Songwriter Interviews

Scotty Emerick (Beer For My Horses)

by Shawna Ortega

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Scotty joined forces with Toby Keith to write many Country classics, and quickly became the collaborator of choice for Keith and many other Nashville A-listers. Some of his compositions include Kenny Chesney's "Boats," Keith's "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight," and seveal songs for Billy Currington. In this interview, you'll learn how they craft these songs, and one theory on how Willie gets his weed (yeah, he wrote that one too).
Shawna Ortega (Songfacts): I'd like to ask you about your songs, if you could take me through those and tell me what they mean, what was happening. You game?

Scotty Emerick: Sure.

SF: My favorite song that I'm always quoting to people is "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight." And I think that is the perfect example of the different ways that men and women think. So I want to know what you were thinking when you wrote it.

Scotty: Well, it was so long ago. We wrote that in 2000.

SF: You're young, your memory will wander that far.

Scotty: That was one of the first songs Toby and I wrote together. We had the chords, "I'm not talkin' 'bout lockin' down forever, that would be too demanding," we were just trying to make fun of this guy. "I want to take it slow and by now you ought to know… sitting on a bar stool talking to some fool who didn't have a clue. I guess he could see you were looking at me, and I was looking at you, too. Then it's do you want to dance, have we ever met."

SF: "And you said 'Hold your horses, boy, I ain't that easy to get.'"

Scotty: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's just about a guy running from commitment.

SF: Is this something that men… am I right when I say that this is a classic example?

Scotty: Well, yeah, probably, a lot of the time. I mean, I'm not a big bar hopper, but…

SF: You're not a big bar hopper, but so many of the songs that you guys write are about bars. "I Love This Bar," "Whiskey Girl."

Scotty: Yeah, well that's because they're easy. No, I'm just kiddin'. I don't know, there's just such a game atmosphere to doing songs in a bar atmosphere, because there's so many things to pick apart and write about. And it makes for a cool song, and everybody knows that everybody goes into them sooner or later, whether it's a bar/restaurant and whatever. We just wanted to try to make it cute, but not too cute, just funny. Just about this guy goin', "Listen, I'm just here for…"

SF: Yeah.

Scotty: "I don't want anything more than…" you know.

SF: I don't want to shack up and hook up and all those things.

Scotty: Right. Well, now you understand I'm not a very good interviewee. (laughs)

SF: Oh no, we're nowhere near through here. I've still got several other songs. You can redeem yourself. I'm just teasing. When you think of a song like that – like any of these songs that I'm talking about, the "Whiskey Girl," whatever other songs that you write with Toby, and you guys are writing in character, or about a character – how do you come up with this stuff together? What's it like to co-write with somebody?

Scotty: Well, we've spent a lot of time together the last seven years, and kind of like your roommate, you know, because we've traveled everywhere, same old bus, and I've always got a guitar around me, so I'm always playing, and we're always trying to have good ideas, trying to find a good idea musically or lyrically. And just build it, I guess. We're constantly doing it, you know what I mean? There's a bunch of songs that you don't hear that were half finished, or just have one verse and that's it.

SF: So one of you guys just comes up with an idea and you kind of throw it down, and then the other person adds to it?

Scotty: We kind of just discuss it amongst ourselves, lyrically discuss the idea, and how to write it, how to go about it. Like a rough draft. And then try to start the music to it, and usually start a chorus and write the chorus, "I love this bar" – I don't wanna do that, but…

SF: I was gonna say, you can't do that.

Scotty: "I ain't as good as I once was, I got thirty years on me now…" Get a chorus, finally get a chorus, and then kind of back up and start a four- or five-line verse. It's kind of difficult to describe, because sometimes it just falls out. Sometimes the music comes at the same time that the lyrics do, and then we work on them together. Sometimes it falls out of the sky, sometimes we really have to chase after what you're trying to get. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. It's really hard to explain, because there's so many different variables that spark something. But having the idea really is one of the keys. Having the idea first, and writing – getting a chorus of it. And then work on those verses, and that's a hit chorus.

SF: The song that you were just quoting, "I'm Not As Good As I Once Was," who had the idea for that one? Who threw that one down? That almost sounds more like a Toby thing, than after you just described to me that you don't really go to bars and stuff.

