A brand new day with ‘I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning’ songsmith Mo Pitney

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Country songwriting collaborations with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, “In the Ghetto” scribe Mac Davis, and George Strait partner-in-rhyme Dean Dillon imbue the second installment of a lively interview with Billboard Top Ten Album “Behind This Guitar” recipient Mo Pitney. Seen here minutes before commandeering the stage of the Alapaha Station Celebration in Alapaha, Georgia, Pitney effectively combats any lingering butterflies while rehearsing on his tried and true 1967 D-28 Martin acoustic guitar. Tour merchandise vendor Emily Bankester keeps a loving eye on her best friend, soulmate, and husband in Christ on November 11, 2017. Photography by Wenda Gaile Bailey / Bailey’s Berrien Photos

Mo Pitney found his songwriting lighthouse when God rearranged his life after a stunning, standing ovation debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Desiring to just compose songs about most any subject matter when he brazenly moved from northern Illinois to try his luck in Downtown Nashville, after his Christian conversion Pitney “acquired a strong conviction to never say one thing that I don’t believe, and let everything point to what I believe in.”

Songwriting isn’t merely a hobby for an artist willing to drive his own customized tour bus, load equipment, and spend hours meeting waiting fans post-show. It’s a 9 to 5 Monday thru Friday job enhanced by a reliable 1967 D-28 Martin acoustic guitar and winning collaborations with Whisperin’ Bill Anderson [“Country”], frequent George Strait partner-in-rhyme Dean Dillon [“Take the Chance” and “Everywhere”], and Mac Davis, guilty as charged for submitting worldwide smashes “A Little Less Conversation,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “In the Ghetto” to Elvis Presley.

As a matter of fact, the co-author of well over 300 tunes, the overwhelming majority maddeningly unexploited by Curb Records, drew our refreshingly sincere early morning phone interview to a close by announcing that he couldn’t be late for a writing session with constant compadre Bobby Tomberlin [Diamond Rio’s “One More Day” and Darryl Worley’s “A Good Day to Run”].

The Billboard Top Ten Behind This Guitar recipient refused not one query, gracefully pressing forward about the first song he ever composed, which tune took eons to finish writing, and why the emotionally fragile rose among the thorns offering of “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning Because I Didn’t Go to Sleep Last Night” didn’t make the final 12-track listing of Behind This Guitar. Pitney also let slip that he cut an entire album that’s never been released for Universal Music Group Nashville. The second installment drops now — check out “The Authentic Heart and Soul of ‘Boy and a Girl Thing’ Balladeer Mo Pitney” to catch up.

The Mo Pitney Interview, Part Two

After you were signed to Curb Records, what was the first show that you played with your band?

That’s been so long ago. We did a bunch of rehearsals in Nashville at a place called SIR Rehearsal Studios. When I made my first, still-unreleased album for Universal Music Group Nashville, we ended up doing a really short, 20-minute showcase most likely at 12th & Porter. We used the same studio musicians that made the record.

[Pitney’s touring band consists of sister Holly Pitney — rhythm acoustic guitar, harmony vocals; brother Blake Pitney — bass, background vocals, road manager; Lou Toomey — lead electric guitar; Herb Shucher — drums; and Dan Galysh — steel guitar].

Did any of the songs on your unreleased UMG Nashville album ultimately appear on Behind This Guitar?

I went in a totally different direction. I’m grateful my UMG Nashville album never made it out. In moving to Nashville just out of high school I lost right off the bat — I was spun out with so many different opinions of who I was, why I was moving down, and what I should sound like. On that first record you can hear me flailing about. I am really thankful that time passed and I was able to find my direction musically.

Do you own those unreleased UMG Nashville masters?

Curb Records ended up buying those masters when they signed me. They’re able to keep it in the can. I hope it stays that way. Who knows, on down the road I may change my mind.

Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?

It’s called “I Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” and I wrote it with my dad Danny Pitney and Billy Lawson when I was 18 years old circa 2009. It was just a simple little song that helped me get a feel for writing a tune. I didn’t even cut a demo.

Billy brought me to Nashville and taught me how to write. Billy and I ended up writing a bunch of songs together which ended up getting me my major label record deal and moved things ahead [Lawson produced Pitney’s second single, “Boy and a Girl Thing,” and co-wrote two significant country hits in 1996 that stalled just shy of the ultimate spot — Rick Trevino’s “Learning As You Go” and Trace Adkins’ “I Left Something Turned On at Home”].

Just how many songs have you composed altogether?

During the first couple of years when I came to Downtown Nashville songwriting was really all I was doing. Right off the bat I was writing songs five days a week. I don’t write as many now because I’m traveling and doing other things. I’m still writing maybe 30 or 40 songs a year. I don’t know the exact number but I know there’s a couple hundred.

Does the lyric or melody come first when you write?

They just both always come together. The lyrics tell you the melody, or the melody tells you the lyrics as you go along.

Does a song come to mind that took longer than usual to finish?

“It’s Just a Dog” took probably three times getting together in order to finish. It’s a complicated idea, not a stream of consciousness type song but more of a story that wasn’t just one story alone. Dave Turnbull, Jimmy Melton, and I ended up putting three of our stories together.

