Songwriter Interviews

Billy Montana ("More Than A Memory" - Garth Brooks)

by Shawna Ortega

Share this post

A successful Nashville songwriter, Billy Montana got a degree from Cornell University in communication arts, with minors in agriculture and geography. This was so he could run a farm, and not have to stop to ask directions; but if he did, he'd know how to. That was long before Garth Brooks recorded his self-proclaimed "comeback" song, which launched Billy on that familiar bullet back to the top of the charts.

Here, Billy talks about his new-best-friend Garth, the fact that he's maybe the only person who's used the word "biddies" in a song - ever, and how his smash single by Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw was heard as a healing anthem by a country in the throes of devastation such as it had never seen when the World Trade Center buildings went down.
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): Nashville songwriters have some amazing stories. And I'm betting you do.

Billy Montana: I don't know about amazing. (laughs) I think it's the songs that are the real life songs, because it's almost like a 9-5 thing in a way. I think that we try to tap on our experiences, but it's not necessarily that something will happen to us and we'll go home and write about that particular event, which I think artists do that. I remember a story one time, Rosanne Cash said that she didn't win an award that she thought she was going to win, so she went home and she wrote "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me." And it was like, Wow, man. Because you always think of it as being a love song, but she was actually talking about the CMA, or something like that. It was really cool. I love stuff like that.

Songfacts: Well, maybe we can start then with a song that stands out to you as being very personal to you.

Billy: It wasn't a hit. Martina McBride recorded it. It's called "House of A Thousand Dreams," and it's on her Waking Up Laughing CD.

Songfacts: Can you tell me how that one came about? What was going on?

Billy: Yeah. People ask you how long does it take you to write a song? And sometimes I can knock one out with somebody in an hour and a half or two, and then sometimes it takes a long time. I always say this song took over a year to write. And the reason for that was because Ilya Toshinsky and I had music, and I was in love with the music, and didn't want to squander it on an ordinary title. So I was really trying to find something extraordinary to say. It wasn't like I worked on it every day for a year - you're writing songs all in between that - but every once in a while you go back and pull music out, or if you were walking around you were thinking, Well, man, what is it? What is this supposed to be? And so I finally got this – and I don't know where it came from – I got that concept for "House of a thousand dreams," but I still wasn't sure what it should represent. I just loved the way those words sounded together, and I thought it was appropriate for the music. So I took that idea to Jenai, and she and I had just hit a pretty good lick with "Suds In The Bucket," and just writing the songs that were getting activity.

It's like back when I was a struggling songwriter delivering pizzas for Domino's, and driving a car where you could see the road through three out of the four places where your feet are supposed to go. I was thinking I wasn't providing enough as the breadwinner. And that's what the first verse is about, the perspective of the man of the house who's discontent with his work and income level - thinks he's not doing enough. And then the second verse is from the perspective of the wife, and she's making the most of what they have. So she's kind of in-between. She'll cut corners where she needs to, so that verse is her. And then the last verse is through the eyes of their child, who is absolutely in love with where they live, and all the material stuff means nothing to the child. The only thing that matters is that his parents love each other and love him and his brother and sister. So that's really the concept to that song, and that's why it's real personal to us.

But one story about it before Martina recorded it, it was kind of my family's favorite song, because it was representative of them. And my oldest son got a tattoo on his right shoulder that's got the lyric of the chorus.

Songfacts: How old was he when he got that?

Billy: I think he was probably 19. It's so funny, because I was writing with somebody and they were like, "Well, that's a sucker punch." I mean, what are you gonna do, get aggravated that he put the words to your song on his arm? (laughs) Yeah, it's hard to be ticked off about that.

Songfacts: He's got you coming and going with that one.

Billy: Yeah.

Songfacts: How did Martina pick that song up?

Billy: Well, that song was the song of a thousand pitches. I believe 2000 is when we turned that song in. I have two publishers that represent my catalog, and they were both like, "This is one of the top five songs in our catalog," and they play it for everybody, everybody listened the whole way through it, but no one would pull the trigger and record it. And finally Martina heard basically a guitar vocal work tape of it, and for some reason the day was right, and she dug it, and recorded it, did it and made a great record. I wish it was a single for her.

Songfacts: It's a beautiful story. You had a female co-writer on that. I'm wondering, did you write the husband version and she wrote the wife version?

