Bad news, bad news
Came to me where I sleep
Turn, turn, turn again ....
"Percy's Song" - Bob Dylan
Tunesmith, Co Writer & Friend
On Thursday, Feb 11th 2016, I was working in my woodshop, which is a good place to think when the power tools are silent. I was thinking far too much about three deaths of people I knew and or worked with that had occured within just a week of each other, not to mention a few more of people I admired, that added up to far too many, too close together. Along with that thought, an old song from well over 50 years ago popped into my head. "Let's Think About Living" a fairly lighthearted rant from Bob Luman, that was written by Boudleaux Bryant, who along with his wife Felice was one of my very first songwriting heros. The Bryants were known mainly for all their hits they wrote for Don & Phil Everly, like By By Love, All I Have To Do Is Dream, Devoted To You and more.. but in reality they were Nashvilles' first full time professional tunesmiths, that turned out scores of hit songs and built The House Of Bryant publishing empire. Or in the words of the late Phil Everly, "The Bryants kept Don and I from a career of lifting heavy boxes." Well a lot of times a song gets stuck in your head and you wonder why ? I took a lunch break, and it was still playing in my head. I wasn't that eager to go back down to the woodshop, so I checked my e mail, nothing there but spam, took a glance at my Face Book page, skimmed through the raves and rants and still Boudleaux's tune is playing in my mind. So I thought, well as long as I'm here, I think I might say something about too many people leaving the building lately and throw in a musical illustration with a link to a you tube post of Boudleaux's song. A quick search on you tube and I had about 20 versions of it to choose from on the first of seven pages. Never knew it was that big of a song? I copied and pasted the link into the "What's On Your Mind" space on my FB page, but then for some reason, decided not to hit the post button and returned to my woodshop.
That evening, I was at the computer when this private message from tunesmith and friend Ed Beaver came through ...."CONDOLENCES , I just heard that Kim Williams has passed"
My reaction was one of shock and disbelief, and I asked Ed ... ARE YOU SURE?... JEEZUS ...He gave me his source and told me he thought I already knew... Even after I followed up on Ed's source and faced that it was more than possible, I was still in the same sort of deja vu shock and semi disbelief as when I got the phone call about co writer Walter Hyatt being aboard the Valu-Jet on May 11, 1996. I did not sleep well, and was up at 4 AM searching for further confirmation. It came hard at 6 AM Friday with a post on FB from tunesmith Bobby Bradock. That's when it dawned on me why I never clicked on posting Boudleaux's tune.
The last time I was with Kim, was in July of 2014 at the funeral for Don "Dirt" Lanier. That day started the renewal of more than a decade dormant friendship, that felt like no time had really gone by. We have stayed in fairly regular touch since, talking about life in general , the state of the music biz, the world, swapping songs like some swap recipes and even talking about writing together again, if only for the hell of it. He certainly did not need any more songs in his giant catalog, and as far as the handful of tunes, that we did write together back in the 90's, neither one of us had a plausible explanation to why some like"Shootin' The Breeze" and "One Less Key" have languished all this time? As Kim would say ... "IT's A CRAZY BUSINESS, AND IT WILL DRIVE YOU TOTALY NUTS IF YOU LET IT" or as I call it THE UNSOLVED MILLION MYSTERIES OF MUZAK ROW... He told me around the end of last year, he had just got a twenty some year old tune cut, and was almost as excited as when we got our first one.
MAY 1991 : WITH DIRT & KIM AT OUR ASCAP NUMBER 1 PARTY
I'm going to wind this up now with an excerpt from my audio book "If The Devil Danced ..." that I wrote back in 1996 . In this part, it tells about how we first met in 1988 and some of what happened afterwards. There's much more about our life changing relationship throughout the book, which hopefully will be out in print before too much more time passees by. I say that because life is like a song I wrote back in 1968 called "Borrowed Time" ... all of us live on it.
One day a couple came into the API publishing office and Glenn Warren introduced me to them. It was Kim and Phyllis Williams...
