Daniel Moore co-wrote the 1996 Billboard Country Song of the Year: "My Maria" by Brooks & Dunn. A capstone to a career that began in 1962 when he left Oregon for a life of music in Los Angeles, Moore wrote it in 1973 with the Texas singer B.W. Stevenson, who took it to #9 on the Hot 100. The previous year, Stevenson recorded Moore's song "Shambala," but was supplanted on the charts by Three Dog Night's version, which got a big promotional push and became the hit.
Songwriting came from necessity: before his first recording session, Moore was informed that he would have to show up with a song. From there, he wrote songs that were recorded by The Everly Brothers ("Deliver Me," 1967), Kenny Rogers ("Oregon," 1975), Bonnie Raitt, ("Sweet Forgiveness," 1976), Kim Carnes ("One More River To Cross," 1978), and The Band ("Shine A Light," 1993).
Most of the staff songwriters we've spoken with keep regimented schedules, showing up for work and clocking their eight hours. Daniel writes from inspiration, and as he tells us, his publishing deal gave him the freedom to do so. "99% of my songs are written for myself," he says.
Moore's other accomplishments include singing backup on Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, producing albums for T-Bone Burnett, Delbert McClinton, Sweathog and Kim Carnes, and starting his own record company, DJM, in 1997. Still active as a writer and musician, you can find many of his recent releases at CD Baby.
Moore took an "ask me anything" approach to this interview, which led to insights about both the creative (songwriting, production) and the professional (demos, publishing deals) side of the business.
Daniel Moore: I most enjoy being a songwriter. I quit performing about 20 years ago, because I blew a hole in my voice singing rock and roll. My last real producing venture was in 2001 with The Jeff Pryor Band. Producing carries so much responsibility that I began to tire of the task. If it's not a successful venture, it's the producer's fault.
Songfacts: How did you become a songwriter?
Daniel: When I turned 21, (fall of 1962) I left Eugene Oregon, where I had just spent three years going to college, and took the Trailways bus to Hollywood. Within two weeks I secured a record deal with a small independent record label. There were hundreds of small labels in Los Angeles at this time. The reason I chose this small label was because they wanted to record immediately. The night before the recording, one of the label's owners told me that he expected me to write at least one of the songs that I would record the next day. I said "No problem," after gulping. That night I wrote my first song. It was kind of like a negro spiritual type song.
The next day myself and a bass player and a conga player recorded an entire album; live in the studio, of course. This was a folk song album. After playing in the folk clubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco for a few months, I secured a job playing acoustic bass with The Fairmount Singers, a Eugene, Oregon based group that backed Jimmy Rogers ("Honeycomb," "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," etc.). After a year of that, I decided to become involved in producing records and publishing songs. Meanwhile, I continually wrote songs.
Songfacts: How did you end up becoming a staff songwriter, and what was that like?
Daniel: In 1972, I wrote "Shambala" and made a demo of it. I shopped it and two other songs at music publishing companies, and made a writing deal with ABC Dunhill. This publisher showed the song to Three Dog Night, who recorded the song in December of 1972.
My deal with this publisher was, submit 15 songs over a one year period. They provided a small budget for making demos. My time was my own. I could physically submit tapes to them, or just mail them in. I was compensated monthly, by mail, with a decent living wage. I chose to make a half publishing deal. So I still owned half of the publishing, even though they had all of the administration rights. In other words, I was getting 75 cents out of every dollar that came in from sales. My previous experience at producing records had acquainted me with how publishing royalties work. Out of every dollar that comes in, 50 cents goes to the writer and 50 cents goes to the publisher. It's still that way today.
Songfacts: How does the process of making demos work?
Daniel: You book studio time, buy tape (in those days), hire musicians, record and mix the songs. By this time in my career, I had been involved in hundreds of recording sessions and was totally familiar with the process. You are always trying to make a "record" when you make demos. I didn't believe in pulling any punches. My demos were treated like masters, in my mind. After all they have to not only sound pleasing, but they need to make the cash register bells go off to the listener because they sound so good. I always did my own demos.
Songfacts: As a songwriter, what do you do to goose your creativity and hone your craft?
Daniel: I get by myself where no one can hear me and let it loose. I usually write the music first, then the lyric and melody. Often I start with a hooky phrase, or a good song title.
Daniel: A couple of months after Three Dog Night recorded "Shambala," the same publisher that showed it to Three Dog showed it to B.W.'s Producer. Three had not released their single yet, so this producer, David Kershenbaum, decided to record it and release it before Three Dog. And that's exactly what he did. He even hired me to sing all of the background vocals on B.W.'s recording. In one week after B.W. released it, RCA Victor sold 125,000 45 singles. When Three Dog's folks heard it on the radio, they rushed their version out on the market with a big promotional push and took over, selling 1,250,000 45 singles.