An agriculturally-minded friend was desperately searching for a soothing musical distraction while studying complicated pesticide modes of action and serendipitously stumbled upon your debut Larry’s Country Diner RFDtv episode [taped December 3, 2012, and aired on January 24, 2013, with Bill Anderson] on YouTube. Your vocal tip of the hat to country artists from the ’80s and early ’90s instantly piqued her interest. Larry’s Country Diner also served as my introduction to you, and “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning Because I Didn’t Go to Sleep Last Night” ranks among my Top Five favorite Mo Pitney songs.

Thank you. I got to write “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning” with Bill Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin. I’m actually writing with Bobby this morning in Nashville after we get off the phone.

Larry’s Country Diner was probably one of the last times I sang that song. I’ve had a lot of people make comments about it. Rising African American artist Tony Jackson recorded a cover, and I’m so glad he did [available on the self-titled Tony Jackson, May 2017, DDS Entertainment].

That begs the question — why was “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning” left off Behind This Guitar?

Sometimes I experiment with songs before I record. There were hundreds of songs that I wrote that were in the vein of “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning.” When I ended up making Behind This Guitar, the songs that I picked were just the ones that I thought fit best together. “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning” might show up in the future. There are a lot of songs that are hiding in the background that people haven’t heard that compete with other songs.

The full band and I tracked a demo of “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning.” That’s as far as we proceeded. I don’t know whether I lost interest in the song and got focused on something else — it just never really stuck at that point in time. Maybe “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning” lost its believability when the band embellished the track.

How did you befriend Whisperin’ Bill Anderson?

Bobby Tomberlin is a songwriter signed to Curb Records — I am signed as both an artist and songwriter. I had met Bobby first when I got hooked up with Curb. One day he asked me to come hang out with him and Bill. We wrote “Country” the first day we were together and had fun in the ensuing months writing “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning,” one called “They Laugh,” and others that have yet to see the light of day.

What’s the story behind your “Take the Chance” collaboration with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee and George Strait partner in rhyme Dean Dillon?

I met Dean in Canada. Five or six of the songs that we’ve written together were composed on two different Canadian writing / fishing retreats. We purposely secluded ourselves away from many of the distractions that can hinder writing. We would go fishing in the day, come back to our little cabin, and do some writing in the afternoon or the morning before we went out to fish. It was an awesome time.

“Take the Chance” is the first song I wrote with Dean. “Everywhere” also wound up on Behind This Guitar. There are a number of others that probably will show up on future records.

Writing with Dean was a very big deal. Dean was one of the guys that I was most nervous to write with because I was such a huge fan of his music, singing, playing, performance style — just everything about him. I just really, really respect Dean.

He’s an interesting guy to write with. Dean writes quickly. He knows what he’s doing, and there’s probably nobody that I have written with who can marry a melody and a lyric better than Dean Dillon can. I’ve learned a lot just from sitting in the room with him.

[Author’s Note: Dillon co-wrote 20 singles for Strait between 1981 and 2013 encompassing “The Chair” — the Tennessee ink slinger’s first number one — “Oceanfront Property,” “Famous Last Words of a Fool,” and “Here for a Good Time.” Dillon’s vast discography includes hits for Steve Wariner — “By Now,” Dillon’s first Top Ten from 1981 — George Jones — “Tennessee Whiskey,” 1983, Dillon’s highest charting single up to that point at No. 2 — Hank Williams Jr. (“Leave Them Boys Alone”), Keith Whitley (“Homecoming ‘63” and “Miami, My Amy”), Vern Gosdin (“Set ’Em Up, Joe”), Brooks & Dunn (“I’ll Never Forgive My Heart”), Toby Keith (“A Little Too Late”), and Kenny Chesney (“A Lot of Things Different”). As a solo artist in the 1980s and early ’90s Dillon’s biggest hit was the No. 25 C&W “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” on RCA Victor which Strait ultimately covered and unsurprisingly carried to the topmost position].

The Beatles and Elvis Presley are my favorite artists. I visited Memphis in August 2017 for the 40th anniversary of Elvis’s passing and was privileged to see Mac Davis reminisce and perform at the Songwriters Showcase hosted by Andy Childs at Graceland. Coincidentally, six weeks later you posted on Facebook a bracing acoustic cover of Mac’s “In the Ghetto,” a No. 3 Pop hit cut by Elvis at the iconic American Sound Studio 1969 sessions overseen by producer Chips Moman and the Memphis Boys. How did you first collide with Mac?

Mac, Pam Tillis, Bill Anderson, and I were invited to play a writers’ night at the Country Music Association’s Songwriters Series event held in the historic Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. [April 21, 2015]. I met Mac for the first time onstage. We all had a great time.

Bobby Tomberlin and I later visited Mac at his home for a writing session, and “We Had Nothing to Do with This,” an up-tempo song about the Lord bringing two people together, resulted. We got really close to recording “We Had Nothing to Do with This” the last time we went to the studio, but we didn’t end up having enough time. I am sure it will end up somewhere — just not yet.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2017. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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