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American Country Songwriter Spotlight: Chuck Cannon
American Country Magazine spotlights Chuck Cannon in May '04 issue,
by Ken Churilla.
Songwriting is a craft, make no mistake about it. That being said, Chuck cannon is a master craftsman. In addition to his most recent hit he wrote with Toby Keith, American Soldier, Chuck is responsible for song like John Michael Montgomery's I Love The Way You Love Me and a whole slew of other hits like We Were In Love, Dream Walkin', and Getcha Some to name a few.
We sat down with Chuck to peek into his head a bit about his latest hit, his songwriting process and anything else he wanted to offer.
AC: Tell me where "American Soldier" was born.
Chuck: I was a Toby's house a few days before we actually went to war with Iraq. A picture came on TV of these soldiers loading on the C-141. They were walking down this line and one guy had a little boy in his arms that looked about 4-years old. He was trying to put the boy down and he was just holding on to his Daddy's neck. You could read the little boy's lips saying"...don't go, don't go.” The soldiers' wife was standing there too and she had an infant in her arms. What really moved us was that guy trying to put his little boy down. Realize the gravity of that moment. Can you imagine being that soldier putting your boy down knowing it could be the last time you ever see him? That's so overwhelming.
AC: Much of Toby’s music are songs that you write together. What is it that clicks between the two of you as writers?
Chuck: We don't bullshit each other. We've just always been really honest with each other. If I throw out a line and he doesn't like it, he'll tell me and vice versa. I think Toby Keith understands his audience as well as or better than any artists / writer that I've every worked with. He speaks their language. He does not do much censoring when he is writing which to me is over-the-top refreshing. So many times writers end up editing a song and make it not say anything. Whenever I sit down with Toby, I know we're gonna have something to say and we're not gonna give too much of a damn of what people think. Toby and I just happen to kind of hit it off. I mean the first thing we ever wrote was How Do You Like Me Now. Our second song was s song called Me Too.
AC: Are you a reality-based writer, always writing from experience or can you conjure up a story and then wrap music around it?
Chuck: It's all reality based but not often very specific as to the situation I'm going through. I think you always draw from your personal experiences but there's no way you can live all of the things that you need to touch on in songwriting. I can write a cheating song, but I've never cheated on my wife. I can write a leaving song but I ain't planning on leaving. There are situations in my past or in my co-writers' past where we'll draw from those. I'm also a voracious reader. I read about 150-200 books a year. I always have 4 or 5 books going so I draw from that as well.
AC: when you write, do you write with a specific artist in mind?
Chuck: Absolutely not. I call that target writing and I caution AGAINST that. When you try to write for an artist, you're writing to what they most recently did and you have no idea if that artist has decided if they want to grow from that place. I'm sure that there are some songwriters that are successful with that, but I just try to write the best song I possibly can. Once it's done, that's when I try to cast it.
AC: What is the job of a songwriter?
Chuck: To make the listener empathize and feel. I've always said one of our main jobs as songwriters is to get people to hear a song a say "...yeah, me too."
AC: does each writer have their own unique stamp to them or do most pretty much rehash each other’s ideas?
Chuck: I think all writers have their own voice and their own language if you will. If you read Shakespeare from play to play, he covers a lot of the same material. I remember when Steven King wroter under the name Richard Bachman. I picked up that Bachman book, got about 20 pages in, and figured out it was him. You can tell a writers voice. Gary Burr has a very distinctive voice in the songs he writes. Mike Reid, don Schlitz, Don Gibson, Hank Williams, all of them have very distinct voices. You can tell the difference if you pay attention.
AC: What comes first when you sit down to write a song: is it the music or the story?
Chuck: whichever way woks that day. I try to write a first line and from there. The next logical thing is the hook. Sometimes I'll build around a guitar riff. It's not my preferred method to write to a title because you never know what a song is going to tell you to do. When Toby and I wrote Me Too we wrote the entire song before we looked at each other and Toby said to me, "...what was the thing you said to girl when you were 17 and she said I love you?" I looked at him and went, "...me too." So we put it in there.
AC: Do you have a certain quota that you try to write per week or per day?
Chuck: I'm not disciplined as numbers go, but I write everyday. It might be just coming down to my writing space and reading a book. I might pick-up a guitar and strum around until one of them starts talking. That's all writing to me. I used to hold myself to two songs a week and but I seemed to end up with a lot good songs with great lines in them. I don't write as much as I used to and I don't write as much as I could. It's not so important to me to write a song, as it is to write a great song.
Watching Chuck Cannon for the first time, I decided he was as gifted a scribe as many of the folks on our list of the 100 Best Living Songwriters and funnier than most. “Every sinner’s got a future / And every saint’s got a past,” he sings in “Whiskey Drinkin’ Preacher” before breaking into Shawn Mullins’ hit “Light You Up,” which he co-wrote.