B.W's version died on the vine. That's when David Kershenbaum called me and asked if I had any other songs in the same groove as "Shambala." I told him I had an unfinished song called "My Maria" that was the same basic feel. He asked if I would consider letting B.W. help finish the song. I told him I'd be open to trying. We met at the big RCA Studio in Hollywood. I made a cassette recording of what I had; the guitar part, the opening line of lyrics and the melody plus the words and melody of the chorus. B.W. went in a room by himself and wrote the rest of the lyrics in about 15 minutes. I had been working on that music for at least two years. We made a cassette of B.W. singing the new lyrics and me playing the guitar part. We called an arranger, who got there in about 20 minutes. Two days later, with top L.A. musicians we cut "My Maria." I sang all of the background vocals on that too. Two weeks later they released the song and it became a hit. I think that radio felt sorry for B.W. because Three Dog had run over him with "Shambala." So radio played the heck out of "My Maria." One month after "My Maria" was written, it was hit.
Songfacts: What was the inspiration for your song "Somebody I Trusted (Put Out The Light)," which is a great lyric. Three Dog Night and Joe Cocker both recorded that song - what are your thoughts on their versions?
In 1975 Joe's version of "Put Out The Light" was released as the first single on his album. As a single, it didn't quite work. The B-side of that single was "You Are So Beautiful." After a few weeks A&M Records flipped it over to the B side and had a huge hit with "You Are So Beautiful." That album was produced by Jim Price, the trumpet player whom I had befriended on the Mad Dogs tour. The inspiration for writing the song was my impatience with people that put a sour note on any situation. Especially recording or performance situations. Negativity ruins the creative process as a general rule. So I won't usually stand for it.
Songfacts: Do you submit written lyrics to the songs you write? We're wondering why so many of the official lyrics provided by the publishers end up being incorrect.
Daniel: Lyrics get changed a lot during the recording process. So yes, I always submitted lyrics, but many of the best recording artists will ad-lib a little, which is just fine by me. Just as long as they do a good job of ad-libbing. I want the artist to make the song "theirs." I've had that backfire on me a few times, but not often.
Songfacts: What are some of your memorable experiences working with Kim Carnes?
Daniel: Kim married Dave Ellingson, one of the Fairmount Singers that I worked with in 1963 with Jimmy Rogers. I attended their wedding in 1967 and became great friends with Kim. Kim was and is a consummate professional as a vocalist. I produced her first album for EMI Records in 1979 (St Vincent's Court). I also sang background on a later album that had the "Bette Davis Eyes" hit single on it, as well as going on the road doing concerts with her. Her husband Dave and I were her background singers for several years. Kim was a real pro as a singer and performer all the time I worked with her.
Songfacts: Please describe your religious upbringing and how that played a role in your songwriting.
Daniel: I grew up in a strict Christian fundamental home. No dancing, no cussin', no alcohol, no playing cards (we could play with Rook cards only). My dad was a preacher, my dad's dad was a preacher, my oldest three brothers were preachers, as well as uncles and cousins. My mom was a really good piano player and played for church almost every Sunday morning and Sunday night. We experienced a lot of music all the time. I was definitely influenced by the church music. Most especially the camp songs at church camp, which were all lighthearted sing-along type songs.
Songfacts: When Brooks & Dunn covered "My Maria," in 1996, it was the Billboard Country song of the year. Did you earn more in royalties from that cover than you did for the original?
Daniel: Yes. The original sold 950,000 singles, Brooks & Dunn's version has sold over 6 million. The original version got about 1,500,000 US radio performances. The Brooks & Dunn version is over 6,500,000 US radio performances and still going.
Songfacts: Your song "Sweet Forgiveness" was the title track to Bonnie Raitt's 1977 album. Please tell us about that song.
Daniel: I wrote that song on the piano. I can't even play it on the guitar. My demo was just piano and vocal. I found out later that Bonnie prefers bare bones demos to fully produced and arranged demos. I was signed as a staff writer to Warner Bros. Publishing at the time I wrote "Sweet Forgiveness." I believe I recorded that demo at their publishing office in 1976. At that time I had a soundproof music room at my house and pretty much attempted writing every day with either the guitar or the old upright piano. That was about the time that ABC Dunhill did not pick up my option, so that songwriting gig - the sweetest gig in the music business - was over, but I was trying to forgive them for putting me out of work. I almost did it.
Songfacts: What is your philosophy when working as a producer?
Daniel: My philosophy as a producer is:
1. Pick great songs
2. Pick a great studio and a great engineer.
3. Pick great musicians that fit the project.
4. Work out great arrangements.
5. Let it flow and let it roll.
Songfacts: What are your memories of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour?
Daniel: All good. I didn't have any negative experiences on that tour. The music still holds up. See the movie Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and you'll see this redheaded hippie having too much fun. Eight weeks of one-nighters took a toll on everyone though. We flew around the country a couple of times hitting almost every major city. It will tear you up after a while until you don't even know what city you are in. I recommend a maximum of six weeks on those type of gigs.
Songfacts: Of the many artists who have recorded your songs, who did the one that most stood out to you?
Daniel: I think Bonnie Raitt"s "Sweet Forgiveness" is my favorite.
January 23, 2013
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