Mike Dekle: A
Modern Day Tunesmith
Peden, CSO Staff Journalist
couple of years ago in my Saturday night radio show (heard in
Melbourne, Australia), my studio phone lit up. I took the call.
It was from a man, a music lover; one determined to share some
thoughts on the content of my show. I braced myself. I’ve had
these calls before: irate listeners, who have the odd tipple or
two in the garage, become over-emotional when they hear a hurtin’
song and then decide to dial and vent all with the local DJ.
“You know, George, in the main
I like your show,” said my nocturnal suburbanite, “but there
is a guy you should be playing.” “Oh, and who might that
be?” I asked. “Mike Dekle,” was the confident reply. My
fearless caller then shared, over the time it took for a
“soon-to-be-a-hit single to play out, the virtues and talent
of a then unknown to me from Athens, Georgia. Given the
excitement of my caller, and me relieved, I promised I’d look
out for Dekle’s music.
Wherever that caller is, and if
you’re reading this, I have two words for you. Thank you.
Thank you for introducing me to one of country music’s better
undiscovered talents. On searching out Dekle’s music, I found,
rather than being some wishful wannabe with a battered guitar
and a tune, Dekle was a craftsman, a tunesmith; he was one who
shaped his music with vibrant lyrics and common-touch imagery.
Dekle’s brand of country hooked me. And it hooked me early.
Dekle, I was to find out, was a
refined and sought-after songwriter. He also could sing a tune.
He wrote the million-selling “Scarlet Fever” for Kenny
Rodgers. And he has, in collaboration with noted writer,
producer and good friend, Byron Hill, gone on to snag cuts on
the last three Joe Nichols albums – “Joe’s Place”,
“Things Like That” and “Size Matters”. As well as record
royalties from chart-riding Nichols, Dekle has written tunes for
Tracy Byrd and Gene Watson, among a host of others.
With his most recent album on the
shelves, the fourth from his catalogue, and a new album in
development for 2007, CSO thought it was time we found out a
little more about this guy. A guy who found music at 12, honed
it in ‘60s coffee houses and trudged the demanding road to
Nashville in the ‘70s. So, read on. Mike Dekle, like the title
to his latest album, Tunesmith, has a story to tell.
CSO: Mike thanks for your
MD: Happy to be with you.
CSO: What's the Mike Dekle
story? Where were you born, what was your childhood like
and when and what music did you first hear? What was the
music you first heard at home?
MD: I was born in Panama
City, Florida and my family moved to South Georgia when I was
three. My childhood was very normal….lots of activities,
YMCA, sports, hunting and fishing. My dad had an old RCA
Victrola radio and record player. He loved southern gospel
music and that was the first music I remember hearing. My
mother’s dad was a preacher and he sang in a quartet with
three of his brothers. I was introduced to the joys of
music at an early age.
CSO: What was your song
writing and vocal introduction to the music you make?
MD: I sang one part in a
Christmas play at the age of nine as one of the three kings. The
positive comments after the play from many in attendance made me
feel good. It was then that I knew music and performing
would play a big part in my life. It provided a big boost
to my self-esteem at an age when most kids, including me, feel
awkward and not very good at anything.
CSO: You've collaborated
extensively with Byron Hill, can you describe your friendship?
What does he bring to the writing partnership?
MD: Byron Hill is a true
friend. We’ve written hundreds of songs together and we
never seem to tire of writing and of our social relationship
among our families. We live over 300 miles from each other
but have for 24 years made writing songs together a priority. We
have great writing chemistry and we have never been afraid to
disagree with each other as it respects the lyrics and melodies
of our songs. We both know that the song is the most
important result….not our egos. He’s the best
songwriter I know and a best friend too.
CSO: You've written four albums,
where does the inspiration come from? Are you
disciplined with your writing? Do you have a ritual? Do
you write the same time every day?
