In show business, or any other business for that matter, it pays to be nice to people you come in contact with. After all, you never know who might be watching. If you need proof of this, just ask Billy Yates, and he can tell you a story that means a lot to him, and to one of country’s fastest-rising performers.
“I love Chris Young,” he begins, “and he has become one of my buddies. He told me this, but I read this in print. He said that my song ‘Flowers’ was out as a single back in 1997, and he was at Fan Fair back at the fairgrounds. His mom had brought him out there, and he stood in line, and he said ‘Billy was so nice to me, and I love that song so much. That was a lot of what made me realize that I wanted to do that for a living, and that I wanted to be that guy—so nice to people. To have any kind of influence on anybody is good. I think you have to watch what you do, because there are people watching. You have to consider that, and always be the right kind of guy if you can.”
Spend any amount of time with Billy Yates, and you know he’s just one of those “right guys.” The singer-songwriter, who has struck gold time and again with acts such as George Jones, Joe Nichols, Sara Evans, and Kenny Chesney recording his songs, has diversified somewhat over the years. Sure, he’s still writing and performing, but his knack for knowing a good song has helped him grow his publishing company, as he tells LimeWire Music Blog.
“The publishing company is called Smokin’ Grass Music, and we’ve had cuts on George Strait’s two most recent albums, Twang and Troubadour. So, the publishing company has been successful, which has been great. It’s been really fun to work with other songwriters, and to develop younger songwriters and that kind of thing. We’ve been doing that for the last three years. That’s been a lot of fun. I also enjoy trying to develop younger artists. I’ve been here twenty-some odd years, since 1987. It feels good to be able to give something back of the knowledge I’ve attained over the last several years. Being on different labels, and sitting in on those meetings, and doing my own label, M.O.D. (My Own Damn)….Of course, you learn so much along the way. It’s nice to give that back to young artists and young songwriters. That’s what I’ve been up to in the states the past few years.”
There’s no doubt, with his songwriting success, as well as his string of successful albums himself, that he can share a few tips about what to do, and what not to do. When asked what he might say to himself when he first came to town 23 years ago, there was no hesitation.
“You look back at all the different things you’ve learned along the way—-the good and the bad. I think I would point out some of the pitfalls. There a lot of things that I did, and I’ll be real candid. With different labels I was on, I was my own worst enemy at times. I would sometimes do things—I knew what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to present it, and sometimes the label would have other ideas.” Yates admits that while he took the right road, he might change things a little. “I think that if you want to play ball on that particular field at that level, you have to play their game. I think I would go back and tell myself that if you really had wanted to do that in a big way back then—which was the case—then I probably would have just said ‘Play along.’ Now, I can go back and see where I am glad I didn’t. I think that’s the difference between an act and an artist. I think an artist has to stay true to him or herself irregardless of what success you might be able to attain by caving in and doing whatever everybody else wants you to do. There’s definitely some give and take, no matter what you do, don’t get me wrong….I understand that. I’d probably just tell him what I have learned and say, ‘Play along.”
Of course, the decisions that Yates has made over the years have all led him to the place he is today, and he’s glad to be here. “It’s all life experiences, and what you experience in life makes you what you are and later become in life, so I don’t really have a lot of regrets. There might be some things I would have done different had I been smarter, but truthfully, for the most part—I’m where I wanted to be. I never wanted to be a superstar. It was never about the fame. It was always about the music, and that’s kind of where I’m at. I get to go to Europe and do shows in front of thousands of people. So, I get to scratch my itch as an artist, and get that recognition. I mean, there is a certain amount of ego involved, and all that stuff figures into it. As a songwriter, I’ve been very fortunate to have songs recorded by several of my heroes—people that I respect and that I admire.”
Yates is one artist who admits, after all these years, to still having a love affair with Nashville and all that it entails. “I’m such a fan, and I feel fortunate for that. A lot of people I know are here for a long time, and they go through the ups and the downs, and you become jaded and negative. I’ve never done that. I’m still a fan. I bought a pass to CMA Fest. I went to the LP Field show at night. I used to stand in line at Fan Fair for autographs. I’m a fan, and that hasn’t changed. I’m proud of that because the business will take that out of you.”
The business has taken nothing away from Yates, who has just issued his latest disc, Bill’s Barber Shop. The project is a tribute to his father. “My dad was a barber for 40 years, and I shined shoes there, and hung out there after school. I would go on Saturday there and hear all the stories. Barbershops are quite the interesting place, because there is a lot of old guys telling lies and stories and this and that. It’s old man gossip. I find myself today, as a songwriter, reverting back to some of those memories, I guess. For this particular record, I wanted to go back and tip my hat to those days. It’s not all about the barbershop—there’s just the one song, but a lot of down home music on there.” As with all of Yates’ releases, it is being hailed by critics and fans alike for its’ traditional sound.
