State Theater event offers look at how songs evolve

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John Ford Coley headlines songwriters roundtable

By Jeff D'Alessio

Of the numerous concerts staged at the Historic State Theater, few have offered an intimate and insightful look at how thoughts turn into lyrics and blossom into hit songs.

Saturday’s Behind the Music, A Songwriter’s Intimate Tale will do just that with songwriters and their guitars.

The 7:30 p.m. event features John Ford Coley, of the 1970s hit-making duo England Dan and John Ford Coley, as well as Byron Hill and Roxie Dean, who all have penned hits over their lengthy careers.

“I’m very excited about this show,” said State Theater Executive Director Emily West. “This is certainly a very unique type of show.  In my opinion, this show is for the true music lover, and for those who truly appreciate how the music starts.”

The show features all three performers discussing their careers and what inspires their writing. They also plan to perform their hits and new material.

“Songwriting for me, (I wouldn’t dare answer for Byron or Roxie as I’m sure they have their own process) is a wonderful delight,” Coley said in an email. “There is always a desire to write one better than the last one you wrote and continue to be able to push your imagination further and come up with something that you’re very proud of. Honestly, there are times when I do not have a clue as to where the music and words come from. They simply seem to flow through you and you become a conduit and before you know it, the song is completed.

“Other times, it’s like pulling teeth and you very much have to work at it harder than you expected to,” Coley added. “Nothing seems to satisfy you and it is quite laborious. You write, rewrite, rewrite again and then out of nowhere, it all falls together.”

Former high school classmates, England Dan and John Ford Coley strung together six Top 25 hits from 1976 through 1979 with the likes of “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight,” “We’ll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again,” “Nights Are Forever Without You,” and “Love Is The Answer.” “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” spent 17 weeks on the Billboard 100 Singles chart and climbed as high as No. 2.

“Being in England Dan and John Ford Coley truly was one of the highlights of my life,” Coley said.

England Dan Seals died March 25, 2009, in Nashville from mantle cell lymphoma. He was 61.

Hill has written songs for the likes of George Strait, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Alabama and George Jones. He wrote Strait’s 1982 No. 1 hit “Fool Hearted Memory,” Alabama’s 1992 top-charting single “Born Country” and Gary Allan’s No. 1 hit “Nothing On But The Radio” in 2005.

More than 650 of his songs have been recorded by artists over more than three decades.

Dean released her debut album in 2005 and co-wrote Jamie O’Neal’s 2001 No. 1 single “When I Think About Angels” among other high-profile recordings from the likes of Lee Ann Womack, Sara Evans, Tracy Lawrence and McEntire.

Coley has participated in these types of events at the State Theater before and says it’s a good way for fans and music lovers to understand the inner workings of songwriting. The intimate surroundings and interaction with the audience also offers a unique twist.

“For me, it’s souls touching souls and it comes from a place deep inside you that often you’re completely unaware even exists, but at the same time, keeping it simple enough that many people can relate to it,” he said of writing songs. “Those are magical moments in the life of a songwriter and you learn to guard and deeply appreciate the gift you’ve been given. Plus, it makes people happy and that makes it complete for you as a writer.”

The event is a homecoming of sorts for Coley, whose family was among the early founders of Elizabethtown. Many of his relatives are buried here. His great aunt married Samuel Haycraft, one of the first founders of Elizabethtown.

Coley also is related to Jacob Van Meter Sr., who built a fort on Severns Valley Creek, just north of what now is Elizabethtown. Van Meter is buried in Elizabethtown City Cemetery.

“When I pass through town on my way somewhere else, I will stop by the cemetery and put another guitar pick on his tombstone,” Coley said. “I’m very proud of my family heritage in E’town.”

Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at (270) 505-1757 or jdalessio@thenewsenterprise.com.

Behind the Music, A Songwriter's Intimate Tale begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Historic State Theater in Elizabethtown.
Tickets are available at the theater or on the day of the show. Preferred tickets are $20 and general tickets are $15. Tickets also are available online at www.historicstatetheater.org.