Morning Coffee with Kim Carnes

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter


Kim Carnes has had great success as an artist and as a songwriter. She moved to Nashville a little over a year ago, and when asked what prompted the move from her long time home in Los Angeles she said, “I would come to Nashville to write, and go back to L.A. and watch the energy dissipate.” She says she moved to Nashville because, “it’s where all the creative energy is.” She also added that a major difference between Nashville and L.A. is that “the stomach ache from hell has gone a way.”Kim Carnes has had great success as an artist and as a songwriter. She moved to Nashville a little over a year ago, and when asked what prompted the move from her long time home in Los Angeles she said, “I would come to Nashville to write, and go back to L.A. and watch the energy dissipate.” She says she moved to Nashville because, “it’s where all the creative energy is.” She also added that a major difference between Nashville and L.A. is that “the stomach ache from hell has gone a way.”

It’s also been energizing to her writing she admits. “I’m writing as many songs as when I first started writing, with that same kind of enthusiasm.” She’s currently producing her new album project with renowned Nashville producer Josh Leo (Kathy Mattea, Alabama, Restless Heart), who was formerly her guitar player. But long time friend and advisor Jimmy Bowen (who headed Liberty records until health issues brought about his resignation a few months ago), pushed her over the edge in her decision to move, when he told her she belonged in Nashville. Bowen was her first publisher, producer, mentor and fan, and Kim says of him” he always had great insight, and advice.”

Her Grammy Award for the record of the year in 1981 for her unforgettable, “Betty Davis Eyes,” (written by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss) remains one of her biggest thrills. But the news that one of her newest songs, “No Two Ways about It” (written with Vince Melamed and Greg Barnhill), will be on Pam Tillis’ next album, is the kind of thrill that, as a writer, ranks right near the top with Kim.

Sitting on the screened in porch at her 75 acre property, nestled among two hundred-year-old trees, Kim is as energetic and excited about writing and recorded as when I watched her make her very first album. She’s as natural and open today as she was when we first met as members of The New Christy Minstrels, back in the late sixties. When she decided to go out on her own with husband Dave Ellingson (as Kim and Dave), she made her debut recording singing the title song to the movie, “Vanishing Point.” Her first cut as a writer, written for the same movie, was sung by blues maven Big Mama Thorton and produced by Jimmy Bowen.

Kim had visions of being in the music business from an early age, when she badgered her mother into contacting the producer of a local talk show, getting an audition, and then performing on the show. Her persistence was already paying off; “from the time I was three I’d tell everybody that, when I grow up, I’m going to write songs and be a singer,” Kim said.

Her craftsmanship and writing skills didn’t mature overnight. Kim started performing with a friend and writing her own songs I the sixth grade. Her duo consisted of piano and bongos, but it was big band stuff for her school mates and their parties. Her writing and singing took a serious turn when she left the New Christy Minstrels and “went for it.” She sang on commercials, did lots of demos for other writers, and learned from doing such a wide variety of musical styles what worked for her and what didn’t. In the process she began to meet producers like Bowen, and writers like Glen Frey, Don Henley, and John David Souther. Her first major success as an artist and writer was her self penned duo with Gene Cotton, “You’re A Part Of Me.” One of her early songs, “Love Comes From Unexpected Places,” was the grand prize winner of both The American Song Festival, and the Tokyo Song Festival in the early seventies.

Kim’s work habits depend on whether she’s writing by herself or collaborating with someone else. “If it’s by myself I send Rye, my eight year old son, off to school every morning and go to the piano and work on something I’m trying to finish, or start something new. If nothing’s coming, I put it away. But I always start early in the morning. Writing by myself, I can write wherever. I can write on an airplane, on tour, anywhere. I’ve started a lot of songs on airplanes. Since I’ve come to Nashville a year ago and started starting with so many different people, that’s a completely different process. I’ll meet with them, my place, their place, my publisher’s office. We’ll start at ten or eleven in the morning, and usually by the afternoon a song will be finished. And sometimes we’ll just demo it right then and there.” Her Pam Tillis cut is an example of a writers dream. The demo was finished one day, went to Pam’s manager the next, and the cut followed. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Often an artist shows interest in a song, may even record it and then later, drop it from the album. Kim admits that kind of heartache is a given for all songwriters.

Collaboration is a lot easier when you “find the person where the chemistry’s right, and you have the same point of view. In Donna Weiss(co-writer of “The Heart Won’t Lie” for Vince Gill and Reba McEntire), I have definitely found that. With some people it’s harder.”

I asked Kim, “If you had to make a choice between being a writer, or a performing artist, what would you choose?” She answered, “the two go so hand in hand, if I had to make the choice, I’d have to choose writing. If I had to just make records of other people’s songs, or just write, I’d take the writing. I mean, in the end, that’s the most satisfying by far.

Spending an hour or two with Kim and her husband Dave, (their oldest son is away at college, and their youngest son was at school) goes by far too quickly. She has no airs, is always relaxed and genuine, and says what’s in her heart. Elements that make for great songwriting. Before I left I asked her what advice she has for writers whose successes still like in the futures. This is what she had to say. “Show your songs to a lot of people, try to figure out whose opinion you value, continue to play your songs for them. If someone gives you a suggestion, you can think about it, but in the end, the song has to be the way you think it’s the best. You have to trust your own heart, your own ears. You can’t write a song based on the way someone else thinks it should be. Suggestions can be absolutely right, but they have to be right because it turns you around, and you listen to it and go, yes, it is better now.”

With those parting words, I drove back to Nashville hearing her raspy voice singing in my heard. She’s not only a unique talent, but a very real person, full of warmth and grace.


One Comment

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  1. Mike,

    Wonderful article!

    I love your song “Nobody Knows” performed by Kim & Dave (a duo formed by Kim Carnes & Dave Ellingson).

    Could you send me the printed lyrics, please?

    I also like “Rest On Me” album (KC) which you provided background vocals!

    Best to you,

    Guilherme from Brazil

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