MD: I live a great life….95%
positive and I see life through binoculars. I’m a great
observer of situations that involve emotion and what makes most
of us tick. I have a host of emotions about my personal
relationship with my wife Crystie that always seem to want to be
part of the songs about love and happiness; and over our
children who have grown up and given us grandchildren. I
find so much positive inspiration from being around friends
too….doing all the things that people enjoy doing. I like
to entertain (parties, etc.) so I’m a mixer….an
extrovert….someone who uses my song writing as a form of self
_expression. I don’t have a formula for writing and no
set time each day; however, songwriters are always dogged by
someone’s comments, road signs, etc. when you say to
yourself…”man, that’d be good in a song.” Writers
always seem to be thinking about writing, even when they
aren’t engaged in the process.
CSO: Having written hit songs
for other performers, what makes a hit song?
MD: A hit song first must
be a great record. I’ve heard great songs that come out
of a recording session as just an o.k. record. Great
singers who inject the mood of a song like the writer
envisioned. It also should pass the “other writers
test”. That is “man, I should have written
that”….I always believed too, that you should be able to
speak or read the lyrics as if the song were a conversation.
CSO: You've had hit cuts on
the last three Joe Nichols albums, how did that association
MD: Mike Owens, the R
& R director at Universal South Records, Joe’s label, had
a copy of my “Fine Tuned” album and really liked mine and
Byron’s song “Joe’s Place” that’s on my record. He
sent me an email saying “I want to cut your song on Joe
Nichols.” I’d never heard of him, but I was still
excited because Mike said in the email, “he’s a great young
country singer.” Now day’s pop singers and pop records
are having great success on country radio. Wish we had more
country singers. Since Joe recorded “Joe’s Place” I’ve
had a very good relationship with him. He’s very open to
listening to my songs now for any of his new album
projects…I’m very lucky to have Joe and Mike giving my songs
CSO: "Size Matters"
what and where was the inspiration for the song?
MD: “Size matters”
came about as a concept that people have carried in their minds
that size is important. Texan’s say everything is bigger
and better in Texas. Our world thrives on the size of
things. Byron and I took the title knowing it has little
innuendos that people see in their mind. We wanted the song
to make people think of those things while surprising them by
focusing on things that really matter – “big ol’ hearts,
big ol’ kisses and big ol’ smiles”. We wrote this song
very quickly and felt it was a good one immediately.
CSO: What was the inspiration
for the Tunesmith title?
MD: my brother is a blacksmith
and I always looked at myself as a “crafter of songs” ---- a
“tunesmith”. All of my album titles have that same theme: “Wood
and Wire” (guitar), “Fine Tuned”, “Sketches” and
“Tunesmith”. All relate to the craft of song writing. I’m
almost finished with my fifth album. It will be titled
“Tributes”. All the songs will be tributes to something
or someone. I’ve even written a delta blues song for this
one and a tribute to Bob Dylan call “ode to Bob Dylan”.
CSO: You have a great ability
to tap into humor and tragedy in your songs, but how do you keep
the both separate, and what do you prefer in song choices --sad
MD: It’s not difficult to
separate humor and tragedy in my songs. As a writer, I have
a good idea where I want an idea to go and I map that out in my
mind. I use the words to define whatever emotions the title
and message of the song should say. I try to be honest with
the lyrics or the song won’t be believable and won’t get
CSO: Can you tell me the story
behind a couple of songs, like "Since We Ain't Had
You" and "Nobody's Child". What about
"Who Cares" and “Bikinis and Beer"?
MD: “Since “We Ain’t Had
You” - I was sitting in the park plaza hotel in New York City. It
was pouring down rain. I had no preconceived idea about
this one. I just started singing – “a hard rain’s
been falling on the window shield of this ol’ Ford Econoline
of mine”. The song felt like it should be about a guy who had
lost his girl and the ol’ van kept her memory alive since he
got the van when he still had his girl. I finished the song
with a great songwriter, Aaron Barker.
