Singer/songwriter Even Stevens’ new autobiography, “Someday I’m Gonna Rent This Town” is an insider’s look into Nashville’s formitive music scene written with both passion and humor. Along the way, Stevens reveals the struggles and glories of his life as a hit songwriter during the transformative years of country music. From Eddie Rabbitt’s #1 hits “Driving My Life Away” and “I Love a Rainy Night,” to Dr. Hook’s multi-platinum, international hit, “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman”, the creative process is laid bare for all to see.
I recently spoke with Even Stevens about his new autobiography, songwriting and more in this exclusive interview!
James Wood: You were recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. What was that experience like?
Even Stevens: It was pretty awesome. The guy that introduced me to the audience was Hugh Prestwood, a good buddy of mine. He wrote “The Song Remembers When”, “On The Verge” and a bunch of others. He’s also a member of the Hall of Fame. A few of my friends played my songs that night – Loving Mary (Rebecca Lynn Howard and Elisha Hoffman, Suzie McNeil and Marti Frederiksen) sang “Driving My Life Away” and Paul McDonald from American Idol sang “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman”. It was quite a night.
JW: What made you decide to book at this point of your career?
ES: I had actually been working on it for about five years and was about 75% done. I was down in Muscle Shoals not too long ago where Randy Owen has a benefit every year for St. Jude’s Hospital. He calls up all of his songwriter acquaintances to come up on stage and play and I got up there and played a lot of my big songs. About midnight after the show, I was in the hotel lobby when a guy came up to me and told me he was interested in doing a book about me. He said he was in the audience with Rick Hall and had just done a book on him and also did one on George Jones and wanted mine to be the third one for his publishing company. That’s how it all happened.
JW: When you first moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter, did you have any second thoughts about your decision?
ES: Did I ever. At the time, I was getting ready to go to art school and had an uncle who was a drummer and recording engineer in Nashville. He called me up one night and asked me to come down. I remember I borrowed forty dollars from my next-door neighbor and headed to Nashville. I came down on an overnight whim and wound up staying. But there were plenty of times when I had second thoughts. But looking back on it, those were the years when people my age were going to college and making up their minds about what they were going to do with their lives. I looked at being in Nashville as my college years and I was either going to make it or break it.
JW: What was it like being in Nashville during that time?
ES: It was wonderful. When I got here, people like Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson were just starting to happen. Nashville was changing from a three-chord, honky-tonk town to more poetic with different changes in the chord structure. I was glad to be there because I was learning the craft just as good examples of music were already happening. The bar was already set pretty high.
JW: One of the best stories in the book is how Englebert Humperdinck almost recorded “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman” but a mechanical failure kept him from even hearing your demo.
ES: That’s right. I told him I’d try to get him another copy when I got back to Nashville. I remember being depressed all the way home thinking I had blown it. But the one day my friend Shel Silverstein came over. He had written a lot of songs for Dr. Hook – including “The Cover Of A Rolling Stone” and “Sylvia’s Mother”. He told me they were looking to do something different and I might have just what they need. So he brought their producer by when I was working on “When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman” and he just freaked out about it. Within a week, I was down in Muscle Shoals cutting that song with them.
JW: Did you ever tell Englebert?
ES: No. We never talked about it [laughs]. He did call me a few years later and wanted me to send him some songs for a project he was doing with Mike Post. I sent him five songs and he just loved them. That’s when he asked me if I’d like to produce a whole album for him. So he came to Nashville and I produced the album “You and Your Lover”.
JW: What was it like working with Eddie Rabbitt?
ES: It was the greatest fifteen years I ever spent. We had a great partnership and wrote more than 900 songs together. I remember when I first met him we didn’t even write together. We just sort of hung out. Then when we did start writing, it was so easy and fun. We had magic right from the beginning. It was the perfect thing.
JW: Can you tell me the story of how you wrote, “I Love A Rainy Night”?
ES: At the time we wrote it, Eddie, David Malloy and I had been writing for a few years. Eddie had this ten-second thing on a cassette that he had where he was singing something about a rainy night. Over the years, he would bring it up to us during our writing sessions but it never seemed to work and we’d just move on and write something else. Then one day he brought it in and suddenly it happened. It was one of those songs where we instantly knew we had something special.
JW: Are there any other projects you’re working on right now?
ES: I’ve been writing a lot with Paul Overstreet and Scotty Emerick. We’re all good buddies and write a lot together. I also write with Rebecca Lynn Howard and Elisha Hoffman quite a bit. I’m also writing with Paul McDonald, who was just on American Idol. We’re working on some rock stuff for his new project.
JW: Is there a bit of songwriting advice you can pass along that trumps all others?
ES: I think it’s important to be real with your words. Write as if you were talking to somebody and try not to be too clever with rhyme. It’s easy to rhyme words but the most important part is the line. Say what you want to say and find a way to rhyme it if you want to. Also, talk about human frailties and fears. “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” is about jealousy and suspicion.
JW: Is there anything you’d like people to take away from reading, “Someday I’m Gonna Rent This Town”?
ES: I hope that the people who buy it who are songwriters or are dreaming of becoming one can get something out of it. I say in the book that I don’t know the secret to writing hit songs but if I did, I’d be a billionaire. I do know that I’ve leaned a lot from songwriting and know what kind of songs can make it. The only secret to getting to those hit songs is to write a lot. Out of quantity comes quality.