He is especially pleased with the overseas success of “Famous For Bein’ Your Fool, which topped the Hotdisc chart in Europe. Another song that just might make a mark for Yates is something rare for the White House, TN native, a duet. “There’s a duet with a singer named Nicole Broussard, who is a wonderful singer that I’ve been working with some, called “I’d Do It For You.” It’s a song that I wrote with Sunny Sweeney, and when I was in the studio, she was still in Texas. So, I used Nicole on the song, and now she’s out there with Sunny.”
Yates has carved out a very successful career abroad, but sometimes the reception to his music surprises even him. The scene was a party hosted by one of the top magazines overseas, and he says it was an eye-opening experience. “It’s a magazine called Libelle, and it’s sort of like Ladies’ Home Journal, a woman’s magazine with decorating, food, and that kind of thing. They do an annual event, and bring in all their sponsors, and bring in a lot of vendors. There were 80,000 women at this event, so it was nuts. The cool thing was that it was a non-country audience, so whenever I get a chance like that, I like to play in front of people who have never heard country music before. Most of the people there had never heard of country or had negative thoughts about it, so it was really great to walk out on stage with all these pop stars over there. Even the Prime Minister came out to see us play, so it was kind of a big deal. We introduced a lot of people to country music. That was a big deal to me. We play a lot of venues over there that are non-country, people with shaved heads and tattoos. But we present the music in a way that is kind of in your face—the honky-tonk stuff that I do, so I can get away with it. It’s a lively show, and people are loving it, and buying CDs after it, and getting autographs, and we’ve converted this guy who might have had no opinion because he had never heard of it or a negative one because of something he had heard, so that’s pretty cool.”
He says that country acts playing in different situations overseas is not something unheard of, but the kind of country preferred by those that become fans might surprise you. “It’s been going on for ages. There have been a lot of other American artists who have gone to Europe and do shows on rock and roll stages, but what I find is that from doing the more traditional music—that’s more accepted than some of the newer country stuff. They want the real thing. Even the people in the pop world are more familiar with Buck Owens or George Jones than someone today.”
Currently for Yates, the pen continues to write. “What I’ve been doing the past few months is writing about myself a lot. As far as things in the pipeline, there isn’t really anything that is cut and ready to come out, except for Sammy Kershaw, who just recorded ‘I Ain’t Fallin’ For That’ for his latest album. It’s kind of funny, because I was just flying back from Europe—about a seven or eight hour flight—I wrote three songs on that trip, while we were on the air. I’m gonna try, because I’ve made so many trips back and forth. My next CD is going to be all songs I wrote by myself while I was on an airplane,” he says, joking that he might title it In Flight.
All in all it’s been a great ride for a guy who definitely grew up studying the music. “First of all, I grew up such a student of the music,” he says. “I worked at a radio station called KOEA. I spent all of my spare time there in the record library reading the album notes. I knew all the credits—every songwriter, every musician.”
Thankfully, one of those tunesmiths offered an olive branch to the Missouri native upon his arrival in Nashville. “I started working with a guy named Frank Dycus. He was a mentor to me and a lot of other songwriters—Jim Lauderdale wrote a lot of stuff with him, and so did Dean Dillon—‘Marina Del Rey,’ ‘Down And Out,’ and ‘Unwound,’—Frank played a large role in some of those songs, and influencing a lot of other songwriters. He was always someone I was aware of, and I was really glad when I got the opportunity to write with him. Whitey Shafer was another guy who I thought wrote great songs. Hank Cochran. Bob McDill—a lot of those guys. There are some who just have a gift, and those are some of my favorites.”
When success came to Yates in the fall of 1992, it came with a bang. “I didn’t move here to be a songwriter, so I kind of stumbled into that. My first song that I had recorded was one of the first I had ever written. I was writing with Frank one day, and Kerry Kurt Phillips showed up out at his house, and Dycus and I had already written one or two songs together. He called me and said he wanted to write a song for George Jones called ‘I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.’ He had the complete concept and the whole thing, so this little light bulb went off. I went up there, and we wrote this song, and recorded the demo on a little ol’ cheap cassette tape, which was damaged and didn’t sound very good. We turned it into my publisher, and took it over to MCA where George was recording. They played him the song, and he loved it and cut it a few days later.”
However, Yates couldn’t wait to hear the finished product. After all, if ‘The Possum’ was going to cut one of your songs, wouldn’t you want to be there? “I had snuck into the studio, and George saw me. He was the only one who knew I was there. Emory Gordy, Jr. was producing, and I’ll never forget it. He said ‘Let’s do that ‘Rockin Chair’ song. George said, ’Well, I’m a little tired, and ready to go to the house.’ Emory kept after him, and said ‘Well, we need to do it.’ George asked him if he had listened to the demo of that song? Is that not the worst sounding piece of something you’ve ever heard?
Jones’ joke aside, it became one of his biggest hits of the 90s, along with 1999’s Grammy winning “Choices,” which Yates also penned. “But, it really opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve been so blessed to have five other songs recorded by Jones, and so many other people. That was the one that really started things off.”
Fuente: LimeWire Music Blog