Montgomery To Memphis

Album: Lee Ann Womack (1997)
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  • This is the song that almost caused songwriter Billy Montana to hang up his guitar and take a fast train out of town. The story here is as close to heartbreak that it gets in the business side of the music industry.
    Billy: "Del Reeves was a Grand Ole Opry star. And his daughter Anne and I wrote 'Montgomery To Memphis' a long time ago. I think it's still a really great song, and I love Lee Ann's version of it. The thing about it was that it came out on her album at a time where, 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. And 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.
    So we were supposed to be the fourth single off the project. And I remember we went back to where our home was, which was upstate New York, for summer break or something like that. And 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. And 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."
  • The attrition rate with sessions songwriters is very, very high. Writers have to fight for a percentage of earnings from downloaded and traded music. Because of this underbelly of the business, it's more difficult now than ever for a songwriter to make a living wage off their efforts.
    Billy Montana takes the poison with an antidote chaser on a routine basis. "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.' Which is really true, 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. So if you understand it, just 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. Because when we're hearing the successes, like even the cuts that I've had and the hits that I've had and all that, 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 look at it like, you still go in and try to write them the same way every day, and try to write the greatest songs that you can every day."
    And about that pile of songs: "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 I pitch. Because it's just got to be the right day. I'm gonna venture to say almost every artist or someone associated with every artist in town had a chance to hear my song, 'House Of A Thousand Dreams,' 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." (Thanks to Billy for talking with us about this song. Read his full Songfacts interview)
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