Billy: It's interesting, because I don't usually remember a lot about the details of a writing session. We go in and I don't keep track of whose lines are whose, usually. But I do remember her bringing to the table the line in the second verse about the wife talking about the curtains: "So I'll find some yard sale curtains for the windows and sew some yellow trim along the seams. And I'll keep praying, hope I go on living in this house of a thousand dreams." She definitely was instrumental in that line about the curtains. (laughs)

Songfacts: That's just the way that females think, though. This is a really good representation of that, I thought.

Billy: Yeah. And really, going back even further, I was like the kid in the third verse, because the household that I grew up in, I was oblivious to the fact that we didn't have as much in the way of material possessions and wealth. We just didn't have it, we always did without. But I never realized that. I didn't realize it until I looked back and realized we really were scrimping by there.
If I play a writers show and I play that song, that seems to be the one that people come up after and go, "Man, that was incredible." Because I think a lot of people have experienced that same sort of thing.

Songfacts: Yeah, and something that is so personal to you, but it's so…

Billy: Universal.

Songfacts: It's great the way that that turned out. Okay, let's hit "More Than A Memory." How did that one come about, and how were you instrumental in Garth Brooks doing that?

Billy: Well, Lee (Brice) and Kyle (Jacobs) really had been mulling that idea over, and had a whole bunch of the melody done. They knew what they wanted to do conceptually. And when they ran the idea past me, I was like, Heck yeah. When I start writing, I like words that sound good together, and "more than a memory" just sounded so good that I knew there would be something there. A lot of it was Lee dipping back into a relationship like that. He had the line, "when you're dialing six numbers just to hang up the phone." And Kyle and I, we all knew that that was kind of a magical line. That happens every once in a while when you're writing. It's like it goes above and beyond. And having discussions with Garth – you know, my new best friend Garth – when we were getting together celebrating the success of the song and everything, he said that was the line that drew his attention more than any other.

That song was written in about a day. My contribution was mainly from a lyrical standpoint, because they had done a really good job of forming that melody, which I thought was phenomenal. But the fun thing about it is we had the verse in the first chorus, and John Ozier from Curb Records stepped in to tell us something, and we said, "Hey, check this out," played him the verse and the chorus, and he says, "I've got chills. You need to finish that today." So we did. We stayed in the saddle and it's funny, because I felt like we worked pretty hard on it, and Lee was like, "Oh, I don't know about that." (laughs) You know, he doesn't remember. Some days you're really pouring yourself into it, and I remember pouring myself into it, and we just felt like we had something really great afterwards.

So Kyle and Lee put down a really nice piano/guitar vocal. No background vocals. Lee sang it, he's an amazing passionate singer. And that's all Garth heard, was that guitar/piano vocal. The way it came about was that a guy named Scott was listening for songs over at Garth's management company, and he just put out an APB to some of his closest publishing friends, and Curb Publishing sent the song over to him. Scott got back to him and said, "You mean this hasn't been cut yet? I'm putting it first on the CD to Garth." So that's what he did.

We did have some interest from other artists. My understanding was Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, maybe even some of the Carrie Underwood camp. Some real heavy hitter acts had expressed interest in the song.

Songfacts: And did you guys have a choice? Could you have picked one of those?

Billy: I try not to involve myself with that aspect of it. I suppose we probably could have. With Garth Brooks, there was a real good chance it was going to be a single because we knew there was going to be a greatest hits package that he was putting out. To be a new cut on a greatest hits package increases your chances of getting a single, which is what you really want. So I don't think we would have messed with that stew pot at all. I think everything happened the way it was supposed to.

Songfacts: So it wasn't a song that you wrote with Garth Brooks in mind to sing it at the time?

Billy: Nope. (laughs) But I'll say this, the first time I wrote with Lee was probably five years ago. He was an artist fresh to town and I had asked him, "What do you want to be as an artist?" And he said, "Garth Brooks." (laughs) So that totally was a dream come true for him to get to have all of that happen with a song he wrote.

Songfacts: And you're obviously happy with the way that Garth sang it.

