Kent Blazy – One of the most successful and prolific writers on the scene today. The list of artists who have recorded his songs is a “who’s who” in the music business — Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, Diamond Rio, Kenny Chesney, Gary Morris, Clay Walker, T. Graham Brown and John Michael Montgomery among others. He co-wrote with Garth Brooks the singer’s first No. 1 hit, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and has had a song on all but one of Brooks” albums.
Q. Kent, first of all, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for us … we know how busy you are these days. We know that you started out as a performer. What kind of music were you playing then? Did you perform any of your own material?
Kent: I started out performing probably a year or two after I started playing the guitar, being in little bands around Lexington, Kentucky. I played rhythm guitar and sang, and, really, right from the beginning started doing some of my own material. The bass player that was in the band and I would work together. I’d usually write the lyrics and he’d put some music to it, so we would do it that way.
Q. When did you realize that songwriting could be something serious in your life?
Kent: It seemed like the minute I picked up the guitar I started attempting to write my own songs. I was really influenced by Bob Dylan and what he had done, and especially The Byrds — they were a really big influence on me. So, right from the beginning, I was serious about being a songwriter, and I wanted to pursue that avenue.
Q. You played with Ian Tyson, Canada’s legendary singer/songwriter. In what way did that contribute to your writing experiences?
Kent: Playing with Ian Tyson in Canada was a really good experience for me because he was such an incredible singer and songwriter, and he was very complimentary to me. I would play him songs that I had written, and he would be very helpful in pointing out things that might need to be done. He was, at one time, talking about starting a publishing company in Nashville and having me write for that — didn’t come to fruition — but having someone like him interested just gave me that much more confidence in what I was doing.
Q. How, when, and why did you make the decision to relocate to Nashville? Was your goal to be a performer more than a writer? Did you already have contacts there, or were you unprepared for the transition? Any surprises?
Kent: In 1980, I was still working with Ian some, but my wife-to-be, Sharon, was living in Bloomington, Indiana where she was going to graduate school, and I’d been on the road with Ian for about two years and also playing in some bands in Bloomington. We decided that when she got out of school, we would relocate to Nashville. I had met a guy by the name of Mark Gray who played in a group from Lexington and who lived in Nashville. I met him through some friends of mine in the group “Exile”, and he was very complimentary, too. He suggested that I move to Nashville and that he would help me when I got there, and that was one of the things that also inspired me because he was an amazing singer-songwriter. So, I thought that if he and Ian believed in me, there must be something there. My goal at that time was not to be a performer. I had done that long enough and felt that my strong point at that time would be to pursue it as a writer. I guess, you know, as much as anyone can be unprepared for the transition, Sharon and I were. We moved down here, neither of us had a job. We lived in a little upstairs apartment — in a little “shady” neighborhood. The apartment cooled down from 3 o’clock in the morning until 7, and the rest of the time it was scorching hot. We moved here in the middle of a heat wave — over 100 degrees in the first two weeks — no air conditioning in the car, so that was exciting! Of course, when we got here, I really didn’t get to see Mark all that much, so I was kind of on my own, going to NSAI meetings, meeting people and going around and playing songs for them, etc.
Q. Were there times when you felt like giving up? What convinced you not to?
Kent: I met a guy who had a little publishing company — Jim Dowell. He signed me and then the publishing company closed, but he and I kept working together, and we wrote a song that Gary Morris recorded called, “Headed for a Heartache”. That song got to be a top 5 record the first year and a half that I was here in Nashville, and so that was a really big confidence booster. But, I went through a period of time when I was getting some songs cut, but probably in the mid to late 80”s I moved out of Nashville to Franklin. The publishing deal that I had stopped, and I had a cut on the Forrester Sisters” album that was supposed to be a single, and some other things that were supposed to happen and none of it really came to fruition, so I was pretty discouraged and was ready to give up and move back to Lexington, Kentucky. A friend of mine, who was like a father to me, had a music store up there, and he wanted me to come up there and run it. I seriously thought about it, and my wife, Sharon, told me that she did not move down to Nashville so that I could move back to Kentucky. So, that kind of reinforced my feelings about being a songwriter and that she really believed in what I was doing. We moved back into the city of Nashville, and two weeks later I met Garth Brooks.