Kim was from east Tennessee, but he had taken an apartment in town and was staying here on weekdays to write with as many people as he could. We chatted briefly and Glenn told Kim, he needed to hear “Cotton Eyed Moon.” Kim seemed to be a highly energetic guy, we shook hands and he said, “Lets get together sometime and write one.” “ Ok man...we will.”, I said. I still was not a big co writer, I had done some with Wood Newton, Austin Church, and Walter Hyatt and that was about it.
Kim heard "Cotton Eyed Moon" and got in touch with me. “Hey man, let's write one like that.” Sure I said and we set a date for a Friday evening. Kim is an extremely hard worker, he attacked songwriting. He’d schedule two to three appointments a day at his apartment in Nashville, then go home to Rogersville on weekends. When I got there, Kim had said it had been a long week. We sat around a while and chewed the fat. His living room was set up with tape gear, a computer, and lots of books. The walls were decorated with photos, both 8x10’s of some entertainer friends and snapshots. One snapshot was of that kid I saw at Summer lights. He was wearing the same striped shirt and big black hat and sitting with a girl in Kim’s apartment. Kim said that’s Garth and Sandy Brooks. There was another photo of a guy who reminded me of J.C. Weaver, the guy we built the music hall with. Kim said that’s Doug Brooks. I asked if they were related, because there was no resemblance. No, Kim said, but Doug has a deal on Epic. By the time his record came out, they had changed his last name to Stone.
I need to mention here with advance apologies to Kim, that it was obvious that he had been in some kind of awful accident. We had not discussed it, and I wasn’t asking unless he brought it up. He did, it was an industrial accident back home around 15 years ago. An electrical panel in a factory had exploded in front of him and a buddy. 400,000 volts had passed through him and he was actually on fire. It’s a true miracle he survived. There was years of recovery and painful skin grafting. He told me he battled the bottle after that, but kicked it. I was left with the impression that this was one DETERMINED, SONG WRITING, SON OF A GUN. He was and still is.
Well it was getting late and Kim was wore out, but he asked “Well what have you got?” I threw out some ideas and we started to work on one called “Radio Rose.” After about thirty minutes, we both saw we were painting ourselves into a corner, so we turned the dial and abandoned poor Rose. Kim got out his hook book and read off a list of titles. He must of read a dozen when he said “Here’s one I’ve had for several years and never been able to do anything with, though I’ve sure tried it with several people. It’s a saying, I got out of a book back home. “THEY SAY THAT THE DEVIL DANCES IN EMPTY POCKETS”... Whoa! hold it right there pal, Holy Smoke, I thought, “Man that’s different.” We went to work right away, but we headed down a dead end street. We were writing it as a somber dirge. It was getting late and Kim had to drive home next morning. But we both knew we had something that had our attention. First co writing sessions can always be awkward, but I knew we would get back together to finish this one.
Saturday morning came and all I could think of was, man I need a car bad. My '77 Chrysler Cordoba was on it’s last legs. I started looking through the Saturday paper at the car ads. NO MONEY DOWN, hell I qualified there, I had no money to put down. Then I started thinking about our song title. Then our song idea hit me, and I put the twist into it. Well, if the devil does dance in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine. I grabbed an orange colored marker of Erik’s and the ideas just flowed. Because I felt I had written too many car songs, I had avoided specifically talking about a car purchase. The original draft went like this : I’ll tell you a tale of a whale of a sale downtown yesterday / Word got around No Money down / Take years and years to pay/ When I got there the shelves were bare / The salesman said just wait/ For a little cash I got one more stashed/ And so I took the bait / Chorus: If the devil dances in empty pockets / He’d sure have a ball in mine / With a 9 foot grand / A ten piece band / and a 12 girl chorus line/ I could raise the loot in a 3 piece suit/ Give him one dance for a dime / If the Devil dances in empty pockets, he’d have a ball in mine.
I was turned on and called Kim in Rogersville. He got excited and said let’s get together Monday afternoon. We both knew we were on to something. During the rest of the day I played with a melody. I started with the chorus as it seemed pretty much together. The main problem I was having, was the word dances. It didn’t sing well. When I changed it to danced it worked. I couldn’t wait for Monday. If Kim hadn’t lived four hours away and I wasn’t so broke, I probably would of drove to Rogersville.
