Michael Peterson Interview Part 6

Michael Peterson

Michael Peterson

Welcome back to Part 6 of the interview with Michael Peterson. Here he talks about the viability of getting multiple covers of the same song and a dream album he’d like to do. Tin Pan South, billed as the biggest festival of songwriters in the world, had over 300 songwriters. Almost all of them had great songs that had never been cut. I kept thinking that there was no way that they could all get cut- like we were talking about earlier. But, they’re all up to that standard.

Peterson: You have to scratch your head and say, Whaaat? Did you spend much time listening to Hugh Prestwood? Yes, I saw him at The Bluebird.

Peterson: So- complete genius, right? Yes!

Peterson: Song after song after song is like, oh my goodness gracious! How come every one of his songs isn’t getting cut? Have you heard Mike Reid’s new album? No, I haven’t.

Peterson: Oh my goodness. You need to go to his website. I think the album’s called, New Direction Home. It’s unbelievable, some of the songs on this record.

I don’t have to look very far around me to see I’m not the only one. How can I feel sorry for myself when guys like that, with songs like that (aren’t getting cut). So, get over it. Go write another song. It’s a physical impossibility to get all those songs cut. I’m sure you have more great songs than you have space to record on YOUR OWN records.

Peterson: I’ve written close to 400 songs. I got a call two days ago from a producer who once cut a song of mine that has never been released. A song called, She Can’t Remember And He Can’t Forget. To me, it’s one of my favorite songs I’ll ever write. I don’t know that I’ll write many songs better than this. Here’s a song that’s been around for 10 years, maybe. He said he wanted to record it. I’d been thinking about putting it on a new record of mine, maybe I shouldn’t let somebody else record it. Then I remembered THE LESSON. All the times that artists called me when I was signed at Warner Bros.- Wynonna, Ty Herndon, or different people that said, ‘Man, I really like that song. Can I record it?’

And I’d say, ‘No, I’m saving it for my next record.”

For whatever reason, it didn’t make my next record and never got recorded by someone else. I’m of the opinion now that if someone wants a song of mine, and I want to record it, then let’s both record it. Let’s get it out there. That’s why we write ‘em. I think I got a little off topic of your question. But get ‘em out there. I’m not going to record them all!

It used to be in the 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s, there might be four different versions of the same song at the same time. Let them slug it out. People had their favorite versions. That wasn’t looked down upon. For some reason these days, artists say no, that’s so-and-so’s song. Why are you singing it? Wait a minute. It’s just a song. This is my version because I’m an artist and this is the picture I’m painting with this song. There doesn’t seem to be that type of environment out there. I’m hoping it will come back. Although I think multiple covers of the same song at the same time are happening online. A good example of that is Carly Rae Jepsen’s song, Call Me Maybe, which has 100’s of YouTube covers. Some of those are YouTube ‘hits’ in their own right.

Peterson: That’s the new version of that. Some artist sitting in their basement loves another artist’s hit. They love it so much, they want to do their version of it. Now they can broadcast. You couldn’t do that 20 years ago! At Tin Pan South, you did your song When The Bartender Cries. It reminds me of a standard from another era. You said at the show that you would like to do a record of ‘new standards’. Is that something in the works or is that a dream record?

Peterson: It’s more conceptual at this point. I wrote a lot of songs when I was a staff writer at Warner Bros. that were more of that ilk. The changes were more Tin Pan Alley, standards kinds of material, that a Frank Sinatra or a Tony Bennett might have cut back in the day. Every time I wrote a song like that and turned it in, my publisher would say, ‘That’s nice, but what am I going to do with it?”

I was an artist on a country label. They were counting on me cutting the songs I write on my records, so we could drive the machine forward. That’s totally understandable. That’s the way it works. I got that. I ended up with a small bag full of songs that were more of that ilk. To me, those were songs that had a place in country music. All you have to do is listen to Willy Nelson’s Stardust record- there it is. I’m not implying I’ve written the next Stardust record. He was cutting Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, and Cole Porter. It always ran in the back of my mind that these were really wonderful songs and that they deserved to be heard. Over the years I continue to catch them as they fall into my lap. I continue to play them in certain settings and people seem to really respond to them. When you say standards, people ask what are the titles they’d recognize. So, it’s kind of a weird thing when I say I’m going to cut an album of ‘new standards’- because what’s a ‘new standard?’ But a standard has become a phrase that really refers as much stylistically as it does musically to mean a song that has become a recognizable household tune. One could argue that Motown hits could be standards, and those aren’t Frank Sinatra songs. I’m referring to that post-big band, swing era sound of Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Nat King Cole, and on some level Johnny Mathis. They were playing songs from the ‘Great American Songbook’. It’s been done in pop music: You had Rod Stewart recording songs from the ‘Great American Songbook’ in the pop genre. Nobody’s really done that in country. Willy did, he beat everybody to it. But in terms of contemporary artists, arguably, it has not been done yet. I’d like to take it a step further and introduce my audience, at the very least, to my body of work that has that feeling. Maybe have a couple of songs on there that would be actual standards, but for the most part, they would be songs of mine.

Continued next week…

Write On-

Ron Shaffer

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