Q. In the early days in Nashville, you had your own home studio for recording demos, etc. There were some very interesting people who recorded there before they made it. Can you tell us who some of them were?
Kent: Even before I moved to Nashville, I had a home recording studio — little four tracks and stuff like that. I’d do demos of my songs, and people would hear them and ask me to do demos for them. Before I moved to Nashville, I’d always made my living by playing and singing, but when I got here, I’d take my demos around, and people would say, “Well, I kinda like the song, but who the hell is singing that?” So, I got freaked out about my voice and wouldn’t sing anymore. I started hiring demo singers, and some of the first ones I started using — Billy Dean and I had played in a band together, and he would sing a lot of demos for me — and then I met Trisha Yearwood. So, that’s really one of the reasons I met Garth. He was looking for some demo work, and he and Bob Doyle brought a cassette over to the house to play me what he was doing. As they were leaving, Bob said, “You know, he writes a little bit, too.”, and I said, “Well, I’ll be glad to use him on demos, and I’ll be glad to write with him.” So, we got together, and the first song we wrote was “If Tomorrow Never Comes”!
Q. What things did you do to get yourself noticed in Nashville?
Kent: I, unfortunately, did as little as I could to get myself noticed in Nashville. Guess I”m kind of a shy guy to an extent, and so I didn’t go out and play writers nights — there weren’t that many at the time — and finally, I got into a little band that was playing in the Franklin area, and we would play a couple nights a week. So, people were noticing my guitar playing, and I started doing some session work for them. But I kind of kept a really low profile, except for the recording studio.
Q. When did you get your first publishing deal?
Kent: As I mentioned, I got my first publishing deal with Jim Dowell. I was in town about three or four months when I got it. That was pretty lucky at the time, because the music business was in a “shaky” state then, too.
Q. What was your first song that was recorded by a major artist? the one you first heard on the radio?
Kent: Hearing my song on the radio for the first time by Gary Morris — of course, that was a dream come true! They did an incredible job on it. They took a little guitar/vocal work tape and turned it into a really amazing production. Paul Worley did that. It was the first record he produced, and he did an amazing job on it.
Q. The song “If Tomorrow Never Comes” – what can we say that hasn’t been said before – the perfect combination of music and lyrics, an extremely powerful work. It was Garth Brook’s first number one and nominated for the CMA song of the year. Was it one of those songs that just happened, or did it evolve over time with reworking, etc.? Were the lyrics inspired by anything in particular? Did you and Garth both realize at the time that you had something big?
Kent: Garth brought the idea in, and he said he’d run it by a lot of different writers before, and he couldn’t get anybody interested in it. He had what ended up being the second verse, which he was using as the first verse, and he had part of a chorus that he liked. So, I said, “What about this for a first verse?”, and just started singing stuff, and he really liked what it was. So, the song happened pretty fast, and then Garth went home and he changed the music a little bit. He put that little “tag” on the end which, to me, just solidified the whole song — “So tell that someone that you love, Just what you”re thinking of, If tomorrow never comes”Basically, we were writing it for our wives. It inspired me because that was something my mother used to always say to me — tell the people that you love how you feel about them today because you never know if there will be a tomorrow. Garth and I, when we wrote it, though we’d written one of those “huge” songs, and we pitched it around for six or eight months, and we realized that we couldn’t get anybody interested in it. Then Garth recorded it, and it became his first number one and my first number one. So, you just never know what’s going to happen in this town.
Q. “Ain”t Goin” Down ”til the Sun Comes Up” – another great song, and quite a contrast with “If Tomorrow Never Comes”. That one must have been a lot of fun. Tell us how it came about.
Kent: We did have a lot of fun on that. I had just moved into a house that needed a lot of repairs (seemed like most houses we moved into), and so we had some people there working on it, hammering and pounding. Kim Williams, Garth, and I went out on this little back porch that had a deck. We had a great time laughing and trying to get this song together and wrote a bunch of lyrics for it. We worked all day until we got so sunburned that we had to come in. Yes, it was an amazing experience, a lot of fun — and Garth turned it into the song that it ended up being, but it was a fun day.
Q. Another contrasting pair of songs – “Somewhere Other Than the Night” and “Beer Run” – one poetic and pensive, the other a toe-tapping, feel-good tune. Do you have a writing preference in terms of style, tempo, lyrical message?
