Hit Songwriter Skip Ewing Paints a Scenic Picture with ‘Road to California’ (Exclusive)

“Every songwriter I know wants to write something that matters,” Skip Ewing tells American Songwriter. “It’s not just about charts. It’s about hearts.”

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As it turns out, Ewing knows how to write both songs that matter and chart-topping hits. The award-winning country singer/songwriter has penned 11 No. 1 singles for artists including Kenny Chesney (“You Had Me From Hello”), Clint Black (“Something That We Do”), Diamond Rio (“I Believe”), and Collin Raye (“Love, Me”). Meanwhile, his forthcoming album, Road to California, tugs on the heartstrings with songs about his beloved pup (“Road Dog”) and mental health struggles (“Knots”).

Ewing, a CMA Triple Play Award winner and BMI Songwriter of the Year recipient has spent close to 40 years penning songs. The Grammy, Tony, CMA, and ACM Award nominee moved to Nashville after high school in 1984 and quickly embedded himself into the songwriting scene. He says he simply followed the opportunities.

Skip Ewing (Photo by Linda Gordon Ewing)

“When I came to Nashville, I had a job,” he says. “I was offered a job to be an ensemble singer in a show at a place called Opryland. I basically ran away from home to do it. I got in the car with someone I didn’t know. I had my guitar, a banjo, a couple pairs of jeans, and some shirts, and that’s it, and I never went back.”

When he wasn’t on stage performing, Ewing was writing. One day he was working on a song when someone heard him and invited him to a writers’ night. That same evening in 1985 he was offered a publishing deal. His first taste of success was when George Jones recorded “One Hell of a Song.” Ewing later garnered a record deal, and his debut album, The Coast of Colorado, arrived in 1988.

“I didn’t set out to be a country songwriter or a songwriter at all,” he admits. “I didn’t say I wanted to be a star. I just wanted to express what I had to express artistically.”

Ewing’s first record did well and remains a fan favorite today. The project amassed several Top 20 songs, including the Top 3 hit “Burnin’ a Hole in My Heart.” However, as he continued his journey as a solo artist, Ewing says his artistic voice started to get compromised. 

A song he wrote and brought to a producer to record was deemed “terrible.” The track was ultimately recorded by Raye and became a three-week No. 1 hit in 1991.

“He said, ‘If you could bring me something that would play on country radio, maybe we could have a hit together. Otherwise, don’t come back,’” Ewing recalls the producer saying to him. “That song was No. 1 for multiple weeks. It was nominated for Song of the Year and that ‘terrible’ song that someone else recorded, a song called ‘Love, Me’ that Collin Raye had a hit on, even to this day, it still gets played a lot. I still play it out in our shows.”

It was a difficult pill to swallow when his former producer called his song terrible, but Ewing realized his songs were connecting despite what the industry told him at the time. He continued to write songs, many of which were recorded by country legends like George Strait, Willie Nelson, and Kenny Rogers.

“I was still getting to write songs that I believed in,” he says. “I love the fact that people listen and they’re still listening, and it’s burgeoning.”

After spending the majority of his adult life in Nashville, Ewing decided it was time for a change. In 2018, he sold everything he owned and moved to Wyoming to study horsemanship. He went on tour with “some wonderful horsemen” and says while he learned much about the trade, he also learned about himself.

Along the way, Ewing started to write songs again. This time, the majority of his writing was solo.

“There’s people out there that I want to reach,” he says. “What is their experience of what I have? What is their life experience and how can we connect? That is so similar to working with a horse. I used to say, ‘Don’t leave the “we” behind.’ As soon as you forget that it’s you and a horse as a “we,” it’s not going to go well for the human usually.

“It’s the same way [with songwriting]. I want it to be about the people who listen,” he continues. “That’s why I’m moved to do what I do. That human connection is powerfully moving for all of us. It validates us. … I’d like to reach as many people as I possibly can.”

Skip Ewing (Photo by Linda Gordon Ewing)

Songs like the sweeping “Knots” on Road to California, available April 26, exemplify this human connection. As Ewing explains, he sees the song as a metaphor for the personal challenges one has to often unravel.

You can’t see my future, know my past, or feel the gravel in my shoes
I don’t compare my suffering, we’re all just different shades of black and blue 
I’ve thought myself unworthy, been a shadow, felt my sanity was lost
But I somehow found the courage and the strength to keep me working on these knots

“In that song, I decided I would go ahead and touch on mental health because it’s everywhere,” he notes. “It alludes to PTSD, but not necessarily. It could be anything that causes hurt but someone has to work through it. I wanted to offer positivity and hope because a lot of people struggle. There are ways to heal. It takes a lot of courage. Many people are putting that courage into practice and working with their own lives every day for their own health and for the health of those around them and I have huge respect for that.”

Ewing says writing lyrics is like painting. He wants to be an artist and to share his voice with listeners. For Ewing, the only way to do this in a way that fulfills him is by holding the brush himself.

“I’ve changed my journey with horses and maybe my understanding of human nature,” he says, “certainly my understanding of myself and so that’s going to be reflected in the voice I share. What I feel as an artist has everything to do with connecting with the hearts of people who are listening. … Making that connection is very powerful. It will move me until I don’t move.”

Photos by Linda Gordon Ewing

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