Gerry House: Nashville DJ Doubles As Hit Songwriter

Gerry House is well known on Music Row and beyond as one of country radio’s most awarded disc jockeys.

Gerry House is well known on Music Row and beyond as one of country radio’s most awarded disc jockeys. What most people don’t know is that House moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter, and has been fairly successful at it, having written some of the hits audiences hear broadcast during his morning show on Nashville’s WSIX. He co-wrote “She’s Never Coming Back” with MCA recording artist Mark Collie and the Reba McEntire hit “Little Rock.” He has a cut on her new album as well as Hank Williams Jr.’s “Diamond Mine.”

Gerry House is well known on Music Row and beyond as one of country radio’s most awarded disc jockeys. What most people don’t know is that House moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter, and has been fairly successful at it, having written some of the hits audiences hear broadcast during his morning show on Nashville’s WSIX. He co-wrote “She’s Never Coming Back” with MCA recording artist Mark Collie and the Reba McEntire hit “Little Rock.” He has a cut on her new album as well as Hank Williams Jr.’s “Diamond Mine.”

Since opening his own publishing company, House Notes Music, September 1, 1991 the new venture has already racked up an impressive 10 cuts, not counting the tunes he’s recorded himself on his two comedy projects. However, Gerry House is far from being a newcomer when it comes to songwriting.

A native of Independence, KY, House developed a passion for songwriting early in life. “I grew up in a very musical family,” he says. “I was actually writing songs before I came to Nashville. I wanted to come here to write songs. I was in radio too, but I knew if I came here I’d be able to hone my craft.”

House acknowledges that most people know him more for his radio show and his forays into television than they do for his songwriting. “I read an interview recently that said ‘House also dabbles in songwriting.’ And I hate to think that anyone thinks that because I’m really serious about it, and I’ve had a lot of things recorded. Most people don’t know that I play guitar and piano. Everybody always thinks ‘oh did you write the lyrics.’ A lot of the times I write the music. I write the music and lyrics equally.

I have another career and I do it [songwriting] as full-time as I can. What’s great about this town is the great majority of people are willing to accept you doing several things.”

When House first moved to Music City, he was lucky enough to find someone who heard promise in his material and helped him get started. “I’d only been here a few days and I went to a publishing company and they said ‘those are the weirdest songs I’ve ever heard.’ And I walked right across the street. I’d looked in the phone book and looked up and recognized the letters MCA. There was a wonderful man working there named John Ragsdale, who is Ray’s [Stevens] brother. John Ragsdale said ‘I love these songs’ and took his own money and demoed some songs for me and encouraged me. He got me into MCA Publishing. I worked for them for three years [1977-80] then I quit and kind of floated around.”

Ragsdale’s faith in House was rewarded as three of the first four songs he wrote after moving to Nashville were recorded. The Oak Ridge Boys put “Old Time Lovin'” on their <i>Y’all Come Back Saloon</i> album. Kenny Starr and Loretta Lynn also cut that tune. Then he had a song cut by Lee Hazelwood, and another cut by a newcomer on Mercury.

Though his writing career started off promising, House admits he fell prey to a problem that many young writers face. He let someone destroy his confidence and discourage him. “I really had a very difficult experience. I had a guy who tried to change everything and that’s a problem for young songwriters,” House says. “It’s a difficult line to walk to listen and learn but not to give up on everything you believe in. I had a guy who will remain nameless, who isn’t even here in town anymore, by the way, for a year took every song I wrote and pulled it apart. This guy had never had a song recorded and I’d had several and I thought, ‘well maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.’ It really soured me on the business for a long time and I really concentrated on my radio career.

“About 1984 or 1985 I started up again. I met Bob Beckham and Pat McManus and Bob DiPiero. They’re all my friends, but Bob DiPiero turned out to be one of my dearest friends. Bob and Pat and I wrote “Little Rock” for Reba. Then Bob and I wrote a song called “Breathing Down My Neck.” Janie Frickie recorded. Bob and I wrote “Carrying On” which Canyon recorded. We also wrote a song that Dana McVicker recorded. None of those were big hits, but it was kind of like getting back into it.”

House says the success of “Little Rock” served as incentive for him to start his own publishing company. “I saw those checks coming in from “Little Rock.” That song made a lot of money. It’s on three platinum albums. I thought since I’m starting to do okay I’ll just hold on. So I wrote and just started stockpiling songs until I could get enough wherewithal to get a partner like Devon O’Day and just do it myself.”