Kent: As far as styles, tempos, lyrical messages, you know, I love doing everything. I grew up with AM radio where there were all kinds of songs being played at the same time — from Roger Miller to Frank Sinatra, the Beatles to Motown, to whatever. So, I love all kinds of music. I do like to have a lyrical message that moves people, makes them laugh or cry, or makes them think about life in general. I just love writing songs.
Q. Diamond Rio recorded “That’s What I Get For Lovin” You” – yet another magnificent song. Have there been other artists who’ve recorded your material, anyone you wouldn’t have expected?
Kent: I had a song recorded by Tom Jones, and that was really exciting, because one of the first songs I learned to play on guitar was “Green Green Grass of Home”, and it was his version of it. I had sprained my ankle playing sports, and that”s when I really started learning how to play the guitar. I had a lot of time where I just had to lay around. And then Barry Manilow recorded “If Tomorrow Never Comes”, and that was a pretty amazing thing. Actually had a Rap/Hip-Hop group record it as well. They did two different versions. One was like a “street” version that kept repeating the phrase. It was really an interesting version of it. An English artist, Ronan Keating, just recorded it — more of a Pop version, and another “dance mix”, which was pretty interesting. So, it’s very interesting how songs keep showing up in different places.
Q. A standard question for us, but do you work on one song at a time or do you have several going at one time?
Kent: I usually work on one song at a time, but I’ve got a lot of other things — I”m always writing in my mind.
Q. When the “Muse” speaks — in the middle of the night, at a restaurant, in the car – how do you capture the song before it’s gone?
Kent: I”m one of these guys: I carry a note pad in the car, keep one by my bed, keep one by the TV, another one in my office. I”m always writing stuff down, and I transfer it to a bigger book if I think it’s good. And then when I have a writing appointment, I’ll pull out the book, and, hopefully, have something that somebody would be interested in doing.
Q. Who were your influences – musically and songwriting?
Kent: As far as my influences, as I mentioned, I grew up with AM radio, and grew up listening to all kinds of stuff. The reason I started playing the guitar — it wasn’t the Beatles as much as this guy in the Byrds, Roger McGuinn, who played a twelve string guitar. When I heard that sound, it really did something to me and made me want to play the guitar. Also, while still living in Bloomington, Indiana and finding my direction, Rodney Crowell and Joe Ely”s first two albums were a huge influence. Rodney’s had 4 songs on there that went to number 1 for other people. But I”m influenced by so many different people. I love Van Morrison. I love Merle Haggard, George Jones, The Byrds. I love Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong — a wide variety.
Q. What can you tell us about the song “When Love Rules the World” and the SHARE project?
Kent: “When Love Rules the World” is a song I wrote with Tom Douglas and Blair Daly. I had that title for a long time, and I knew it could be a song that touched a lot of people. I love both Tom and Blair as writers, so one time we got together. I suggested that title, and the “SHARE” project ended up being a really good place for that song, because it’s going out, and, hopefully, touching people’s lives. It has a video, and it’s out on the radio a little bit, so you never know where it’s going to be heard or whose lives it will touch, and that’s the amazing thing about a song like that (and songs in general), you just never know.
Q. The Bluebird CafÃ© in Nashville played an important role in your career, and you still perform there. Why?
Kent: The Bluebird played an important role in my career. The most important time was when I wasn’t even there! Garth had been turned down by every record label and went to do a show at the Bluebird. Somebody didn’t show up, so Garth went on earlier and did “If Tomorrow Never Comes”.Someone from Capitol Records heard him, and said: “Well, we need to talk again”. They signed him the next day, and the rest is history. But I love playing the Bluebird because it is that environment that Amy Kurland started that no one else had thought of — where you can go in and play. There’s no smoke, and the people are quiet. It’s an intimate setting, like in your house or something. It’s always just such an enjoyable experience, and you never know who’s going to show up and sit in, so that makes it exciting, too. A couple of times, Garth has shown up and played with us. Some other artists have gotten up and played with us. Last time we were there, Kix Brooks from Brooks and Dunn got up and sang.
Q. How important is it for a songwriter to actually perform his/her new material in front of an audience – friends, family, public appearances such as writer’s nights?