Billy: Oh my gosh. He was so gracious through the whole process. My understanding is that he recorded it on June 5, which was great, because it was my wife's birthday. And then he had us in the studio I'm thinking maybe about 5 or 6 weeks later. Invited all the writers to the studio to hear it. And we sat down at the console, and he says, "I hope you like it. If there's anything you don't like, let me know." And of course I'm thinking, Yeah, that's gonna happen. As soon as it started, if you can imagine what it would be like hearing Garth's voice coming in on a song, and the way he sang it, and the strings coming in, and the power when it crashes into the second verse, I knew right then. What I said in my mind was, That's why you're Garth Brooks. I was just so impressed. And so it gets to the end, and I was like, "Well, I need to hear it again."

Songfacts: And again. And again.

Billy: Yeah, it was really a special day.

Songfacts: Talk to me about "Suds In The Bucket." I think you're probably the first person ever to use the word "biddies" in a song.

Billy: Maybe. Could be true.

Songfacts: That is such a great song. It is so uplifting, and it's just… I don't know. (laughs) It's funny.

Billy: It is. And I tell you what, there's certain times when you get finished with a song, and you go, "Mission accomplished." Sometimes a song kind of leads you. But Jenai and I went into that writing session knowing that Lee Ann Womack was – on the pitch sheet – looking for an up-tempo Country song. So Jenai and I wanted to write something fun, something kind of light-hearted. And this was a rare instance where we had a lot of the music in advance of the lyric. I'm a guy that likes to start with a hook and then figure out what the idea is. But in this particular case we actually had a lot of the music, and we were just kind of "da-da-da-da-da-da," singing like that. And we had a concept where we wanted a young girl leaving home. I said, "Well, what about this?" Because just the way that last line of the chorus went musically, I was like, "What about she left the suds in the bucket, the clothes hanging out on the line?" And Jenai's mouth dropped open, and she said, "I love that." Because it just seemed like a unique way to say she left in a hurry.

So we finished the song, and here's the thing that I was getting to about saying "Mission accomplished," is that the thing that I think I love the most about that song is the language. We say, "little pony-tail girl growed up to be a woman." Bob Dylan put in a song, I think it's a line that goes, "something I never knowed." Because he was rhyming it with "road." And so I was like, well, man, it can be done. This was kind of funny because my daughter pointed out to us one time, we were listening to a Neil Diamond song, and it's the one about "song she brang to me," he says "B-R-A-N-G, brang," to rhyme with sang, and rang. And so my daughter was like, "That's not a word, 'brang.'" And I'm like, Oh my gosh, I never noticed that. So Jenai and I, we were writing, we're like, man, that's cool. But I think we get into the father's head when he's staring out the window scratching and a-wracking his brain. I mean, it's just the language, I was really pleased when we were finished with it, because I felt like we actually got inside the heads of the characters in the song.

Songfacts: The whole beauty shop thing just tickles me to death.

Billy: That's cool. My kids' favorite line was always, "sippin' on pink lemonade." They love the way that fell out.

Songfacts: Yes, you can picture it. It's like you just painted a visual right there.

Billy: Cool. That's really cool.

Songfacts: Okay. "Bring On The Rain." I read in your biography about the 9/11 overdub.

Billy: Yeah, the first time I heard the song was on September 13th. The song was released, it had been on Jo Dee Messina's Burn album for over a year. And it was the fourth single off of that project. It was released to radio on September 10th, 2001. So, of course, September 11th the buildings went down, the World Trade Center. And if you ever can go back to remembering how things were for that week, first of all, people were standing in blood lines for days to give blood. People were wanting to know where they could send contributions to for the victims and the families of the victims. They weren't wanting to be entertained. To my recollection, all of the radio stations in town turned to news information, and just call-in. Everything as normal was not normal. It kind of shut down. And so that all was still going down two days later. And we fly an American flag in our front yard, and I pulled up the driveway, and I had the radio on a country station when "Bring On The Rain" came on, and that's the first time I heard it on the radio. And it was interwoven with sound bites from Ground Zero, and President Bush speaking, and Giuliani speaking, and sound bites from the firemen, and I mean it was just an overwhelming moment. Because at that time everybody was looking to be able to do something – anything. That's kind of the attitude I think that the whole country had. So, an extremely powerful moment. I just broke down, it was just overwhelming. Because when you think about it, when I go back and analyze it, the whole reason I got into writing songs is because I was affected by songs when I was young. And that's what you want to do; you want to be able to communicate some sort of empowering message. Not all the time. I mean, sometimes you want to entertain, but the songs that I grew up on and fell in love with were the songs that dealt with feelings.