“Nobody’s Child” – Each
week an Atlanta, Georgia, TV station has a segment on children
in foster homes who want to be adopted. The thought came
into my mind that these kids must feel like “nobody’s
child”. Byron and I made something very positive out of
this worst case scenario for a kid. It’s one of my
personal favorites. I like to see the underdog win.
“Who Cares” – It happens
all over the world. Young people falling in love and parents and
friends are telling them “you’re too young; this ain’t
gonna wash, etc”. “Who Cares” is a viewpoint from the
two lovebirds that says, “We’ll show them that we can make
our relationship work regardless of what others think and
say”. I wrote this one with a good friend, Darrell Hayes,
whose daughter, Morgane has the current single on Carrie
Underwood – “Don’t Forget to Remember Me”.
“Bikinis and Beer” – I love
this song because it’s about every guy who goes to the beach
and wants to enjoy his family, yet do a little window shopping
while he’s taking care of family first. There’s a lot
of pride in most guys who go to the beach and want to still get
the feeling that another woman might still be attracted to them. It’s
a man’s mind playing tricks on him. Everyone can see the
honesty in the song.
CSO: How long did Tunesmith
take you to write and record? What was the experience like?
MD: All the tracks to Tunesmith
were recorded in two days. I sang the lead vocals a month later
in two days. The background vocals, overdubs, mixing and
mastering were done very quickly too. Byron Hill has
produced all my albums. He’s just very organized and
things go very smoothly. The songs were selected from
writing over a period of years. I’ll choose a song or two
written years ago for my new album as well. Writing songs
for “Tunesmith” and all the other albums too is a passion
for me. I’m a songwriter and I am a prisoner of the
CSO: You're more a writer than
a performer -- but which do you prefer?
MD: I prefer writing. There’s
no other high like finding what you believe to be your best song
ever. Every writer loves the last one he or she finished. It
doesn’t mean we don’t still love the others. We just
get excited about introducing a new member of our song family to
CSO: What's the hardest thing
about song writing?
MD: Finding an idea that
has not been written to perfection already is hard. Writing
must involve a lot of re-writing, so the second guessing becomes
a bother at times. However, I enjoy all the steps within
the process of creating a song.
CSO: In life what brings you
the greatest joy?
MD: My life is a story of good
luck. I had great parents. I’ve never been poor. They
paid for my education and taught me to expect something from
myself. They taught me honesty, humility and how to work
I’ve got the same wife, Crystie,
as I’ve had for 37 years. She’s the “steel” in my
resolve to be a competitor. The only thing I need in life
now is about 37 more years with her.
My children and grandchildren are
showing me what it means to come full circle in life. As a
bonus….I’ve got a few dollars in my pocket too (chuckle!!).
CSO: Who are your favorite
performing and writing inspirations, why?
MD: Bob Dylan was the 1st
to stoke my fire about writing. I loved his edgy voice and
his lyrics that made all of us think. He was different.
My influences were also John
Denver, John Prine and great writers like Merle Haggard and
Johnny Cash. All of these writer’s songs always seem to be
about living life or what was going on in the world and they
weren’t just cheating and drinking songs.
CSO: “Can You Love Me That
Way" what's the story there?
MD: “Can You Love Me That
Way” – I love the innocence of this song….how young girls
had strict guidelines on dating in high school back 25 years
ago. There was more discipline at home and kids were
expected to behave. Marianne was a beautiful girl in my
high school. She never dated me, but I thought of her often
then and still do. Byron and I just tried to tell a
beautiful story about the relationship between two young people
who found love years after graduation.
CSO: What are your
unfulfilled musical aspirations?
MD: It’s simple: I want
to continue to write quality songs other people want to sing.
CSO: What country music, in
recent times, has excited you and why?
MD: Alan Jackson. He comes from
humble beginnings and is proud of it. He brags about his
daddy being a mechanic and his mama being a central figure in
sculpting his life. He’s a great husband and father to
his kids. He’s true to country music and he’s one of
the best writers ever.
CSO: If you could pick anyone
to record any of your songs, who would it be and why?
