Wayne Watson: There’s Strength In Songs

When notified by his manager that he was the top Christian music writer in American Songwriter‘s annual awards issue, Wayne Watson’s fist reaction was disbelief. “You’re kidding,” he said. “Did you do this? You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”When notified by his manager that he was the top Christian music writer in American Songwriter‘s annual awards issue, Wayne Watson’s fist reaction was disbelief. “You’re kidding,” he said. “Did you do this? You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”

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When informed that the honor was based on chart activity. Watson shouldn’t have been surprised. His songwriting talent dominated the charts last year with tunes such as “When god’s People Pray,” “Home Free,” and “Almighty,” each of which spent multiple weeks at the top of the charts.

Watson’s modest reaction to his award was probably a combinationg of his humble personality and his refusal to ever be complacent about the craft of songwriting. “My whole career and ministry began on the strength of one song,” he says. “And I’ve always believed in the power of good songs.”

Watson grew up the small northeast Lousiana town of Wisner. His mother was active in church music and played organ for services. Though he says she was an inspiration and he always loved music, he admits at first he resisted a career in music because of his desire to play baseball.

Once he started college at Lousiana Tech University and came up against stiff competition, Wayne decided he probably was not going to win the pennant and opted to get a degree in voice education. He got married, started a family and moved to Baton Rouge. There he worked in churches and enjoyed playing music, but n ever really thought about it as a career.

One performance at a youth conference in Mississippi changed his life, and he feels it all happened because of one great song. Oddly enough, it was a song he didn’t write. “Two men were producing a program for churches as a teaching tool,” Wayne recalls in a phone interview from Houston, where he no makes his home with his wife and two sons. “I performed “Touch of the Master’s Hand” (written by John Cramp)and they videotaped my performance.”

Looking back, Wayne says all he did was sit there and sing, but the impact that song had on those who heard it was powerful. The men who filmed Wayne’s performance took the tape back to Nashville and played it for record executives who immediately called the fledging singer/songwriter.

His first reaction to that call from Music City was not unlike the response to his American Songwriter accolade. He couldn’t believe what was happening. He soon found himself recording for Milk&Honey Records and affiliated with their publishing company, Singspiration. Soon after, “Touch of the Master’s Hand” ascended the charts, garnering the number one position.

Watson admits his development as a songwriter was a much slower, more gradual process. The 37-year old tunesmith says his first acknowledgment as a songwriter came in the late 70s when he entered a contest called the American Song Festival and received two certificates for his efforts, coming in first in one category and second in another.

Though that was a tremendous encouragement at a time when the novice writer needed affirmation of his talents, Watson admits he still lacked confidence. “I didn’t have any confidence in my writing when I started recording in 1979,” he says. “I wanted to record the best material possible so I went after other people’s songs.”

He doesn’t regret having used outside tunes on those early recordings. He feels they were all strong songs that made the records live longer. “A lot of people feel they have to record their own songs when in fact they might not be very good,” he comments.

A warm, self-effacing man, Watson is a t the pinnacle of his profession, yet still remains humble and reluctant to accept the accolades often heaped upon him for his writing. “I tend to downplay my songwriting efforts,” Watson says, “because I feel I can always make improvements.”

Currently recording for Word’s DaySpring label, Watson has a co-publishing arrangement with Word. His company is called Material Music, but you’re not likely to find him sitting in an office writing those hits. Watson says he’s definitely not a nine-to-five type of songwriter. “I write when I have to, like those term papers we used to have to do in high school,” he says with a laugh. “I write when I have ten songs due for an album and I have them by tomorrow.”

Turning serious, Watson begins discussing the way he writes songs and readily admits he doesn’t keep regular hours. Instead he opts to write when the inspiration strikes. “I’m not a structured writer,” he says. “I don’t write everyday. I’m not the kind who can go into a room and sit down and start churning out songs.

“What I Think is really important is spending time alone. Taking the opportunity to watch people and observe their actions and reactions is essential to a songwriter. Also just having quiet time to reflect on our own actions. That’s where ideas come from-those quiet times and that’s something you can’t force.”

Watson keeps notes of things he observes and says very often a song will spring from a title. He admits it usually takes a lot of polishing for him to be satisfied with a tune. “Writing for me is work,” he says. “It’s not a flow of inspiration. It starts that way, but then it’s work.”

One of the tools Wayne says he gets a lot of use from is a synonym finder. “Some words just sing better than others,” he says. “And the synonym finder helps you locate words that sound better, yet keep the meaning intact.”

Watson admits he believes in rewriting and polishing tunes. When asked how he knows when a song is finished, Wayne responds, “When the clock starts ticking in the studio the song is finished. There’s a time fore everything and the record company helps us find that time…I’m not sure if a song is ever finished and I think a lot of songwriters and singers agree. Lyrically there are a lot of times I wish I’d lived with it longer and let an idea simmer even more.”

After years of crafting songs, Watson says one of the most important things he’s learned is when to let go of an idea. “I’ve learned to set aside things that aren’t working rather than keep pursuing a bad idea,” Watson says. “A lot of time people will keep working on things that have already been done.”

Watson says that doesn’t mean you should throw away a song just because that idea has been written about before. “The key thing I’ve learned,” he states, “is to apply your own unique perspective. Everyone has their own way of looking at things and I’ve learned to apply my own unique perspective, which is not better, just different.”

Another factor Watson feels makes songs successful is writing about things that everyone can relate to. Sometimes that involves writing about difficult, emotional subjects. Many of the songs on Home Free came out of a painful time for Watson and his family when a close friend, Sandra Kirkham, died. He dedicated the project to Sandra and her husband and daughters.

Watson describes most of 1989 as “an emotional coaster-ride of hope and disappointment.” Friends and family prayed for her recovery, and Watson says God answered their prayers, just not in the way they hoped. “The best thing we learned from losing our friend was let God be God, even when it makes no sense, even when it makes you angry, Wayne relates.

All the motions he was going through as a result of the loss poured themselves into his songs. “It wasn’t easy from an emotional standpoint,” Wayne says quietly. “But from a musical standpoint it was easy because the emotions were all right there near the surface…on the surface of my heart to draw from.”

“Home free” and “When God’s People Pray” were a couple of the songs inspired by Sandra’s illness and death. Wayne says he discussed the songs and their inclusion in the album with Sandra’s family and got their permission. Yet he was still apprehensive about sharing them with the public.

“I felt a little guilty writing about that situation. I felt like I was trivializing the death of a dear friend by putting it in a song,” he says. “I now know that was not the case because of all the people it has helped. You get so jaded sometime that you don’t think something can help and have that kind of impact. But many people out there let me know that song helped them get through their day and as songwriters what more could we want than that?”

As talented a songwriter as Wayne Watson is, he could easily be writing hits for any genre of music. When asked if he ever writes songs for the secular marketplace, he says. “I never have felt inclined to. I want to use my energies to inspire on a more eternal level. I feel God gives us certain talents and I want to use my writing not only to entertain, but to teach and inspire.”


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