That's Why They Call It A 'Career Song'
Songwriter Byron Hill Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Country Great George Strait's First #1 Hit, 'Fool Hearted Memory'
Winston-Salem, North Carolina native Byron Hill began his songwriting career at about 10, when his father taught him some Carter Family songs on guitar. With that basic foundation in country music, he started listening to Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, and particularly to a song Kristofferson wrote and Cash sang, "Sunday Morning Coming Down." "That's what got me hooked," Byron said. With the encouragement of music industry professionals, Byron moved to Nashville in 1978 and began his career as a "tape copy boy" at ATV Music publishing company. In 1981, Byron had his first chart success with a song he wrote called "Picking Up Strangers" for the movie, "Coast to Coast," recorded by Johnny Lee. In 1982, another song he wrote for a movie became a hit. And thatís where our story beginsÖ
[The Aspiring Songwriter] Hi folks, Iím here in Nashville at Boscos restaurant, visiting with hit songwriter Byron Hill. Byron has had over 300 songs recorded, including many by some of the biggest acts in country: Joe Sun, Johnny Lee, Doc & Merle Watson, Reba McEntire, Conway Twitty, Kenny Rogers, Hank Thompson, Keith Whitley, Anne Murray, George Jones, AlabamaÖ the list goes on and on! The occasion for our visit today is a special one: the 20th Anniversary of George Straitís first #1 Hit, "Fool Hearted Memory." Our guest, Byron Hill, co-wrote "Fool Hearted Memory" and it was Byronís first #1 Hit Song, as well. Weíre going to talk today about how it all came about. Welcome to the SongWork on MusicDish, Byron.
Byron Hill Thank you, Anne.
[The Aspiring Songwriter] When I found out about the 20th Anniversary of "Fool Hearted Memory" through a mutual friend of ours, I thought that our SongWork readers would enjoy learning about how the song was created, how it came to be recorded by George Strait, and the impact that the song had on you both. Please tell us how this all came about.
Byron Hill Well, I was writing for a company at the time, ATV Music, and we were involved in writing music for films prior to George Strait coming along. I had written a song for a film called "The Exterminator," which was put out by an independent film company. The film ended up being on Embassy Films. It was a blood and guts thriller.
The film company came back to us again, and they wanted a song written for a movie called "The Soldier." This time, they wanted more than just a song. They wanted the song recorded by a major label artist. They said that they even had a cameo spot in the film. They could put the artist, a county singer, in a bar scene in the movie. So, we started looking around for someone for the song and the film. My publisher had a connection with Jim Foglesong, who was President at the Nashville division of MCA Records at the time. Jim said he had this new young cowboy who would fit this movie scene perfect.
The film company also committed to the song being on the movieís sound track, provided that the record label would release the song as a single. MCA agreed to do it. It was a well-planned deal when it happened. The record label had an artist that they wanted to launch and they needed a hit song. This movie company needed an artist and it all just worked out perfectly. The only thing left to do was to write a hit song!
My publisher hooked me up with the George Straitís producer, a guy named Blake Mevis. Blake and I custom wrote the song for the movie. We were very fortunate to come up with a great song that day! It ended up being "Fool Hearted Memory." We wrote very well together. In fact, we joked for years afterwards, "Why donít we get together and write another one, because weíre batting a thousand!"
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Did you write with Blake Mevis again?
Byron Hill No, it didnít happen for a long timeĖ we didnít write together for years and years after that, because our careers just went to different places. Blake was real busy as a producer, and I was busy with things at the publishing company and getting other songs recorded. Somehow, we just never got together. I think we just didnít want to risk failure (Laughter!)
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: I donít blame you Ė why wreck such a good thing!
Byron Hill Thatís right. So, thatís how it all came about. George Strait got to be in the movie and it was a hit. I really didnít know who George Strait was at the time. Most of the industry didnít. The timing of "Fool Hearted Memory" and the film was good for his career. We were able get on his new album, so it was right at the very beginning of his career.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: How did your family react to the news of your first hit song?
Byron Hill I remember my mother and father were in town about the time that the movie and song were released. They were staying in the same hotel as George Strait. Dad shook his hand and Dad claims that to be the reason that George had all of his success! (Laughter!)
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Byron, for those of us who are not in the music industry, would "Fool Hearted Memory" be what you would call a "career song"? You hear that term a lot around Nashville.
Byron Hill Oh, absolutely. It came along incredibly early point in my career, so itís been a great thing. I believe I wrote the song in 1981 and it was released in 1982, so I was about 26 or 27. I had already had some songs recorded by then, but it definitely was the biggest song for me, I think to this day. Iíve had other hits, but "Fool Hearted Memory" will always be a special one to me.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Was it was your first #1 song?
Byron Hill "Fool Hearted Memory" was my first #1 and George Straitís first #1. It was kind of a cool thing. I like to say that on stage when ever I play it.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: People have said that "Fool Hearted Memory" is a favorite song for the cowboys and cowboy singers. Why do you think that is the case?