MD: Other than Joe Nichols and
Kenny Rogers? Well, Alan Jackson or George Strait, as they sing
country songs and that’s what I write.
CSO: What is your favorite
song on Tunesmith and why?
MD: “Size Matters” is my
favorite simply because it’s fun to sing…. it makes people
smile when they hear it and it looks like it’s going to
be a hit for Joe Nichols.
CSO: What makes you mad?
MD: People who don’t return
phone calls, tardiness, rap songs on country stations.
CSO: How do you relax, Mike?
MD: I play golf and enjoy
my family and friends.
CSO: What do you see is the
future for country music?
MD: Country music
continues to evolve into whatever the media perceives country
music to be and whatever promotion can make it be. It’s
reaching a far younger audience because of trendier pop
influences in country songs. Young people buy most of the
albums and their likes must be addressed by labels and artists. There
will always be those traditionalist singers who keep pure
country in the hearts and minds for all of us who love country
music….thanks to all of those artists.
CSO: How important is radio to
you? Do you write with radio in mind? Does it bother you to
learn that in the race for ears, some of your music falls into
MD: The radio remains the most
important revenue source for songwriters. It is crucial to
the survival of the craft.
It still is the way most of us
hear music. I can’t imagine life without a radio. I
owe my entire writing career to the artists who’ve recorded my
songs and the DJ’s who gave them a chance to be heard.
I don’t purposefully write with
the radio in mind, but let’s face reality….if your song
ain’t radio enough….it’s very difficult to get them cut. To
make a living, writers must at some point acknowledge that I
have to try and be a conformist to some degree or I have no
future as a writer. I truly believe a lot of great songs
and writers are too heavily influenced by this type of pressure
and a lot of good songs are overlooked because it ain’t radio
CSO: If you didn't write, sing
or perform, what else would you want to do and why?
MD: I can’t imagine my life
without music. I wrote a song several years ago called
“Lost Without Music”…
Chorus: I’d be lost
lost in the dark
away my songs
might as well take my heart
I couldn’t find the rhythms
I couldn’t find the rhymes
be lost without music
without music in my life
Music has always been in my life.
If it wasn’t I’d still would have worked hard to be
successful at whatever I chose to do.
CSO: Who are your music heroes and why?
MD: Bob Dylan – he didn’t
compromise. He made everyone acknowledge that being a
songwriter means being true to yourself.
My mom and dad listened when I
asked them to allow me to learn an instrument. My dad
listened and bought me my first guitar and then the second
guitar too. They taught me the discipline that is so
required to be a writer. They educated me…I owe them
everything for reinforcing the thought that I could be whatever
I worked hard enough to be. I ain’t a quitter. If
there’s one trait that has allowed my measured success in
music it is….the game’s never over….keep playing….take
your dreams into overtime if you want to win.
Another musical hero is Kenny
Rogers. He has recorded six of my songs and he was the
first major artist to give me credibility as a songwriter….the
belief that, yeah, maybe I can be a songwriter after all. He’s
the best friend a songwriter ever had. His recording of my
song “Scarlet Fever” changed my life. I owe him so
Another hero is the late Roger
Bowling, who wrote “Lucille”, “Coward of the County” and
many other hits. He was the first successful writer to step
on my songs real hard and force me to pay attention to the
Of course Byron Hill must be
included as a hero of mine because we shared so many delightful
hours of writing time together. We have a great friendship
and compliment each others writing styles.
Wayland Holyfield – a hall of
fame writer is also a writer I hold in high esteem….so many
hits – 15 number ones and he still can’t even spell
“ego”. That’s the kind of writer and man all of us
want to be around.
Other heroes are Alan Jackson,
Merle Haggard, the late Johnny Cash and John Denver. They
are all great writers and performers. I still want to be
CSO: Mike, thank you for your
time, and every success with your music.
MD: Thanks to everyone at
Mike Dekle’s Tunesmith
is out on Parlay Records