Felice (8/7/1925 – 4/22/2003) and Boudleaux (2/13/1920 – 6/25/1987) Bryant are two of my favorite songwriters. They wrote some of the biggest hits of my youth. I loved them them, I love them now. Their writing excited me, inspired me and it certainly defined me. I mean, I sang “Bird Dog” non-stop and ad nauseum–at the top of my lungs. I just wanted to get a kiss from Little Susie, and for sure, I have sung “Devoted to You” at more weddings than I can count.
In an obit presented by music institution, BMI, in the News of their April 21, 2003 bulletin, they state ” the 800 recorded titles written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant have sold more than a half billion copies worldwide. Among their hits are “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Bye Bye Love” recorded by the Everly Brothers, “Raining In My Heart” recorded by Buddy Holly, and the Tennessee state song “Rocky Top.” BMI further states, “From their first hit in 1948 throughout the next four decades, the Bryants proved themselves to be among the most pioneering and influential music creators of the 20th century. They supplied songs to an astounding variety of voices — Eddy Arnold, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Tony Bennett, Simon & Garfunkel, Sarah Vaughan, the Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello, Count Basie, Dean Martin, Ruth Brown, Cher, R.E.M. and Ray Charles, among dozens – and launched the career of the Everly Brothers with several signature records.”
They accomplished what most songwriters only dream of doing, and they did it their way. According to Wikipedia, “During the first years of their marriage, the Bryants struggled financially, living in a mobile home, where they wrote upwards of 80 songs. They solicited a number of country music artists in an attempt to sell their compositions but were either ignored or politely rejected until singer Little Jimmy Dickens recorded their “Country Boy”. The song went to No. 7 on the 1948 country charts and opened the door to a working relationship with Fred Rose at Acuff-Rose Music in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1950, the Bryants moved to Nashville to work full time at songwriting. Some of their compositions from the early 1950s included the swinging “Sugar Beet” (recorded by Moon Mullican) and the bluesy “Midnight” (recorded by Red Foley).”
This is all good news for the struggling songwriter. They not only pulled the elusive “it” off, but they did it really big! And yet, I was talking to a songwriter who is successful in his own right and others who have told me that no matter how great they were, they would not have made it in today’s songwriting scene. How very sad. Not just that they wouldn’t make it, but that they wouldn’t even be heard by the so-called and self-appointed “Music Industry Professionals.” Why not? Here’s what I think.
I remember watching an interview with Felice and Boudleaux in the ’60s or ’70s, and (now, this is a close as I can remember this scene) he said that if someone was interested in something out of his catalog he would invite them over to his house. They would then sit on his room where he would sing them songs out of his “Book,” and hear what he had. He said that he counted on the fact that his voice and guitar playing were so bad that they would just know that they could do better, and take the song. I know, it’s just crazy. Yet that’s what he did.
The thinking today is that the songwriter must spend thousands of dollars on demos for each individual pitch so the A & R Folk and the Talent, can hear what they would sound like if they sang the song. Whoa, what’s up with that? Well my suspicion is that the A & R Folk and the Talent don’t, on fact, have any talent. They all have a wily sense of making money, but they do not have any real sense of their own music. If they did they would be able to interpolate. Yes interpolate! Having the “talent” to listen to a song and project what they hear into their own product and style. But they don’t have it. They also are terrified of taking a risk, so they force songwriters to spend needless money on demos so that they can pretend they can hear themselves singing a hit. What they are actually doing it shutting the doors on real talent and real songs through their inability to be creative.
Felice and Boudleaux, you two are still the best writers this old Rockabilly ever heard!!