CMASongwritersPhoto Credit: John Russell / CMA

Article written by: Torben MacCarter

Thursday night, the CMA Songwriters Series kicked off its 12th season with hit songwriters Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, Don Schlitz, and Brad and Brett Warren at the CMA Theater in downtown Nashville. The show was a chance for the songwriting gurus to share their stories behind some of the biggest songs they’ve written in country music, as well as play the songs the way they were penned years ago. 

Gary Burr opened up the show by playing his song, “Nothin’ bout Love Makes Sense,” a song which he admitted he wanted to talk about popcorn shrimp in, and was cut by LeAnn Rimes in 2005. Gary also told the story of the tune “Love’s Been A Little Bit Hard On Me,” a song he wrote while trying to get by as an electrician, “writing songs at night and climbing around in attics during the day.” The audience was also happy to hear his song “A Thousand Times A Day,” cut by George Jones and Patty Lovelace. Behind most of his writing, Gary mentioned his largest influence came from The Beatles.

Sitting next to Gary was his wife, Georgia Middleman, an acclaimed songwriter that shared the stories about how day-to-day experiences gave way to some of the most successful songs she ever wrote. The audience began to tap their feet and sing along with Georgia as she began to play “Dearly Beloved” which most fans recognized as Faith Hill’s popular song from the 2000s. In telling the story about “Baby I’m In,” Georgia talked about how the song had taken awhile to write but came to fruition at just the right time when she was having car problems. The chart-topping song did that and more, as her song was cut by Keith Urban, and still made Georgia beam with happiness as she played it for the audience.

The next performers on the stage were Brad and Brett Warren, a powerhouse, sibling duo that penned some of the most recognizable country hits in the last few years. The two brothers began their set by talking about how “Felt Good On My Lips” was cut by Tim McGraw. Brad Warren recalled how Tim said, “I want to cut that,” something that still baffles them today. While they have written some of the biggest hits in last few years, the Warren Brothers didn’t hesitate to make the audience laugh — a lot. The brothers’ friendship with the other writers made the jesting and natural conversation on stage easy to watch between songs and gave way to the story behind “Red Solo Cup,” famously cut by Toby Keith. As Brett noodled away on his guitar, Brad laughed and talked about how “dumb” the song actually was, jokingly singing, “this song is funny, but made me a pile of money.” The two also went on to play “If You’re Reading This” and “Highway Don’t Care,” two songs which they also worked with Tim McGraw.

Finally, the left-most performer on the stage was legendary songwriter Don Schlitz, the famed writer of the classic Kenny Rogers tune, “The Gambler.” Of course, Don opened his set with the classic song, and after his performance, Don received a standing ovation from the entire theater. Don also played, according to him, songs he called a “specific song for a specific time,” like “Tattoo Redo” and honest songs like “40 Hour Week,” cut by Alabama, and “Forever and Ever, Amen.”

At the end of the night, Don extended an arm to his fellow writers and said how much it meant to him that “[the audience] listened to [their songs],” because as songwriters, “[they] may not be as flashy as the performers,” but still get to play the music they love every day.