Wayne Kirkpatrick: A Songwriter’s Songwriter

When Amy Grant needs help finishing a song, who does she call? When Michael W. Smith is looking for someone to write lyrics for one of his melodies, who does he collaborate with? When ace producer Brown banister wanted a co-producer for Kim Hill’s Talk About Life album, where did he turn? The answer in every instance is Wayne Kirkpatrick.When Amy Grant needs help finishing a song, who does she call? When Michael W. Smith is looking for someone to write lyrics for one of his melodies, who does he collaborate with? When ace producer Brown banister wanted a co-producer for Kim Hill’s Talk About Life album, where did he turn? The answer in every instance is Wayne Kirkpatrick.

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On the contemporary Christian music scene Kirkpatrick is a songwriter’s songwriter. He’s co-written hits for Grant such as “Wise Up,” “Stay For Awhile” and “Lead Me On.” He’s co-written with Michael W. Smith extensively on his last three album projects, spawning hits like “Rocketown,” “Go West Young Man” and most recently “Place in This World” which became a big hit on secular radio this summer as well as on Christian outlets.

He’s also had cuts by Kenny Rogers, Billy Sprague, Restless Heart, Angela Bofill, Kim Hill, Rich Mullins, Susan Ashton, Kathy Troccoli, Rick Cua, Renee Garcia, Al Denson and Trace Balin. Kirkpatrick says he feels fortunate to have become involved with such a high caliber of artists and admits when he started writing songs he had no idea it would take him this far.

Born in Mississippi, Wayne was raised in Alexandria, La. His family moved to Baton Rouge the summer before his freshman year of high school. “I didn’t know anybody and I was kind of shy,” he recalls. “I started to play guitar and when I got good enough to change chords I started writing songs. It was a form of expression, almost therapy in a way.”

While still living in Louisiana he began sending tapes to publishers in Nashville. When he discovered Belmont College and its music business program, he transferred from Louisiana State University immediately. Once in Nashville he continued furthering his education and began really pursuing his music career. That deal never panned out, but the same friend went to Merit Music and shortly after Kirkpatrick signed with Merit.

“I had been developing a relationship with Mike Blanton (of Blanton/Harrell Management and Reunion Records) when I signed with Merit in 1984,” Wayne states. “When I signed with Merit I told them I didn’t want to tie up my Christian publishing. Through Blanton/Harrell I was also co-writing with some writers of Meadowgreen.”

Blanton suggested Kirkpatrick write with singer/songwriter Billy Sprague and the association led to his first cut, a tune called “What a Way to Go,” From there Blanton played some of his songs for Grant and she cut “Wise Up” and “Love of Another Kind” on her highly acclaimed unguarded album. Next Kirkpatrick went on tour with Smith as his guitarist and two began their successful collaborative efforts.

These days Kirkpatrick stays busy steadily writing and producing for a variety of acts. When it comes to his methods, he says he composes on both piano and guitar and that he’s definitely a writer who writes when inspiration hits as opposed to someone who keeps structured 9-5 hours.

When it comes to his collaborations with artists, Wayne says every situation is different. “I perform different functions with different people,” he explains. “With Amy, we’ve mainly gotten together and wrote lyrics to someone else’s music. With Michael’s songs, he doesn’t write lyrics, he’s into the musical side. So he gives me the music and I sit at home and write the lyrics. We don’t write together like Amy and I. It varies from artist to artist.”

When asked what makes a good collaborator, Wayne responds, “They have to be open to someone else’s ideas. It also has a lot to do with chemistry. I have tried to write some really good friends and sometimes it just doesn’t work. You have to be on the same wavelength creatively, especially lyrically. You have to have the same vision. If not sometimes it’s like wading through tar.”

Kirkpatrick says he learned early in his writing career the advantages of writing with an artist. “There were times I purposely didn’t finish a song,” he admits, “because I knew that to get an artist involved in the writing would increase the chances of getting the song cut.”

Though Kirkpatrick is garnering quite a reputation as a producer by way of his work with Michael W. Smith and Kim Hill, he modestly says he feels he has a lot to learn in that arena and that he doesn’t have to produce one of his songs if any artist chooses to cut it. “It’s still new to me,” he comments. “I don’t mind other people producing my songs on artist. For someone to cut one of my songs, it’s not a requirement that I produce it.”

Most of his success as a songwriter has been in the contemporary Christian music, field, but Wayne write all types of songs. I’ve always written both Christian and secular songs,” he says. “I don’t put any boundaries on myself as a writer as to what is what. I write whatever I feel. Christian music is just where I’ve had the most success so far.”

“Place in This World” is a song that he defied boundaries. Co-written with and recorded by Michael W. Smith, the song has received extensive airplay on top 40 and adult contemporary stations all over the country. It seems to be doing for Smith’s career what songs like “Wise Up” did for grant. It’s propelling his music into a broader musical arena.

Kirkpatrick is understandably pleased over the song’s acceptance by such a broad audience. “Of all the records none of us expected it to do what it has done,” Wayne says, “but at the same time it’s something we’ve worked toward a long time. It’s really a thrill.”

He feels the song has crossed over because of the universality of the message. “Sometimes you have to write not because you are on a deadline or trying to get a cut, but just because you want write for yourself,” Wayne comments. “Often when you’ve written something strictly for yourself and you get brave enough to share it with others and get a major response, then you realize that’s what writing is all about. People are not so different. Everyone can relate to certain things. I think that’s why “Place in This World” is successful. We’re all trying to find our place where we belong.”

When asked what advice he had for other writers, Kirkpatrick stressed the importance of being well connected. “The politics of songwriting has to be considered,” he says. “A great writer who doesn’t know anyone is less likely to get cuts than a mediocre writer who has great connections. Unfortunately, that’s sad, but true. So it’s very important to meet people and develop connections.”

In the future Kirkpatrick plans to continue writing and producing and there may also be some forays into the artist side of the industry. Mike Blanton has been urging him to step out as a performer for quite some time.

First and foremost, Kirkpatrick will always be a songwriter. Perhaps Amy Grant describes him best. “If you want to know what kind of writer Wayne Kirkpatrick is, look at his tools. The binding of his rhyming dictionary has been gone for years. The well worn pages are held together with a rubber band. If you ask him for a song suggestion, he’s got a notebook with page upon page of hook and title ideas. But his ace in the hole is the way he hears a melody in his head. What can I say? I hope we write together for a long time.”

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