Scotty: Yeah, Toby has heard that… I think that phrase has been coined. After that song was a hit, I was watching Nick At Night, and Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson used to be in a sitcom in the early '80s, I guess. Is that right? Remember Loni Anderson?

SF: I remember. And I remember Burt Reynolds, and they were married.

Scotty: She was in a sitcom series for a while.

SF: WKRP?

Scotty: Something like that. And he sat down and said, "You know, I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was." That was like a rerun from the '80s or something. I was like, well, man, I think that saying has been around a little bit. Which is cool, because we had never heard of it as a country song. But I had never heard of it that way, so that was Toby's idea. Most of the hits that we wrote – we've written 100 songs – but most of the hits, I think we've had six Number Ones, or about ten hits, most of them have been Toby's lyrical ideas. So that one especially was. We really enjoy writing songs, and really enjoy good songs. It's not an easy thing to do, or everybody would do it.

SF: True.

Scotty: It's kind of just a constant… I was up at 2 in the morning last night with a buddy of mine trying to figure something out.

SF: It's actually sounding like a lot more work than I ever pictured it would be.

Scotty: Yeah, it's a lot of work. But you know it's all out of passion. It's a labor of love. Because, man, once you finally finish a song that's all yours, and it's really good, and it'll always be there, long after we're all here. That's kind of cool.

SF: That's really cool.

Scotty: You can't put a price on stuff like that. And plus, I never did it to get rich or to make money, anyway. I always had a dream to make a living doing it, as long as I was doing it, it didn't matter.

SF: Has it gone way beyond your expectations?

Scotty: Yeah, some things have. And then some things have gone short of my expectations. So it gives me a good perspective from both sides.

SF: Yeah. Okay. Back to business. You had a couple of hits, "I Can't Take You Anywhere," and "The Coast Is Clear." And "I Can't Take You Anywhere," can you talk me through both of these? Because these were fairly recent, you should remember these pretty well, right?

Scotty: Yeah, "I Can't Take You Anywhere," we wanted to have that double meaning where I can't take you anywhere, a guy can't go anywhere without somebody bringing her up. And physically he can't take her anywhere anymore. So we get the guy going out and getting something to eat, and just everywhere he goes, he's reminded of her. We started that chorus, "Struck a nerve, hit a vein, I think from all the tears I cry and this broken-hearted pain, I wouldn't have to carry you around, but no matter where I go somebody wants to know where you've been, are you coming back again, I swear I can't take you anywhere." It's actually a sad song with a cool R&B count beat to it.

SF: It is sad. But is this a personal experience that you wrote about? Or you just like the phrase?

Scotty: No, I mean, I definitely had those feelings of losing somebody. But no, this wasn't personal. I wasn't hurting over anybody myself at that time. You kind of just have to put yourself in somebody else's spot, because every song you write can't be a personal deal. At least for me, it can't.

SF: Yeah, if you wrote about everything personal, it would just be heartrending to everybody.

Scotty: (Laughing) Yeah, I know.

SF: It would be so depressing, they'd think, "Oh, poor Scotty." "The Coast Is Clear," and I'm picturing you in the Bahamas, sitting on the beach.

Scotty: Yeah, "The Coast Is Clear" is another one of those songs where we wanted to try and have a double meaning in that, too, like the coast is clear, of course, while you're sitting out there weather-wise, but also that he's in this beautiful place, and he's just gonna sit there and wait for the love of his life to come along. I wanted to try to make it kind of different, where it's like here's this guy sitting in this beautiful perfect place, and he's gonna wait for the love of his life to come along, and wherever you are, the coast is clear, come on. It's so beautiful for him by himself, you know, he don't wanna leave.

SF: Too lazy to get out of a chair.

Scotty: That's what we were trying to do there.

SF: And again, have you ever sat there on the beach and thought, "Well, come on!"

Scotty: Well, no, not really. But some people have those dreams, I guess.

SF: Well, pretty much anybody that's got a romantic bone in their body, I would imagine, would hope that the perfect person would just waltz up.

Scotty: Good thing about songs is that you can unrealistic and they still…

SF: Songs and fairytales, yes, absolutely.

Scotty: Uh-huh.

SF: Okay, "Beer For My Horses." When you were writing it, did you intend that for that to be a duet with Willie Nelson?