Kent: As far as performing new material in front of an audience, sometimes I’ll do it, sometimes not. It just depends on how I feel at the time.
Q. After playing with top artists and appearing at venues everywhere, what was it like when you performed at the Grand Ole Opry?
Kent: Playing the Grand Ole Opry was definitely a dream come true. It was something that I had always thought that I’d love to do. It was an amazing experience. I was lucky enough to be seated right in the middle of the old circle of wood that they brought from the Ryman, where Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb and all the amazing people had stood before. And the other incredible experience for me would be to play the Ryman itself. I”m hoping one of these days that shows up where I could do that.
Q. Another standard question. There are a lot of writers out there who have heard one of your songs and they’ve said, “If I could only write one song, it would’ve been that one.” — you know, the “I’d give my right arm to have written that one” kind of thing. Can you name one or two where you’ve said that?
Kent: Well, there are a couple of million of them. A few of my favorite songs are “In My Life” by the Beatles and “The Song Remembers When” that Hugh Prestwood wrote. But there are so many. Like now it’s autumn, and the leaves are changing and Van Morrison”s “Moon Dance” — always liked that whole album. It’s like a perfect “autumn” album to me. I’ve been listening to it. Actually, there are a lot of albums that are “perfect albums” to me. Like the first “Crosby, Stills, Nash” album. Some Emmylou Harris albums are like that — where all the songs complete the statement.
Q. What’s your writing process like? Is it the melody first? The lyrics? Chord progressions?
Kent: My writing process? I’ll take it however it comes. If the melody comes first, fine. If the lyrics come first, fine. Chord progressions or title — however it wants to be born. I”m definitely ready for having it show up.
Q. Obviously, your decision to relocate to Nashville was the correct one. Whether it’s Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York, what advice can you offer to writers thinking about making a major decision like that?
Kent: I would say that if you are going to attempt to be a well-known writer and get heard by people, you do need to be in one of the major markets. That was some of the best advice I got from people when I was thinking about moving to Nashville.I like Nashville because, one, it was closer to where I”m from (Kentucky). It had more of an honest feeling to it. I had been to New York and Los Angeles, and I’d considered moving to LA, but I”m really glad I moved to Nashville. LA was too spread out, and the music there was taking a different turn from where I was going at the time.
Q. The CD “In the Beginning: A Songwriters Tribute to Garth Brooks” -2 who had the idea for it? Is it available?
Kent: Garth had a “100 Million” party coming up, and Pat Alger and I had been talking about “What do you get a guy who’s sold a hundred million albums?” So, Pat Alger, Kim Williams, Tony Arata and I were playing at the Bluebird, and I called Garth up in Oklahoma just for laughs and said, “We”re playing at the Bluebird Cafe tonight. If you want to come and sit in, you”re welcome to do it.” He flew in and played with us that night! The next day, Pat called me and he said, “Why don’t we do a little album that’s an acoustic version of the things we were doing last night?” This reminded us of how it was at the beginning with just acoustic guitars and vocals. So, we got eight people together who had been around in the beginning and had written with Garth. We recorded the album, and it was an amazing thing. We printed 25 copies. Garth was going to get the number one copy, and the rest would go to family and friends. What ended up happening was that someone from a record label heard it, and asked if they could put it out. So, we actually ended up going on tour. Toured all over the country — went to Ireland. Had a great time. We sold about 50,000 copies so far, which isn’t too bad. You can get it at Amazon.com, some Walmarts, and places like that. It’s under “Garth Brooks”. So, I hope anybody reading this will get a copy and enjoy it as much as we did when we made it.
Q. Who’s in your personal CD collection?
Kent: My personal CD collection is very eclectic. I love so many different kinds of things — Beatles, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, Lyle Lovett, Mozart, Bach, Duke Ellington, Celtic music, The Chieftains, Blues, Albert King, The Bluebloods — I love it all. It all inspires me. I”m grateful that music has been such a big part of my life, and that I get to do this every day. It’s a miracle for me.
Ed: Kent, we want to thank you for your time and all the information you’ve shared with us. Hope to see you again very soon. And good luck in the future. Your career has been extraordinary.
Kent: I appreciate you getting in touch with me and asking me to do this. Thanks, Ed. It’s been really good eating lunch with you.
Discuss this article in our Music Forum.