Kim’s apartment faced an alley that ran between 17th and 18th avenues. It was one of Chet Atkin’s properties. Kim told me one winter the pipes froze, and old Chet himself came out to inspect the damage. Across the alley were the parking lots for the businesses on 17th. One of them was Major Bob’s. Bob Doyle was partners with Pam Lewis in managing Garth Brooks. Well in the parking lot that day was a Nash Rambler convertible around a 1960 vintage. When we got to working, Kim suggested we define what was on sale. He thought cars were a natural. I said fine, but told him why I initially avoided it (I had too many car songs) Kim said, “How many of your car songs do you have cut”? It made perfect sense. Then I thought about The Nash outside. I said, “Kim do you remember the Nash?” “Sure”. he said, “Well wouldn’t that be a hell of a door prize for this poor sucker we are trying to portray in song? “Could be”, Kim said. Then I told him to look out his window. “DAMN! .... He said, WHAT AN OMEN!” There was no stopping us that afternoon, as we really got rolling. We straightened out the first verse, wrote the second then Kim said, “How about a bridge?” He retreated to his “quote book” He found one fairly quick.”They Say Debt Is A Bottomless Pit Where The Devil Likes To Play “ I responded almost immediately with, “I’d sell my soul to get out of this hole”, Kim added “ But there’d be hell to pay” Yep, we were both on fire that day. We had it finished in about 90 minutes. I told Kim about the demos I was doing out at Jim Hokes and he said, “If it comes out sounding like that Cotton Eyed Moon, you got my vote, just do it.” I played it live for Johnny he seemed amused and said, “Do It.” I booked some time for it and "Rock The Roadhouse Down” that Wood Newton and I wrote. During that week, Austin Church had come over to write. I played him The Devil Danced. He said, “Wow!, that sounds like you really got something.” I told him we were going to demo it soon. I had to excuse myself as nature was calling. Sitting on the throne, I was thinking about the song. The opening line was still, “I’ll tell you a tale of a whale of a sale”.Then it hit me DIABLO MOTORS ! Yes Diablo, a word I had learned as a kid from watching a Laurel & Hardy movie "The Devils Brother". Diablo Motors Had A Hell Of A Sale, which gave even more meaning to word DOWNTOWN yesterday. I came out of the john and called Kim. He loved it. The last two words written, became the first two of the song.
Demo day arrived, actually it was done in several sessions. The rhythm track, in which Jim programed a great cartoonish sounding “dancing Skeleton” bridge. Then the instrumental over dubs of Russ Pahl on steel and Craig Duncan on fiddle. Jim did some great horn work on” Rock The Roadhouse” and we brought in Dave Pomroy for bass. We set up a Saturday to do vocals. Joe Diffie was to sing both and Wood came out to add harmony to “Rock The Roadhouse” . Joe said, He didn’t think he was the right singer for Roadhouse, but we told him to go for it. Wood was happy and left, then we did Devil Danced. Joe nailed it in two takes. As we were mixing it, Jim Hoke said to me, “You know what? .. this one sounds like a Hit Record.” He had never said that to me before. He had said great song or nice this or that but never Hit Record. Joe seemed pleased but not that excited about it.
On Sunday, Kim stopped by with a songwriting bud of his Ron Harbin. They were on their way to a party, Tree Publishing was throwing for Red Lane, a writer who had been with Tree for 25 years. Kim was in negotiations with Tree at that time. Don “Dirt” Lanier, had a co pub deal with them and was signing him. I thought about the time a few months prior when Dirt was still at MCA records as an A&R guy. Johnny Slate was telling him his tale of woe at a party about the difficulty API was having in pitching songs. Dirt agreed to help, as he was planning this new publishing company. He came over one afternoon and listened to some of our catalog. The first songs he grabbed were my “Behind The 8 Ball”, “Cotton Eyed Moon,” and Kim's “New Way To Fly.” He asked Johnny about a week later if I was signed. “Oh yes, Ken writes exclusively for us” Johnny told him over the phone. I was in Johnny’s office and saw him wink at me. When he hung up, he told me,”Ol Dirt’s trying to steal you away, but I straightened him out.” Yea I thought I’m signed allright, to make tape copies, take out the trash, run errands, but not to write songs. I would not see an exclusive songwriters contract till the Devil Hit #1 almost two years later!