Songfacts: And your listeners are going to know that there's somebody out there that's feeling the same way, and it helps them to get through what they're getting through.

Billy: Yeah. My influences were Jackson Browne and the Eagles, and Dan Fogelberg, and I felt like those were things about what's going on in the heart.

Songfacts: Well, in Jackson's case, it's politically. (laughs)

Billy: Now.

Songfacts: Yeah, that's true, back then…

Billy: Not so much back then. I liked it better back then. Anyway, we began to think – and not that it mattered at the time, because it was like, wow, is this going to be a song about 9/11? And obviously it didn't start out that way, because 9/11 hadn't even happened, and it had already been shipped to radio two weeks prior. And it wasn't. I just think it was timely that it served to assist a little bit in the healing process when radio stations went back to playing music. See, they didn't even do a music chart that week because nobody was playing songs. When the chart fired up again, there was a very small number of songs, like maybe 5, that had any upward mobility. And that included "God Bless The USA," I think Faith Hill's version of "The Star Spangled Banner," a couple of other songs like that, and "Bring On The Rain." Everything else went backwards because there was no music for a while.

Songfacts: In the beginning, though, when you were writing the song, do you remember even at this point what you were writing it for? What was it about originally?

Billy: Well, it was just trying to be a song of empowerment, more than anything. And not being able to be kept down. Helen Darling and I actually had had a line in a song that said, "bring on the rain." And I felt like it deserved to be more than just a line. I felt like it deserved to be a title. And so I presented that to Helen and she loved that idea. And we took a couple-three days maybe to really hone in on it. But that also was a guitar vocal demo. Helen's vocal. Helen's a great singer, too, and sold the song, and Jo Dee heard that in a pitch meeting and said, "I'm gonna record that song." And by golly she did.

Songfacts: And she comes across as such a strong individual, too, so I couldn't even think of a more perfect union.

Billy: Yeah, it said things that she likes to say. We didn't write it for her. I very rarely go in to write songs for something in particular. You write as good a song as you can, and hope that it lands where it's supposed to land.

Songfacts: Have you ever been disappointed with the outcome of whoever the artist is that records it?

Billy: So far no. In fact, I just told somebody that yesterday. The guy I was writing with says, "You know when you go in and you're used to the demo, and you're used to your own inflections and everything, and then when you hear the record, you're kind of let down in spots?" It just takes something to get used to. But all three of those songs that we talked about, "House" is included in that, I was just the opposite. I felt like they did an incredible job of interpreting the song. Jo Dee's production is really understated. It's not overproduced. It's just perfect to me. I mean, it's very tasteful. And I've had recordings where I didn't feel that way, where I was like, Wow, that doesn't represent the song correctly at all. But all three of the bigger hits that I've had, the interpretation of the song is just dead-on.

Songfacts: It's a good pairing, then, I guess, when you've got the songwriter and the singer agreeing on how it should sound.

Billy: Yeah. I kind of feel bad for writers that don't feel that way. I've been blessed that I haven't felt that way. I'm really proud of all the recordings, of the songs. And I don't think everybody can say that.

Songfacts: Lori McKenna said that when she found Faith Hill, Faith just got it. And she was so excited. She finally found somebody that got it.

Billy: Wow. Cool.

Songfacts: You wrote a song with Ken Block of Sister Hazel, "One Love." Sister Hazel and Blackhawk both recorded it. And Henry Paul was involved. Can you tell me about that song?

Billy: Yeah. It's so funny, because there were a couple of Sister Hazel songs that I was completely in love with. One was "Champagne High." And then "Change Your Mind." And what was funny is that, in listening to "Change Your Mind," I always heard Henry Paul in Ken's vocal. I think they have a real similar vocal.

Well, I've known Henry for 11 years now I think. I made an album back in '95, and he called me one night out of the blue just to say that he really loved the album. It was a thrill for me, because I was a big fan. I was an Outlaws fan, I was a Henry Paul Band fan. And I love Blackhawk, too. So when he called, I was really, really touched that he did that. And then we ended up going to a Bruce Springsteen concert. He invited me, he had tickets to a Springsteen unplugged show, and so I went with him there. And so we kind of hit it off on a personal level, as well as musical level. And so I've been writing with him and Dave Robbins. We wrote "One Love," and they recorded it for their Spirit Dancer album. Well, going back to Henry and Ken sounding a bit alike, they had talked about that. Somehow their paths had crossed and Henry and Ken had talked about how people say that their voices sound a lot alike. So Henry played him the acoustic version of "One Love," and Ken really dug it. And it wasn't like we all sat in the room and wrote it together. But Ken wanted to turn it into a Sister Hazel song, and so after Henry, Dave, and I had written it, Ken added a bridge, and then changed just a few things lyrically to make it work for Sister Hazel. It's one of my favorite cuts.