Devon works with House at WSIX as well as House Notes. They are frequent co-writers. He, Devon, and Michael Bornheim co-wrote the Hank Jr. cut. House also co-writes with Will Robinson, Bob DiPiero, Don Schlitz, and other Nashville writers. “I just wrote with Jeff Knight. Hopefully, I’ll have one or two on his next album,” House says.

When asked what he looks for in a co-writer, House replies, “I appreciate somebody who’s not afraid to say things. It gets difficult for me sometimes if somebody is always afraid to offer a line that may be silly because I’m a master at saying things that nobody would record in a million years. To me, songwriting is the same people you’d go to the movies with or have lunch with- friends who are intelligent and already have a chorus and a first verse finished,” he says laughing. “That’s my idea of a real collaborator, somebody who has a record deal and a verse and a chorus.”

In addition to writing songs for a variety of recording artists, House has a recording career of his own. He’s released two comedy albums on MCA records that have included such amusing little ditties as “My Jeans Are Too Tight.” “Actually, it’s harder to write comedy songs,” House admits. “I’m living proof of that. I’ve got two comedy albums that didn’t exactly go platinum.”

Being in radio and constantly hearing what Music Row is releasing gives House a good idea of what a successful tune should sound like. “I tend to write what they call radio-friendly songs,” he says. “It’s just been pounded in my brain for 20 years.”

On his morning show House gives aspiring songwriters a great opportunity when he does a segment each morning called “Daily Demo” where they play songs on the air submitted by the listening audience. Anyone who has heard the segment knows there are often some less than great tunes, but sometimes really good songs surface. House instituted the segment to help newcomers, and it has. People n power on Music Row listen, and six or seven songs from “Daily Demo” have been recorded.

An obvious question to someone in House’s position- a powerful disc jockey who is also a songwriter- is whether he sees a conflict of interest and whether his position at the radio station helps him in getting cuts.

“I would never pitch a song, I don’t even think about it when somebody stops in,” House says. “I avoided it like the plague for years, and then I realized that all this town is is contacts. But the fact that my name is on a song as anybody knows, only means it might get listened to. It doesn’t carry an extra bit of weight on anything getting recorded that I’ve been able to find, and I’m extremely disappointed.

“I would think that after getting up at 4 o’ clock in the morning all these years and beating my brains out trying to be funny so that the songwriters could get up and be in a good mood at 10 o’ clock would think ‘there’s old Gerry, who’s been slaving away, I’m gonna give him a break.’ But they don’t care,” he grins mischievously. “They’re into this quality thing. It’s got to have a hit chorus. This quality control stuff has got to end. I think it should be to who you know.”

When asked what advice he would relay to aspiring songwriters, he replies “Quit, there’s too much competition. I’m trying to get my songs cut and you people are writing hit tunes, I don’t need it. Think of all the wonderful things you can do. There are beaches, other jobs, the Peace Corps. There are enough songs. I checked with the FCC the other day and there are enough songs. We’ve reached our limit.

“I guess the only thing is learn to be honest with yourself,” he says seriously. “It’s the hardest thing to do… There’s a tendency to say ‘I wrote this. I wrote it down. Therefore, it’s terrific. But you have to be able to distance yourself from it and be selective. You might write 50 songs and four great ones. Concentrate on the good stuff and don’t think everything you write is a jewel.

“Oh and don’t give up on that quitting thing too,” he grins. “If you feel discouraged- quit.”


One Comment

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  1. Gerry,

    Hey man, I thought I could outlive you and get more songs
    cut using OUR name. Seriously, I hope you’re doing well.
    I pitched some of my last songs to Mel Tillis down at his farm,
    Sonny loved them, Mel just liked the old hard country stuff.
    I want to communicate with you, I owe you an apology for
    wanting to kill you.
    I recently learned that wild oats I spread while with Uncle Sam
    has a way of finding one. I have grandsons in New Zealand and
    since Social Security won’t do it, I need to make enough money
    for a trip, Hell, if their grandmother’s are still around and not
    as gray as I am, I may stay.
    Do you still have a Publishing Co.? BMI?

    Sincerely,
    Jerry House I, Esq.

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