NASHVILLE – This week’s Nashville Pick is lyricist J. Michael Reese and his poems Definition of Blues and True Love –
The makeup and construction of a song as perceived by songwriters often follow several formulae. An idea for a song may first blossom in one’s mind, or it can be inspired by playing an instrument, reading a poem, recalling a memory, or any inspirational event.
Whether we consider solo artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Garth Brooks, or duos like The Warren Brothers, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, or Elton John & Bernie Taupin, collaboration often plays a part in the journey of a song becoming a product of the music industry. A potential hit song should convey its appeal when performed simply with a guitar or piano. If it passes that test, it can then reach a much larger audience through studio production and live performances.
A song might be inspired initially by lyrics in need of music, or a musical composition could be in need of lyrics. Either way, both elements are required to create a great song. The ultimate result should be a song that resonates in the minds and hearts of the audience in ways that inspire and resonate with its listeners. In Nashville, we believe music is the universal language that conveys truth, trust, and honesty in its presentation. Pour your heart and soul into it. If the music is authentic and truthful, listeners can identify with it in their own lives.
Ever get a catchy line or song title to come to you out of the blue? Thom Shuyler wrote the song “16th Avenue” for Lacy J. Dalton. In one verse he said – “Ah but then one night in some empty room – Where no curtains ever hung – Like a miracle some golden words – Rolled off of someone’s tongue“. Just maybe, like in this hit for Lacy J., a line or a whole verse came to mind, out of the blue but you were busy or distracted and didn’t pick up a pen or sit down at a keyboard and see where those words might have taken you. Perhaps an Oscar or Grammy winner disappeared into oblivion, never to come to mind again.
We all know that in Nashville great musicians are a dime a dozen but great lyricists are in short supply. Certainly it would help immensely, but you don’t have to be a musician to be a lyricist. If you think about it, some of the world’s most famous poets never had the impulse to write a song lyric which of course are nothing but short poems with repeat verse or verses for a chorus.
Recently we received an email from a poet of the cowboy poetry genre, J. Michael Reese, down in Mississippi. Mike said that back through the years he has written poems with some sight, sound or situation stirred the creative part of his brain. He said that one day, back in his John Deere salesman days, a co-ed from Mississippi State called to ask him a favor, would he write her a country song? She said she had read some of his cowboy poetry and was sure he could write a song. Mike said it hit him like a runaway freight train, you can write all the poems in the world and they are basically worthless but if you wrote a song that might turn out to be a hit, it could be worth negotiable currency. So he changed his focus and in the early mornings, his writing time, he started writing song lyrics.
“Maybe I could feel more at ease with baring my soul.“
As a leap of faith, Mike had mistakenly sent out his email to Nashville.com. Mike was trying to reach out to Nashville publishers in hopes of finding a composer such as Taylor Swift, writing, “I thought I was sending it to the new SoNash publishing company but realized after I sent it that that’s not where it went. Actually, my song is so likely to be stolen that I am afraid to send it by non-secure communication. I have tried every way I know to get it to Taylor, her mom Andrea, her 13 Management Company, her publicist, you name it, I tried it.“
We initiated a further conversation after being impressed by some of Mike’s lyrics. It soon became apparent that he was not an ordinary storyteller. Mike possesses a flair for words that convey images and emotions. He introduces you to the joy and flavor of his personal experiences like a tour guide of the mind. We asked, “Could you tell us a little more about yourself? Do you have pictures and a biography? We might write an article about you and share your lyrics so that readers can reach out to you.“
“Not one of my guitars has a melody in it”
Mike resides in “Miss’sippi” and, like many artists, is wary of the internet and hesitant to place his works on it. After some back-and-forth conversations, we were trying to convince Mike to introduce himself to the public, but notoriety is not what he seeks. We continued, “Any pictures from your past that we could use would make this a more personalized human interest story. In a world of glory-seeking people, it would be a refreshing change to dig deeper than the surface to reveal some real soul. I think readers would respect and appreciate your endeavor.“
Mike’s response had the flair of a good ol’ boy, stating, “So, brother, or maybe sister, I’m sure your name is not Nashville.com, so I’m left to wonder who this sage and amicable person I am communicating with is. Could you tell me your name, rank, and serial number? Well, maybe you weren’t in the service like me, a Navy guy, ‘squid’ they called us. If I knew your name, sexual orientation, blood type, and calcium score, maybe I could feel more at ease with baring my soul.“
After several years of writing song lyrics Mike said his wife claims to be burnt out on hearing them but he doesn’t believe her. He reads her the morning’s effort with his lips pressed to the crack of the locked bathroom door, just trying to imagine her thrilled expression on the other side. He also said that she becomes very irritated when he’s playing one of his guitars because he won’t play her request she yells out for a song named “I Can’t Take it Anymore“. Yep, this old cowboy has a sense of humor.
Mike said his office has three guitars on their stands but after years of trial and error he has concluded that not none of them has a melody in it….
We finally got Mike’s okay to publish some of his poems. So, without further ado, Nashville.com would like to introduce you to the wordsmith – J. Michael Reese.
Definition of the Blues
J. Michael Reese
About ninety miles south of Memphis
I turned off the interstate
My next gig is in New Orleans
It’s tomorrow night at eight
I drove on through the cotton fields
Til the paved road turned to gravel
Sometimes it’s down little dirt roads
That the mysteries of life unravel
An old man was playing his guitar
On the porch of his little shack
So I got out with my flat top
And grabbed my whiskey from the back
When I handed him that whiskey
He made them bubbles rise
When I handed him that Gibson
I saw wonder in his eyes
He ran his pick across the strings
And he changed just one or two
He said sit there in that other chair
And I’ll play the blues for you
He looked out across the mile long rows
Shimmering in the waves of heat
And seeing things in that cotton field
That only old blues men see
Then he hit just a simple lick
But he bent them strings around
I’ve known that guitar thirty years
I ain’t never made that sound
As I sat there in that other chair
That blues song laid me low
Before he ended with the saddest note
That a guitar ever moaned
Then he handed me my guitar back
But I gave it back to him
And I parted with my silver flask
I’d never find this place again
And I drove on to New Orleans
With something I never knew
The delta’s the only place you’ll learn
The definition of the blues
© 2023 J. Michael Reese
There is so much talent that resides in Nashville along with many artists that visit Music City just trying to be heard, seen and hopefully discovered. If you would like your song or video to be considered for our Nashville Picks, submit it using our Nashville Picks form: