Thom Schuyler is a veteran Nashville songwriter whose songs have been cut the likes of Kenny Rogers, Tanya Tucker, The Judds, Engelbert Humperdinck, Lisa Loeb and more. His new album, Prayer of a Desperate Man, is out now.
How did you get your first publishing deal?
I was hired as a carpenter to remodel an old house on 16th Avenue that was purchased to house a music publishing owned by Eddie Rabbitt, Even Stevens and Jim and David Malloy. I was also to construct a recording studio within the remains of an old garage behind the property. Several weeks into the job I had made an appointment over my lunch hour to visit another publisher to play some of my songs. My reel-to-reel tape was laying on the kitchen table next to my lunch and the secretary/office manager–a young woman named Keni Wehrman–took it upon herself to listen to it. Unbeknownst to me she was impressed to the point of sharing it with Even and Jim that same day. Later that afternoon, while putting some shingles on the studio, Jim came out and said, “Thom, when you finish up there come and see me in my office.” He offered me a deal that afternoon. I stayed there for 5 years and it was my most fruitful deal.
Has your writing process changed over the years, or do you have a consistent routine?
In my earlier years in Nashville I wrote everyday during the work week and typically went down to the office on 16th Avenue. In recent years I have focused my writing to the point that I seldom have a guitar in my lap unless I have an idea that really engages me.
What has been your favorite co-write over the years?
I’ve had several. For purely commercial writing I had a very nice fit with Paul Overstreet. I think we complimented each other quite well. I’ve always loved working with Craig Bickhardt although our approach is a bit unique in that 9 times out of 10 Craig gives me a guitar part and melody and my role is strictly as a lyricist. And I would always include Fred Knobloch and Don Schlitz.
What was the most difficult song to write on Prayer of a Desperate Man? The easiest?
From the perspective that I only recorded songs on that collection that held special meaning for me, I would say that none of them was particularly difficult. In the rare occasions that I am writing something I like, the process holds a great deal of joy and therefore the “labor” seems painless. “The Ancient Flood” was a bit of a challenge because the guitar part is tricky and demanding, and I prefer to sit and play the instrument while writing rather than a record it and listen back.
Tell me about writing “3/4 Man.”
I placed this track in the first position on the CD because it was a simple and clean recording with a lyric that I felt set the tone for the whole collection of songs. It is an amalgamation of lots of stories I’ve heard over the years from friends, family members and strangers–that sense of “Man, I could’ve been so much more.” I think it’s an “everyman’s statement.” I was quite satisfied with the last verse of that song as I feel it is raw-honesty wrapped up in some clever irony.
What’s the song you’re most proud of writing?
“Take a Little With You When You Go.” It’s a song the public does not know. I wrote it on the occasion of our middle child graduating from high school in 2000. Maybe I’ll record it some day. Better yet, maybe someone famous will record it some day.
What would your advice be for younger songwriters?
Several things, I suppose.
1) Indulge yourselves in the music of writers you admire: listen and learn.
2) Be alive and pay attention.
3) None of your songs will alter the direction of humankind. Music is, fundamentally, entertainment.
4) Write songs.
Who are your all-time favorite songwriters?
Within my Nashville base I would include Roger Miller, Harlan Howard, Wayland Holyfield, Bob McDill, Dave Loggins, Don Schlitz, Tony Arata, Hugh Prestwood, Mike Reid and Dennis Linde. Surely there are many more but, for the most part these individuals did something rare and wonderful: they often worked alone. On a broader level I think I learned a great deal from listening to Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, III, Randy Newman and early Tom Waits.
Who is your favorite lyricist?
Fanny J. Crosby
Name your Top Five albums of the moment.
Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends
The Band, The Band (Brown Album)
Randy Newman, Good Old Boys
Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
Tom Waits, Closing Time