Songfacts: I've heard the Sister Hazel version, I've not heard the Blackhawk version. How different is it?

Billy: It's pretty different. There's more mandolin on it, and it's slowed down a lot. The Blackhawk version doesn't rock as much as Sister Hazel. But they're both really good. But I play the song out almost every time I play. It's a favorite when I do the writer shows.

Songfacts: And when you do it, which version are you closer to? I mean, you probably have your own, but does it go more toward the rock side, or more toward the softer side?

Billy: By virtue of me playing it alone on an acoustic, it's probably on the softer side. But I use the bridge that Ken put in, and I think I try to use more of the rockin' attitude that Sister Hazel's recording has. When I pitch the song to country acts, I still use the Sister Hazel version to pitch, usually. Because it's just got so much energy.

Songfacts: If this one's already been recorded by a band, why would you be pitching it?

Billy: Well, because it wasn't a single. And so, unless you own a Sister Hazel CD, or go online and get it, you don't even know that the song exists. And I don't think right at this point it's past the chance that it could ever be a single. So if it's a good song, it can be recorded several times. The more the song's exploited, the better. And especially if it hasn't been a single, because there's no video for it, so it's very under the radar, except for the Sister Hazel people, and an occasional use for like an MTV thing, like it was MTV Awards music bit or something like that. And actually, somebody used it on a Thanksgiving Day episode of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy." (laughs)

Songfacts: Well, yeah, if you didn't get enough exposure… (laughs)

Billy: (laughs)

Songfacts: Lee Ann Womack recorded "Montgomery to Memphis."

Billy: Indeed.

Songfacts: And I know that there is a Martin Luther King documentary out there called "Montgomery To Memphis." Does that have any connotation?

Billy: No. I didn't even know that existed. I believe that song was written in '94. She recorded that on her very first album that came out in '95 or '96.

Del Reeves, he died about a year and a half ago, he was a Grand Ole Opry star. His daughter Anne and I wrote "Montgomery To Memphis" a long time ago. And I think it's still a really great song, and I love Lee Ann's version of it. The story behind it – and this is a business story – when she recorded it, I didn't even know who Lee Ann Womack was. So this was her debut album. And it had happened to me before, I have a cut on Tim McGraw's very first album that was the album before "Indian Outlaw" propelled him into superstardom. So it was one of those things where you never knew what was going to happen with the artist if you got on a debut project. It could be really good, or maybe nothing would happen with their career. But in Lee Ann's case, we were on the album, and then she started having hits. So I started getting hopeful, because the word was that we were going to have a single. And that's the only way, short of being on a mega-million selling album, that a writer can make money is by having hit singles. So we were hopeful that it was going to be a single, and sure enough they put three out. Two of them had a great deal of success. I don't know if they got to #1, but they were knocking on the door. And so we were supposed to be the fourth single off the project. And I remember we went back to our home in upstate New York for summer break or something like that. I got a call from my publisher, and they had already pressed the CD pros, which are basically the CD singles. And they were getting ready to ship "Montgomery To Memphis" as a single to radio. And two weeks before the release date they changed their minds. So that was a period of my life where I kind of threw my hands up. That was as close to giving up as I'd ever come. It was really discouraging. And stuff like that happens to people all the time in this business. I made the comment one time, I was writing with a guy named Doug Nichols, and I said something like, "Man, do you believe we get paid to do this? To write songs?" And he said, "This is not what we get paid for. We get paid for all the other stuff surrounding it. The negative stuff."

Songfacts: That's not a good way to look at it.

Billy: No – it is, though, because for the 999 times out of 1,000 that you have the non-success, that's the hard part. The easy part is getting with your friends and trying to create a song. I mean, that's really fun and exciting. What he was saying was we don't get compensated for doing the fun stuff. You have to be compensated for doing the hard stuff. And the hard stuff is taking the rejection that is very predominant.

Songfacts: Yeah, you've got to have an underbelly of steel to even exist in that business.

