Photo by Kristin Barlowe
It’s always a risk to set up a co-write. You never know how it might turn out. You can dream up combinations — you might admire someone’s work and think you’d make good collaborators or at least co-conspirators because of a perceived kindred spirit. But the outcome depends on many uncontrollable factors, not the least of which is the level of magic in the room at the hour you face one another to try to discover the form of something brand new and special.
Matraca Berg, Hayes Carll, and I sat down in Matraca’s living room one summer afternoon a few years ago. The three of us were writing together for the first time. It ended up working out for us, so maybe there was indeed some fairy dust in the air. After only a few minutes of catching up, we sat down with our guitars and Matraca said, “I’ve been thinking about this title, ‘Jesus and Elvis.’”
Everyone liked it. We started throwing around lyric ideas, talking about where it could go, and how to draw the parallels. I suggested it might be a waltz. We decided it wasn’t. Hayes started finger picking around on a chord progression. Matraca started singing what ended up being the chorus. We had a new song before 6 p.m. and celebrated with a few beers and with Matraca’s husband, the singer-songwriter and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member Jeff Hanna, on their back porch. I should mention he liked it first.
If you write songs for long enough, you eventually figure out that not every one you finish is exceptional. In fact, most writers will tell you that at least half of what they write falls into that category.... Sign In to Keep Reading