Anyway Kim and Ron both loved the demo and Ron said too, “Man—That Is A HIT!.” Kim took a copy to give to Dirt, as Dirt had a meeting with George Straight that week. In the meantime Stacy Slate had an appointment with Bob Montgomery to play him some new API songs. She could of not picked a worse day to go see him. Merle Haggard had come out in the press saying that Bob was forcing him to cut certain songs, sort of an A&R version of price fixing. Not True, Bob as a song man, and now as responsible for selling records, was only trying to get Merle to record songs he thought would fly. But the press had a field day with it and Bob had a meeting with his boss Roy Wunsch and probably “The Suits” from New York.
Stacy, bless her hillbilly soul goes over to Epic records with a bag of tapes. Bob puts one in, plays it for a minute, takes it out and throws it across the room. MAN TALK ABOUT REJECTION! Stacy realizes that she’s not about to move any merchandise at this location and gets up to go. Bob apologizes, for his boorishness, but she still wants to leave. He talks her into giving him another tape. She says, “We just got this one in Monday”, as if the freshness was gonna sell it." Fresh Songs straight off the boat, Get them now before they start to stink !.He puts it on, she watched him nervously. His head went down, but his foot was tapping. It ends and he rewinds it. How nice... now we don’t have to fine him for not rewinding it. Then he plays it again. After the second time through, he asks her “Who do you hear this for?” She didn’t know what to say. Bob did the talking for her. “THAT MY DEAR ... IS JOE’S BIG HIT” Well she thought, he sounds good on the demo. Bob called Cathy Moore in, who was his secretary then. Cathy would tell me later that Bob thought it was the most clever song he could recall in a dogs age. Then he called Johnny to PUT IT ON HOLD. He called the next day to to emphasize it. I called Kim and we thought cool. It looked like we both had just gotten our first major label cut. But there is an old saying in this town. It’s not final, till it’s vinyl” That’s how old that saying is, but even in the digital CD age, it still rang very true. Bob was nuts about it, Johnny was starting to get on the bandwagon, Tony liked it, Danny didn’t care for it and Joe didn’t say anything, until it came time to pick the songs for the album. I remember making the compilation tape that they were going to choose all the songs from. It had twenty three songs on it. Three of them were mine. Besides the “Devil Danced”, I had “Cotton Eyed Moon” and “Behind The 8 Ball” on there. Glenn Warren thought Joe sang my songs like they were custom written for him. So did a lot of other people. In reality, most anything Joe sang sounded good, due to the sheer quality of his voice. When you gave him his kind of song, you were better off and if it was a good song to start with,well then it was undeniable.
Joe dropped a bombshell at a pre production meeting. He DID NOT want to cut “If The Devil Danced.” He told Bob, he’d rather do “8 Ball & Cotton Eyed Moon” and tried to trade for it. Bob was steamed. He told Joe that “ He’d Wind Up Naming His Bus For If The Devil Danced, It was probably going to be a signature if not career record for him.” I was unaware of all this. until Johnny told me what had transpired at the meeting. I don’t know why he even told me. I got a sick feeling and called Joe at home that night. I could tell Joe wasn’t comfortable talking about it or that I had found out about it. I told him if he really didn’t want to do it, he shouldn’t. But he reassured me that he was OK with it and was going to do it. Recording sessions were starting next week. I still felt very uneasy. . .
* Farther along in the book, I tell who would of cut it had Joe got his way ... I'll give you one guess ...
THE PENQUIN BROTHERS AT ASCAP AWARD NIGHT SEPT 1992
Memories and affairs of the heart were always well farmed themes in Kim's songs