Scotty: No, I didn't. That was all Toby's idea. After we got finished writing it, he said, "Man, you know who'd be perfect to do a duet with?" He said, "Willie Nelson." I said, "Man," I was like, "Man, don't even say that, that'd be way too cool." And then Toby got it done. It happened really easy, too.

SF: Is that the first time that they teamed up?

Scotty: As a duet? Yeah, the first time we met Willie we got on his bus and played him "Beer For My Horses." That's the first time we ever met him. Once we got hold of him, and so we told him we had an idea, we had a song we wanted to do a duet with him. So we just met him on his bus and hung out all night, and played him songs. And he's so nice, he said, "Sure." Then it just all fell into place. They recorded it, and it's great. I wrote "I'll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again" after that first experience, too.

SF: That was so my next question. I was wondering if you would take the Fifth on that, or that's something that you could explain to me.

Scotty: No, I've smoked weed with Willie like 20 times. You have to, you know. When in Rome.

SF: And is it really, really good stuff?

Scotty: Yeah, I mean, I think fans come and bring it to him. Willie's so cool, man, such a really kind spirit. Really fun. He loves to sit around and play songs and talk about songs. And you know, he's a Shakespeare of American music for me.

SF: Yeah, you were probably just a baby when his movie came out, huh? "Honeysuckle Rose"?

Scotty: Yeah.

SF: That's when I fell in love with Willie's music.

Scotty: Yeah, I didn't start hearing about Willie 'til… well, I was about 11 or 12. I had an album.

SF: And after all those years of hearing about him, even if it was… what are you, 32?

Scotty: Yeah, about 15 years later.

SF: Fifteen years, yeah. Were you nervous meeting him?

Scotty: No, not too much. He was trying to be nice, respectful to us, but since then I've been around him a whole bunch. It's weird, he's just so kind.

SF: Okay. "Nights I Can't Remember, Friends I'll Never Forget." Are JB and Cindy real people, or are those made-up people?

Scotty: Those are made-up people.

SF: You just pulled JB and Cindy and you just said, "Okay." When you guys wrote that, again, you're creating characters. Was this based on any kind of experience from either you or Toby?

Scotty: Uh-uh.

SF: You just pulled it out of the air?

Scotty: Yeah. We wrote that in a Las Vegas hotel room.

SF: Well, who threw that idea down on the table?

Scotty: Toby's idea. Nights I can't remember started on an airplane, I remember. Nights I can't remember, friends I'll never forget… I have the FPL line in there – Florida Power and Light.

SF: Oh, is that what that meant?

Scotty: Yeah, FPL is Florida Power and Light. These guys go their separate ways. I really don't remember the song too much. We got Waffle House Diner in there. I really wanted that to be in there, that was funny.

SF: Yep, I noticed that, too. Okay. "Taliban Song." Tell me something fun about "Taliban Song." I laughed so hard the first time I heard that.

Scotty: We were at a charity golf tournament out in Palm Springs right after 9/11. We were in our little bungalow where we were staying, we were watching CNN, it was about 2 in the morning, 1:30 in the morning, we were invading Afghanistan, wherever. So I just started this little beat, and we just started, "I'm just a middle aged Middle Eastern camel-herding man." We just made up this deal to where what if you were a good guy and the wrath of your world was coming down on you because of the Taliban, and you were just a teapot out there, and you had to leave town because of the Taliban. So we just kind of made an observation of it that way. It was really good. That was Toby's lyrical production, and that was really cool, it was a cool twist.

SF: Is that version that's on his album, that's live isn't it?

Scotty: Yeah, that is.

SF: Is it anywhere else? Did you guys do it in the studio anywhere?

Scotty: No. I demoed it with the Coral Reefer Band, Jimmy Buffett's band, when we first wrote it. So I've got a little demo of it with Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band, and that's the only… I've got it on a CD somewhere. But no, oh, you know what? We did it on the "Bob And Tom" show.

SF: Bob and Tom Show.

Scotty: Yeah, Bob and Tom's like a big syndication radio show, guess they're all rock and roll stations around the country. We did that, and a few years ago we did "Weed With Willie" on there, and we were really like their most requested downloaded songs.

Get more from Scotty at scottyemerick.com.
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