Michael Heeney was born in Chicago in 1955 and grew up in an Irish neighborhood where music was in abundance. At 6, he hijacked his older brother’s guitar and taught himself how to play his favorite songs—Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” Ray Charles’ “Come Rain Or Shine” and Marty Robbins’ “A White Sport Coat And A Pink Carnation.”
The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show cemented Michael’s musical path—and his quest to conquer the guitar and piano and impress the girls. In 1969, while walking down Rush Street, he heard George Jones’ “If My Heart Had Windows” coming out of a record shop and he left that day with a handful of country albums. “Of course I was influenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and a lot of the other major artists of the time, but George Jones was the one who truly put Nashville on the map for me. And the story-telling nature of the Nashville songwriters’ style fit well with my Irish roots, so I was hooked. I started writing songs.”
Michael played in numerous Rock and R&B bands during high school and college days, unsuccessfully trying to convince band members to play country covers. So he made a detour, playing country and folk music at coffee houses in Old Town. On a Kodak Scholarship, he spent two years at The Art Institute of Chicago chasing his interests in photography and pottery, but the pull of music drew him to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) from 1974-1977, where he pursued a degree in Recording Industry Management.
While still in college, Michael worked at Cedarwood Publishing in Nashville as a songwriter and creative director. As he recalls with a laugh, “There’s nothing like doing razor blade tape edits and playing brushes on a yellow pages phone book to get just the right drum sound to let you know you’ve made it in the music business.” Michael also did his share of pitching his own tunes, and to say those were times when a pitch might involve a little creativity would be a huge understatement. “I remember I wanted to make a pitch to someone who had a second story office with one entrance from inside the building and an exterior door out the back of the office . . . with no stairs or any other way to get to that door from the outside. So we got a cherry picker to lift me up to knock on that back door to make the pitch. I’m not sure if I got a cut out of it, but I guarantee I was remembered! I also recall wearing a Santa suit over to pitch a Christmas tune for Reba McEntire . . . in August. I did get a cut out of that one with ‘On This Day.’”
Those were good years when Michael not only developed his producing chops and formed relationships with some of the best musicians in town, but had his first big successes as a songwriter, including his first No. 1 with “Still Doin’ Time” for—who else?—George Jones. In 1984, Michael became creative director and general manager of Multimedia Entertainment, where the cuts kept on coming, including the title tune and several others on Reba McEntire’s Have I Got a Deal for You. Michael also wrote the TV theme song for the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, as well as jingles for Days Inn, Coke and KFC, among others. When ACT III Music Group (a Norman Lear company) acquired Multimedia in 1989, Michael stayed on for two years as vice president/general manager before joining Polygram International as a co-publisher/songwriter.
Since 1995, he has been a writer at Sony-ATV-Tree. Along the way, Michael has compiled an enviable catalogue of cuts with artists ranging from Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck, Gene Watson, Charley Pride, Mel McDaniel, Charley McClain and Mickey Gilley to Trace Adkins, John Anderson, Nena, Lori Morgan, George Ducas, Aaron Tippin, Tracy Byrd, Jennifer Hanson, Trent Willmon, Jace Everett, Eric Church and Brooks & Dunn. Among Michael’s more familiar singles are Byrd’s No. 1 smash “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo,” Paycheck’s “(DOA) Drunk on Arrival,” Tippin’s “Call of the Wild,” Ducas’ “Kisses Don’t Lie,” McClain’s “Don’t Touch Me There,” Hanson’s “Half a Heart Tattoo,” Willmon’s “Dixie Rose Deluxe” and, most recently, Brooks & Dunn’s powerful “God Must Be Busy” and Church’s Top 10 hit “Love Your Love the Most.”
So what is it that’s enabled Michael to continue writing hits for nearly 30 years since that first No. 1 with “Still Doin’ Time?” “It really just comes down to two things,” he explains. “You’ve gotta have a strong work ethic and put in the time and effort on those days when you don’t feel like it. And you’ve gotta love the music. If you’ve got those two things and a little bit of talent, you might just be able to turn a lifelong passion into a pretty good career.”