Ketch Secor: We asked…

Ketch Secor tried to come up with a list of his 10 favorite songwriters, but after the list had grown to 40 names-including everyone from Iris DeMent to Quincy Jones-he decided he couldn’t bear to cut it down. He suggested that he provide a list of his 10 favorite country music songwriters instead. That wasn’t much easier, but he whittled it down to these 10, in alphabetical order:

Ketch Secor tried to come up with a list of his 10 favorite songwriters, but after the list had grown to 40 names-including everyone from Iris DeMent to Quincy Jones-he decided he couldn’t bear to cut it down. He suggested that he provide a list of his 10 favorite country music songwriters instead. That wasn’t much easier, but he whittled it down to these 10, in alphabetical order:
Cowboy Jack Clement:
“Cowboy was from Memphis, and from the great Memphian tradition of music, and he pushed that tradition forward. He was the original songwriter/producer guy in Nashville, the role model for all the songwriter/producer guys who came after him. Don Was came to Nashville in January to produce a few tracks on Cowboy, and we got to hang out during the sessions. And that proved very influential on our own record. My favorite Cowboy Jack song is ‘Ballad of a Teenage Queen.'”

Merle Haggard: “Merle’s singing and guitar playing are great, but I think his songwriting is even more important. As long as people care about country music, they’ll be listening to Merle Haggard songs. There’s a bit of that Bakersfield dust blowing through all his compositions, and his Oklahoma roots show in everything he does. When he sings that song, ‘Are the Good Times Really Over,’ I’m on that houseboat with him.”

Tom T. Hall
: “If Alan Lomax had written a book about the great folk songs of the 1970s, he would have included Tom T. Hall. He probably would have put him in the chapter titled ‘Party Songs, Nursery Rhymes and Play,’ because Tom T.’s songs are so full of humor-not a biting sort of humor, but a good, homespun humor. We had a chance to play at one of the ceremonies surrounding his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year, and we were glad to do it.”

Loretta Lynn: “Up in the Kentucky mountains, around Van Lear, where Loretta came from, that’s where I went to find inspiration for the songs on this new record. Her humor pecks at you like a chicken. When a chicken pecks at you, it doesn’t hurt you but it scares you. ‘One’s on the Way’ is like a high-wire act, and skinny little Loretta is walking that line, four kids in her arms and a six-pack for her husband. You hold your breath watching her.”

Bob McDill: “He wrote all those great songs for Don Williams, the Gentle Giant. I hear a new Don Williams song all the time, and they never fail in their consistency in delivering the matter of the heart. A song like ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’ could be the flip side of a single with ‘Tennessee Pusher.'”

Roger Miller
: “I’m wild about Roger Miller. Everybody talks about his lyrics, but what a great sense of melody he had. My favorite thing of his was the soundtrack for the animated film of Robin Hood. There’s no room for poetry in Pixar, but when you’ve got 25 scribblers coloring each gel of Maid Marian lifting her dress and Roger Miller three doors down writing ‘Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly, what a day,’ you had something great. Not to mention, “…trailer for sale or rent…'”

Willie Nelson: “I’ve always loved what Cowboy Jack said about Willie: that you couldn’t tell him from a square when he first came to town. But he made that presto-chango act, like the greatest artists all do. He had to go home to find himself. But even in those early songs he found a way to talk to the common person. If you’re a reader, you can’t help but love country music, because it owes so much to words and just a few words at that-‘Hello walls, how’d things go for you today?’ I love the back story of him selling his songs as if at a musical pawnshop, but not having it destroy his career or his life.”

Randy Owen: “A lot of people would think it’s a joke to love Alabama, but I don’t. They wrote songs that made a lasting impression on the Southland. If that’s all my music could do, I’d be proud to have done it. They may have made some production choices that make them sound dated, but they wrote hit after hit after hit that spoke to people in the South.”

Gillian Welch: “Having been on the road with her, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to her songs, and it takes that much time to absorb an influence. Influence isn’t so willy-nilly that you can pick it up just at a glance. I learned so much from Gillian and Dave [Rawlings, her musical and personal partner] about songcraft. Say you’ve got a good song and you think it’s as good as it can be. They’ve shown me how to carve away the excess because what remains underneath is even better. A lot of songwriters, myself included, tend to overwrite and put it out in so many ways. What they can say in eight lines, I’ll take eight pages to say.”

Hank Williams: “Just looking through the titles of a Hank Williams collection-‘Cold, Cold Heart,’ ‘I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You),’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’- that’s country music. When he sings, ‘Why don’t you love me like you used to do? How come you treat me like a worn-out shoe? My hair’s still curly and my eyes are still blue,’ it’s so simple and yet it’s so perfectly balanced. It’s like the top of a violin; you tap it and hear that sweet sound when it’s balanced. That’s what a Hank Williams song is like.”