Seth Jackson began writing songs in 1983, after an ill-fated stint in the world of corporate America. Today, the songwriter composes tunes in a variety of styles, including country, rock, pop, blues, and novelty songs. Jackson also serves as the NSAI Regional Workshop Coordinator for the Los Angeles/Pasadena area. He was a recent finalist in the uPlaya August/September Music Universe Contest. Be sure to check out his profile on American Songspace.
What inspired you to first start writing songs?
I give a lot of the credit to my older brother, who was the musician in the family when we were growing up. He played piano, organ, and drums. I was too busy playing ball to learn an instrument, but part of me always wished I could.
Throughout high school, my brother was in bands. When he started writing songs, it seemed like to most amazing thing in the world to me. Finally, I decided I needed to learn the guitar. He helped me pick one out and taught me a few basic chords before I went away to college.
I had the guitar for several years, but songwriting still seemed like a mystery to me. Again, the key was a phone conversation I had with my brother during my final semester as an MBA student at the Wharton School. He was telling me about his latest song. When I said that I wished I could write songs, too, he replied, “Then write one!”
It was one of those “Duh!” moments. All I needed to do was to sit down with my guitar, play a chord progression and sing a melody and words over it. I decided to write about the frustrations I was going through in looking for a job as a newly minted MBA. The song was called “Job Search Blues”. It wasn’t the best crafted song in the world, but it was entertaining, and I’m still proud of it as a first effort.
Who are some of your favorite songwriters?
I grew up listening to a lot of rock music, especially the Lennon/McCartney Beatles songs. Later on, I became a big-time Deadhead (a fan of the Grateful Dead). The Dead’s songs were mostly written by Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter and also by Bob Weir/John Barlow. In country music, there are too many great Nashville writers to list, but Craig Wiseman, Rivers Rutherford, Brad Paisley, and Phil Vassar are a few whose work consistently wows me.
Your bio says you live in L.A. and Nashville. How does that work? Are you here pitching songs?
I have a house and a family in Los Angeles, where I spend the majority of my time, but I commute to Nashville at least four times a year. When I come to town, my main activity is writing. I also do some song pitching, and I can sometimes be found hanging out at the NSAI office.
Are you primarily a non-performing songwriter, or do you tour frequently?
I’m basically a non-performing songwriter, although I love to get up and play at writer’s nights. When I’m in Nashville, I most often play at the Commodore Lounge or the Bluebird. I also produce a writer’s night on the second Thursday of every month in North Hollywood at a great little venue called Hallenbeck’s General Store and Main Street Café.
How much writing do you do for other people? You have some other people singing at times on your Songspace profile?
When I write, it’s usually with the idea that the song will be pitched to other artists. All of the songs on Songspace are sung by artists or professional studio singers.
The song “God and Women” is an interesting concept. What’s the story behind that one?
One day, I was pondering how women can be hard to understand from a man’s point of view. The thought came to me that women work in mysterious ways. Of course, we all know that God works in mysterious ways, so I saw the connection and thought the idea would make a good song. Shortly afterwards, I had a writing appointment with my friend Craig Lackey, one of my favorite co-writers, and I ran the idea past him. He loved it, and we wrote the song.
Your songs have a pop-country feel. As a Californian, have you always been into mainstream country?
I listened to a lot of country rock when I was in college and afterwards. The Grateful Dead and the New Riders of the Purple Sage were my biggest influences, and also bands like the Eagles and the Outlaws. In the early ‘90s, I started hearing a lot about a new style of contemporary country music, and I started listening to country radio.
I loved the stuff I was hearing on the air at the time. I was especially impressed with the lyrics in the country songs. It was then that I decided that I wanted to study the craft and learn to write quality songs in the genre.
Your song “Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis” was performed at the White House in June 2008. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that whole thing came about?
It’s funny because with all the Iraq war songs that were being written and pitched in Nashville, I swore off writing anything to do with the war. But one day, I was looking through the newspaper and I was blown away by a brief article about the incredible heroism of a soldier named Ross A. McGinnis, who knowingly gave his life to save four of his friends. I felt that Ross’s story needed to be remembered in a song.
The song eventually found its way to a 14-year-old singer in Florida named Destany, who recorded it. Destany felt so strongly about the song that she tracked down the McGinnis family in Knox, Pennsylvania and sent them a copy. The family was so touched that they contacted the Pittsburgh Tribune, who then did a front page story about how Ross’s bravery brought me together with Destany from opposite coasts, and how it all came full circle back to Ross’s family.
The following spring, Congress awarded Ross McGinnis the Medal of Honor. I was invited to attend the ceremony at the White House, where the President presented the medal to Ross’s parents. My song was performed at the Army reception following the ceremony. The best part of it all was meeting the McGinnis family, who are wonderful people. The whole thing was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
You’ve had a few songs land in motion pictures. Any advice to offer on marketing and pitching your music?
Those placements all came through co-writers. I had been doing a lot of co-writing with a sister trio called Mr. Dyer’s Daughters, who have since evolved into a Nashville duo called the Redd Hot Mamas. The sisters, through their own networking efforts, obtained a role in a movie called Letters From a Killer starring Patrick Swayze. They were the band onstage during a scene at a honky tonk. Together, we had written a song called “Daddy Tried”, which was a traditional-sounding country up-tempo that fit the scene perfectly, so they went ahead and put it in the movie.
Two of my songs were included in an award-winning independent film called Broke Sky. This time, it was my co-writer, Craig Lackey, who made the pitch. An old friend of his became music director for the film, and she called him to see if he had any songs that might be appropriate. Three of his songs were accepted for the movie, and two of them, “Strong Word” and “That Dang Love Thang”, were songs Craig and I had written together.
I guess the lesson from this would be co-write a lot with good writers and make good demos of your songs. Also, you need to have the rights to use the recordings, which means you should obtain a written waiver from the musicians and the singers who perform on your demo. It’s likely that there will be some negotiating involved, and it’s a good idea to first gain an understanding of the Musicians Union pay scale structure. Finally, don’t give up, as you never know when and where an opportunity might arise.