John Jarrard Foundation Summer Songwriter Series
What: Featured songwriters Jim McBride and Gary Nicholson will perform
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 19
Where: Brenau Downtown Center, 301 Main St. SW, Gainesville
Cost: $20 per person; purchase tickets online
Not everyone can say they’ve lasted 50 years in the music business. But Gary Nicholson, who is in his mid-60s, can.
The Texas native and Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter first picked up a guitar at age 10 after becoming fascinated with his sister’s collection of rock ’n’ roll records.
His first gig was with a band called The Untouchables, and he and his fellow underage musicians played from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. in a “rough” place in Fort Worth, Texas called The Cellar.
Through the course of his career, Nicholson played lead guitar in at least 10 bands but has found greater success in writing and producing music. The range of artists Nicholson has written, produced or performed with sounds more like a well-rounded music collection: B.B. King, George Jones, Etta James, Garth Brooks, The Neville Brothers, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Ringo Starr and Willie Nelson are only some of the artists Nicholson has collaborated with in his half-century in the business. His work has garnered him two Grammy awards, a nomination to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and induction into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Nicholson will perform Saturday, July 19, as part of John Jarrard 2014 Summer Songwriters Series in Gainesville. He answered questions about his career earlier in the week for The Times.
Q: Your career in the music business has spanned more than 50 years of singing, performing and songwriting. What in that span of time has been the craziest or most memorable thing to happen to you?
A: There’s a lot of crazy things. Maybe an interesting thing is that when I was really young I had Beatles (music) that we would learn how to play from, playing Beatles’ songs. And now I’ve been writing for Ringo Starr for his last five records. It’s like being with a Beatle.
Q: You’ve been nominated to the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame and inducted into the Texas Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. What, in your opinion, is the essence of a good song?
A: If it elicits an emotional reaction from someone. If it makes them cry or makes them laugh or makes them dance.
Q: After 50 years of writing music, where do you go for your inspiration?
A: It’s all just life, just observations of life and obviously ideas come from reading and finding things out. A lot of it is just circumstances you see in life and you try to portray things in songs that we as humans have gone through, and it’s a commonality of experience. I think every artist in every medium is looking for a way to show the oneness between individuals through art. Like when you look at a painting and you identify with it because there’s something in it that reminds you of something in your own experience, or maybe you’re just shocked by it enough to take it in. I think it works that way for music. Truly what you want to do is you want to leave the listener with the feeling that they know more about you than they did before they heard your songs.
Q: You’ve written for every genre from country music to R&B. What genre will you be favoring at the John Jarrard Summer Concert Series?
A: When I’m doing my regular singer-songwriter material, it’s just kind of whatever strikes me. If I get a feeling from the audience or maybe if I’m in a situation where other performers are singing and they sing a song that makes me think of a song of mine. It’s kind of spontaneous, really.
Q: What advice would you give to emerging musicians who might want to have a career as prolific as yours?
A: I would encourage them to live in a music center, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York. Nashville is the songwriting capital of the world if you want to be in an environment where there are a lot of people writing songs all the time. I think it’s the place to be. The other thing is, it sounds like ordinary advice, but to just develop a work ethic that you’re going to go and do the work of writing songs regularly as a discipline all the time, like it’s your job. That way if you don’t do it then you’ve not done your job. So you better go to work and write a song even though there’s something on TV or whatever. I think Facebook is the enemy of aspiring songwriters these days. It’s one more thing to distract you from the writing of songs.