Billy: You really do. Because when we're hearing the successes, even the hits that I've had, I'm still sitting on a pile of songs that is exponentially greater than those things that you've heard. So you've got to go in and try to write them the same way every day, and try to write the greatest songs that you can every day.

Songfacts: Are there any in that pile of songs that you are really like, "Oh my gosh, somebody's got to hear this one one of these days, it's gotta get out there."

Billy: Yeah, there's quite a few. I'm not one of those guys that loves everything I write, thinks everything I write is great, because I know that's just not true, and it's not possible. But there's some in there that…

Songfacts: You pitch it more often than others, perhaps?

Billy: Yeah, you pitch them more. Because it's just got to be the right day. Same thing with "House Of A Thousand Dreams," I'm gonna venture to say almost every artist or someone associated with every artist in town had a chance to hear that song prior to it being recorded. That being the case, it tells you that it just has to fall right. I mean, timing has to be right for it to happen, and so you don't want to give up. There's times when songs have been pitched several times, and who's ever listening, whether it be a producer or A&R representative, or the artist themselves, either it doesn't suit the project at the time, or there's something about the song that's not floating their boat at the time, but then if you go back and pitch it a year later, it's perfect for what they're looking for. And so you've got to keep at it. In the meantime, you're creating new songs.

Songfacts: That would be tough. Can I ask you about "Friends For Life"?

Billy: Sure.

Songfacts: What was it like to write a song for a movie (Tom Sawyer)? And did MGM approach you? And what do you think of the final product?

Billy: Somebody associated with my co-writer, Don (Ellis), gave us a script, and we got a heads up on what the plan was for the animated movie. And I'll tell you, that was a really fun thing to do. Because I took the script home and read it, and it's something I'd never done before. Remember I told you I don't really project write. I just try to write a great song and get it to the right person. But in this case we had the script, we saw what scenes were surrounding where the songs were going to be, and so it gave us a chance. So we wrote two songs for the script, and one of them ended up getting picked, which was "Friends For Life," when Huck and Tom were on Jackson's Island and kind of just be-bopping around and digging each other's company. It was really satisfying to take the script home over the weekend, get a handle on what they were looking for, and then write the songs on Monday. And then find out not too long afterwards that it got in there. Just one of those things that we set out to do something and it worked out. A lot of times it goes the way the Lee Ann Womack thing did where you think it's going to work out and then it doesn't. But this particular time it worked out really well. And it was cool, because they brought us in after they had recorded the song - it was MCA Records at the time – and they brought us in and showed us storyboards, and had a conference call with the folks out in L.A., and just made us feel like we were in on the ground floor of a project.

Songfacts: And you've seen the movie afterwards?

Billy: Yeah.

Songfacts: Did you like it?

Billy: Yeah. I mean, it was cute. (laughs)

Songfacts: (laughs) You're all, "My kids loved it!"

Billy: (laughs)

Songfacts: Did you guys put all the flutes and all that in back? Because it kind of reminded me of Snow White, when all the animals are helping her get dressed and stuff.

Billy: (laughing) We didn't do that. We did a regular demo. I played the harmonica on the demo just to make it a little bit more hillbilly.

Songfacts: What did you think about all those flutes?

Billy: I like it, it's kind of cute. I mean, sometimes when Don and I do a gig together, we'll play it.

Songfacts: Any songs that you want to particularly talk about?

Billy: "The Preacher Won't Have To Lie," that's a really special song. We joke about how at our church we have a pastor that said, "Well, you know the saying, you want to live your life so when you die the preacher won't have to lie at your funeral." And I wrote down on the bulletin, "Song: 'The Preacher Won't Have To Lie.'" Steve Dean is one of my best friends in town, and he and I have been writing for a long time. We really felt like we were just holding the pen and the Lord was helping us put that one together.