Byron Hill Well, itís amazing. When I started going out to write with some of the "hat guys" of the 90ís Ė I call them that, but I donít mean it to sound disrespectful. But, in the early 90ís, a bunch of cowboy-style acts that came about. When Iíd go out on the road with those guys, I didnít even realize at the time the impact that the song had. I had no idea. I knew that it was a big hit, but I didnít know that it affected so many of these Texas singers. So, when Iíd get on the bus with them, the song would be their whole introduction to me. Theyíd say, "Man, this is the guy who wrote ĎFool Hearted Memory!í And, Iíd be going, "Wow, I guess I did something!" They would all just welcome me and it was a great calling card. It was a bigger calling card than I ever realized. So, I donít know Ė itís funny. You get close to something and you donít even realize the impact that itís had on people. I still get people who come up to me and say, "When I was six years old, that was my favorite song!" (Laughter!) It makes me feel old!
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Byron, there was a song that was very important to you in your youth, that convinced you to become a songwriter, and that was "Sunday Morning Coming Down" by Kris Kristofferson. What was it about "Sunday Morning Coming Down" that moved you to want to become a songwriter?
Byron Hill Well, my dad played that song off of a Johnny Cash album. I loved the way the lyrics flowed and the pictures that Kristofferson used. The smell of someoneís fried chicken on a Sunday morning, and the sound of somebody kicking a can in the street. Theyíre just great pictures. The guy just paints with words. It really affected me. I thought, "Man, Iíd like to write like that." It got me into songwriting.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Youíve had so much success, Byron Ė over 300 songs recorded and many hits - what advice could you give to aspiring songwriters today?
Byron Hill Come to town with the right attitude Ė that Nashville doesnít owe you anything. If songwriters come in thinking that the town owes them something, theyíre going be in trouble right from the very beginning. Theyíve got to come here willing to do it and work hard for it. This town will roll the red carpet out for those people. Iíve seen it time and time again, if people really want to grow and be a part of it.
Not every songwriter is cut out to move here. This is a long-term commitment. I wonít be the one to say, "Pack up your family and move down here." Itís a big decision, and itís tough. Itís a tough town, but I will say this. The ones that have moved here and have made that commitment, itís like theyíre in the club. They get in pretty quick, because theyíve shown their peers that they have made that total commitment to songwriting.
Iím not saying that you have to do it this way Ė there are a lot of writers that have done it from outside of town Ė I just feel like, it would be like if Iím coming into NYC to be in a business. Itís very hard to come in from the outside. But, if I move there and I commit to it, and I support the local business and I develop friendships, eat at the same restaurants every day and I know the local folk, and all that kind of stuff, you become part of it. Itís the same way on Music Row.
[The Aspiring Songwriter]: Good advice from a very successful songwriter. Thanks for visiting with us today, and for sharing your story about the making of "Fool Hearted Memory," the song that launched one of the most successful and enduring careers in country music for George Strait, and the song that also launched the successful and enduring songwriting career of hit songwriter, Byron Hill. Come up and visit with us sometime in New Jersey, Byron!
Byron Hill Thanks, Anne. I definitely want to come up and get some of the great Italian food you have up there!
Twenty years later, George Strait has just recorded "MY INFINITE LOVE," written by Byron Hill, Billy Yates, and Annette Grossberg. In July, Annette (who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer) approached Billy, requesting that Billy write a song for her own funeral. Annette wanted a song that would express her love for her family, and express her continuing love for them after she was gone. Billy brought the idea to Byron at their writing session. Magically, some words and music fell into place. Billy played the song for Annette immediately after it was completed, and within the same week, the song was demoed at County Q Studios. Annette passed away only a day or two later and the song (using the fully demoed track) was sung by Billy at Annette's funeral. During the same week, Rusty Gaston (Billy's publisher at Song Garden) pitched it to Mike Owens for George Strait. Two months later George Strait recorded the song. We're hoping the story of Annette and how the song was created gets heard by all as well. Another good sign for this song came shortly after Annette's funeral, when someone requested that it be sung at their wedding.
Also look for Byron's songs on the following new albums:
RANDY TRAVIS (Rhino/Warner Brothers Records) "Trail Of Memories-The Randy Travis Anthology"
SHELLEY LAINE (Palo Duro Records) "Back To Austin"
JOHNNY LEE "Live At Billy Bob's"
GIL GRAND (Spin/BMG) "Burnin'"
JOE NICHOLS (Universal South) "Man With A Memory" (July 23rd release)
JOHN MICHAEL MONTGOMERY (Warner Brothers) "Pictures" (October 6th release)
JEFF BATES (RCA) Upcoming Debut album.
For more information about hit songwriter Byron Hill, including his bio, discography, song lyrics, performances, fun stories, and to purchase his new CD,Gravity...and other things that keep you down to Earth, visit his website at www.byronhillmusic.com. Byron is a wonderful vocalist in his own right Ė youíll enjoy his CD!