song … retaining the mood, the message and the passion and not letting my own songwriting prejudices intrude on that.
Bill will decide what to do with and how to air the songs and you can check him and his other works out on his website William Joiner Author . If Bill decides to forego novels and short stories he might take up songwriting as these first two were a pretty good start. I thank Bill for the opportunity to fashion his lyrics in to song he took a chance on someone he only knew as a fellow dog lover and I took a chance on the same. Imagine that, a self made man from North Texas and an old Hippie living in Australia collaborating on a couple of Cowboy Songs … who’d ‘av ever thunk it.