That's a song I still play, it's not a young song, it's an old song, too. It's probably 13 years old or something, but it still holds up. I made a project that never came out, and I did a little independent project, and I put it on there, because it's one of my favorite songs that I've ever been a part of. The way that all that went down was, Blackhawk were making an album and pared their list of songs down to 15. And "Preacher Won't Have To Lie" was in that pile of 15. They only recorded 12, and "Preacher Won't Have To Lie" was in that pile of 3 that didn't make it. So we went from there to just a couple weeks later, Frank Lidell, who is Lee Ann Womack's husband, and was A&R at Decca at the time. He tells me the story where he and Lee Ann were driving across New Mexico, and he was playing songs for her in the car to see what she'd like. He said he put in "Preacher Won't Have To Lie," the demo, and she did backflips over it. Just flipped out and just loved it. So she ended up recording it. And another very cool thing about that song, back after 9/11, the country music community did a benefit at CMT, a benefit for the survivors and for the victims of 9/11, they did a concert. Every artist got to do two songs. And for the most part they were doing kind of career songs, and Lee Ann chose "I Hope You Dance," and "Preacher Won't Have To Lie" for her two on that concert.

Songfacts: Two pretty highly emotional songs, I would think.

Billy: Yeah. And the fact that "Preacher" wasn't a big hit for her or anything.

Songfacts: Okay. Off-the-wall question; you said that you went to Arizona State University.

Billy: Yep. Just for one year.

Songfacts: What did you study?

Billy: Geography.

Songfacts: So that you'd know where you are? (laughs)

Billy: I thought I wanted to make maps, I don't know. (laughs) I liked it. But it was all introductory classes and stuff, so I ended up taking bio and history and art of architecture, or something like that.

Songfacts: Did you wind up getting a degree anywhere?

Billy: I transferred to Cornell University in upstate New York, and graduated with a communication arts degree.

Songfacts: So you know how to communicate, and you know where you are.

Billy: Yeah. It was a lot of writing, actually. Communication arts involved a lot of script writing, television, radio, and just mass media, public speaking, stuff like that. So it was stuff that was applicable. But being that it was Cornell, which has a great college of agriculture, I ended up taking a ton of ag production and ag business courses, and really set my sights on being a farmer. That's what I wanted to do was own a farm. And I tried it for a while, too. I tried seven years before we moved down to Nashville, I worked on a vegetable farm to see if it was where I was supposed to be. As awesome as it was, I felt like if I could do well enough in music, I could grow a big garden. (laughs)

Songfacts: Have you?

Billy: No.

Songfacts: You don't have a massive vegetable garden out there growing mutant vegetables?

Billy: No, I don't think four tomato plants and a couple of basil… that doesn't do it. Ain't gonna do it.

Songfacts: And you do performance shows around Nashville only? Or do you travel?

Billy: Travel some. I've been lots of places to do shows. When people know what a writers show is, if they understand it, which is basically you're hearing songs that you've heard on the radio, almost like having the singer there, only it's not. I mean, it's not as expensive as it would be to have, let's say, Lee Ann Womack go and do a show. I'd do one for a lot less. (laughs)

Songfacts: When you sing, you sound like Vince Gill.

Billy: Well, that's a nice compliment. I did an album for Magnatone Records, which was an independent label back in '95. Billboard reviewed it and threw a little bit of the Vince comparison in there.

Songfacts: Well, it's good that you like that comparison.

Billy: Yeah. I could think of a lot worse singers.

We spoke with Billy Montana on September 26, 2008. Visit his Web site at billymontana.com.
More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 3

  • Mr. Gasoline from Redwood City, CaBilly - write a song about what it would be like to be a tomato, get picked, sorted, stored, gassed (to make you red before your time, tossed in a truck,unloaded by a grocery box boy, fondled by housewives, sliced, diced and eaten - or don't - keep up the excellent work.
  • Lois&jack Spencer from Then Ny Now CaGood to read allthis stuff about a close freind,Remember the rodeo!s and allthe hard gigs youall did?we were all there and still are for you
  • Jim Moon from Penn Yan New YorkWe have followed your career for years. Keep writing those great songs.
see more comments

The End Of The Rock EraSong Writing

There are no more rock stars - the last one died in 1994.

Five Rockers Who Rolled With The DevilSong Writing

Just how much did these monsters of rock dabble in the occult?

Zac HansonSongwriter Interviews

Zac tells the story of Hanson's massive hit "MMMbop," and talks about how brotherly bonds effect their music.

U2Fact or Fiction

How did The Edge get his name? Did they name a song after a Tolkien book? And who is "Angel of Harlem" about?

Album Cover InspirationsSong Writing

Some album art was at least "inspired" by others. A look at some very similar covers.

Scott StappSongwriter Interviews

The Creed lead singer reveals the "ego and self-fulfillment" he now sees in one of the band's biggest hits.