July/August 2022 Lyric Contest Winner: Jim Chalker on His Winning Song & Chris Stapleton

Jim Chalker scored first place in the competitive American Songwriter Lyric Contest for July/August of 2022. We caught up with Chalker to ask about his award-winning lyrics for the song “These Two Hands.”

Read the conversation between American Songwriter and Jim Chalker below.

What made you decide to enter American Songwriter’s Song Contest? 

I started looking for some way to get my songs exposed. After looking around, I settled on entering some poetry contests. Then, a while back, my NSAI group had a pretty interesting conversation about the difference between a song lyric and a poem. So, I branched out and began looking for lyric contests and came across this one. This is my third or fourth time entering.   

How did you feel when you learned you won?  

I was sitting at the dining room table after dinner and everyone had more or less broken off into separate conversations. I decided to check my email on my phone and there was the message. I couldn’t believe it. I whooped out loud.   

Since 1984, American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest has helped aspiring songwriters get noticed and have fun. Enter today before the deadline:

What was your inspiration for “These Two Hands”? Why did you want to write it? 

I wanted to write a song in praise of people who work with their hands for a living. I went to college and for me, there was value in that. But, so much of our country runs because people who didn’t go to college get up every day and go to work doing things that are essential to all our wellbeing. There is dignity in that.  

Initially, I was going to write about a factory worker and maybe a truck driver or something. But then I was talking over the idea with a friend of mine in Nashville, Jeff Pearson. He advised me not to write about people I didn’t know, but to make it personal. Write about your grandfather or your dad. And so I did.   

What keeps you motivated as a songwriter? 

I’m never going to be a full-time songwriter. I can’t knock them out on demand. I have to hit on an idea, then I sit down and go to work on it. But it takes me weeks, often months, to write a song. I come up with a lot of my lyrics while I’m driving. I keep a little notebook with me in the car. Sometimes I have to pull over and get something down before I forget it. And I’m constantly tweaking my lyrics. Heck, there is one song I wrote that took me over 40 years to finish. But I keep dreaming of getting some into the hands of certain performers. That motivates me. That song that took me so long to write is about the aftermath of suicide. I really want to get that one produced someday and give it away. It might help in the healing for some people. 

How long have you been writing songs, and what are your songwriting goals? 

I started writing at age 18 when I was in the Navy. I turn 68 this summer. You do the math. As for goals, I have never had a song I wrote played in public before. That would be one goal. I have often heard songs on the radio and thought, “I have written songs at least as good as that.”  I guess what I am really after is a bit of recognition, and a sense of contribution, to have somebody who doesn’t know me hear something I wrote and be moved by it or just like it.  

Are there any songwriters, artists, or events that have especially inspired you lately? 

Chris Stapleton blows me away. I don’t generally like songs about drinking away your sorrows.  Alcohol abuse isn’t anything I’m particularly comfortable selling. But the crushing pain he gets across in “Whiskey and You” overcomes all my misgivings.  

Since 1984, American Songwriter’s Lyric Contest has helped aspiring songwriters get noticed and have fun. Enter today before the deadline:

What’s the best piece of advice another songwriter has ever given you?

Make it personal. Make it passionate. And if you can, leave a little mystery in it. 

What’s next for you?  

I wrote a Christmas lyric for our military people serving away from home during the holidays.  That song was “Christmas Far from Home” and it won honorable mention in this contest last issue. I managed to get it into the hands of the Vice President of the USO in charge of their Christmas shows. That seemed the perfect venue to give it to those for whom I wrote it. She is shopping it around to see if any of their artists might want to work with me in putting it to music.  

I also have a nautical song about a sailor living alone on his sailboat, aimlessly plying the waters of the Caribbean. Both romantic and tragic, it’s my favorite lyric composition and I can’t seem to find the right melody for it. I would love to get that one into the hands of maybe a Jimmy Buffet, Jackson Browne, or maybe even David Crosby, who inspired it.   

But breaking into this business is just so hard. That’s why songwriters like me are so grateful for opportunities that come about through contests like this one. We get a hearing. So, if I can say this on behalf of all songwriters without coming across as obsequious, thank you American Songwriter! I really mean that.  

Photo courtesy of Jim Chalker

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