PAUL CRAFT: Craft on Craft

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Nashville, 1975.  In his apartment near the airport, Paul Craft has been up all night copying demos.  The brown tape coils onto the clear, plastic reels.  When he finishes one, he stacks it by the door.  In a few hours, as the first sunlight slants through his windows, he takes the reels out to the Toyota and puts them on the passenger seat to ride shotgun down to Music Row.Nashville, 1975.  In his apartment near the airport, Paul Craft has been up all night copying demos.  The brown tape coils onto the clear, plastic reels.  When he finishes one, he stacks it by the door.  In a few hours, as the first sunlight slants through his windows, he takes the reels out to the Toyota and puts them on the passenger seat to ride shotgun down to Music Row.

The magnetic ribbons hold songs like “Honky Tonk Waltz,” “Brother Jukebox” and “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life.”  Craft gets 35 cuts in ‘75.

Thirty-two years later, the songs are still coming.  His material, including classics like “Keep Me from Blowing Away,” “Dropkick Me, Jesus” and “Teardrops Will Kiss the Morning Dew,” has been covered by artists like Waylon Jennings, The Eagles, The Kendalls, Linda Ronstadt, Alison Krauss, The Seldom Scene, Keith Whitley, The Osborne Brothers, Mark Chesnutt and Johnny Cash.  Looking back, you can see the signature contours of a life spent shaping words and music.  It’s hard to sculpt this beautifully for this long, but Craft is still working the marble-a chiseled word at a time.

You once talked about “reaching deep into the title…”

Curly Putman told me, “You need to take the title and just extract everything out of it you possibly can.  Just dig down as deep as you can.”  And the example of that would be “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”  In other words … the idea was that he died.  And then not only did he die, but at the end, she went to see him…and he was smiling.  It takes things out of cleverness into a deeper meaning.

Who are the songwriters you’ve studied to become a better writer?

Willie Nelson, Harlan Howard, Loretta Lynn … Dallas Frazier jumps out.  And then Hugh Prestwood is a current writer who just scares the hell out of me he’s so good.

How do you study them?

A lot of times I write down the lyrics.  [Or] instead of just listening, I listen very carefully-and there’s a difference. When I wrote “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” I wrote down the lyrics to every song he ever wrote or recorded. Just the process of writing the words down…you’ll be a step ahead of most people.

Has music publishing helped your career?

It’s hurt my career, except financially.  It introduced the business end of everything, and it got my mind off my songs.  It’s diluted the brunt of my attack.  If I had never become a publisher I would have had more of my songs cut, and I would have written more songs.

Are you writing with anyone now?

Shawn Camp and I have 10 to 12 songs that we’ve written together … and Richard Leigh. And I just finished a real good one. The more people you get involved in the song, the more chance there is that somebody will get it cut.  So it’s like strength in numbers.

You’ve said reading improves your writing.  Who are you reading?

I’m reading Gone with the Wind right now. My favorite book is called Damage, by Josephine Hart.  It’s like a prose poem, it’s so beautifully written … and there’s a writer named Ann Rule who writes true crime books.  She is one of the most beautiful writers of any genre.

What kind of demos are you using?

There’s no answer that’s definite for any situation; the answer is whatever gets the job done, but most want to hear something that sounds like the record they’re going to make of it.

What’s a technique you’re using now to write?

I try to write something where I know I’m the only person who can write it.  It’s something very personal … the easiest thing is be yourself.

Any advice to new writers?

Probably find somebody who is a friendly ear who you won’t drive crazy and make a lifelong enemy out of-and who will help you go in the right direction.  People talk about [songwriting like] it’s a lot of work and determination.  Hell, it wasn’t work, it was play. You couldn’t hold me back.  I had to do it … like a squirrel climbing a tree.

2 Comments

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  1. Dear Mr. Craft,
    I lead music at Christian retreats and conferences which are held inside of prisons and also on the outside for other Christian folks.
    Your song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus” is very popular.
    I would like your permission to lead the folks in singing ” Drop Kick Me Jesus”.
    In doing so…we would make an overhead for folks to see the words and copies for the musicians to play off of. We would only use words and cords. We would not sell or do anything else then stated.
    Please let me know if that would meet your approval.
    Your truly,
    Robert Rothwell
    10453 3rd Ave. South
    Seattle WA. 98168
    206 248 0327
    Lay Director..Via de Cristo of Western Washington
    Member of Kairos Prison Ministrys

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