J.D. Sumner on songwriting
John Scheideman has sparked an interesting discussion with something J.D. Sumner said about songwriting. [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed.] Sumner’s thesis is this: Songwriters only have so many songs in them, and then they run out and could / should quit writing.
Sumner was partially right: Some songwriters burn out. I will take his word that he was one of them.
But I would completely disagree with his overall thesis, that all songwriters burn out. You see, for some people songwriting is a hobby, for others a passion, and for yet others a calling and a passion. That last group is the group that will keep going, because they can’t quit.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Kyla Rowland came on strong in the ’70s with “He Will Row You Over the Tide,” “Landing Lights” (I think), and a number of other big hits, for all the Canaan artists. But even when she vanished from the scene, she couldn’t bring herself to quit writing. Many huge hits, from “One Scarred Hand” to “Loving the Lamb,” came out of that time. And she’s still going strong, with numerous hits on the charts every month.
Neil Enloe has never been incredibly prolific (he’s only written some 60 songs in his life), but he’s still going strong today. Two of the songs on his group’s most recent CD, “The Next Time I Get Married” and “Euroclydon,” were as creative as anything he’s done before.
Mosie Lister is, indeed, going a little slower than he used to. But in the last ten years or so, he’s still written some of his best work, including “Still Feelin’ Fine” and a number of other Booth Brothers hits.
My closing argument – and quite possibly, my best – is Dianne Wilkinson. I know she comments here occasionally, but I would mention her here even if she didn’t, because she’s earned it. She had a strong record of hits through the ’80s and ’90s, and that hasn’t slowed a bit. I doubt anyone would contest that she is going as strong as ever, with too many hits in the last two or three years to even name. But I have to name two, “What we Needed” (solo write) and “God Did it All” (co-write with Rusty Golden). These, I contend, are not the ineffective hacks of a burnt-out, washed-up has-been. These are masterpieces from someone who has spent better than three decades honing her skill, and quite possibly has yet to hit her peak.
So do some songwriters burn out? Of course.
Do all? By no means!