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Roger Murrah Is A Stellar Songwriter And Savvy Businessman
By Bobby Reed    2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Renowned songwriter Roger Murrah has had a momentous year. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, he scored yet another Top 10 hit and he celebrated 15 years as the President of Murrah Music Corporation, one of Nashville's most successful independent song publishers.

Murrah has written or co-written hits that boosted the careers of dozens of acts including "A Bridge That Just Won't Burn" (Conway Twitty); "Don't Rock The Jukebox" (Alan Jackson); "We're In This Love Together" (Al Jarreau); "Rough And Rowdy Days" (Waylon Jennings); "Stranger Things Have Happened" (Ronnie Milsap); "This Crazy Love" (The Oak Ridge Boys); "Southern Rains" (Mel Tillis); "Where Corn Don't Grow" (Travis Tritt); "It's A Little Too Late" (Tanya Tucker); "Life's Highway" (Steve Wariner); and "Only Love" (Wynonna). Murrah's songwriting credits also include three No. 1 hits for Alabama: "High Cotton," "Southern Star" and "I'm In A Hurry (And Don't Know Why)."

Murrah is still an active composer, but he spends much of his time overseeing his company's business operations and editing the work of songwriters who are signed to Murrah Music.

"Most songwriters are highly creative, strictly right-brain people," Murrah said. "I'm one of those rare, weird birds who enjoys the business side as much as the songwriting side. I've learned that you can be creative in business, too. People who aren't creative usually do what's expected in business, but when you're creative, you'll try some things that haven't been done before. That's very exciting to me."

Following a successful six-year stint at Tom Collins Music, Murrah formed his own namesake corporation in 1990. He works hard to ensure that Murrah Music runs efficiently.

"When you operate as an independent, then by necessity, you have to make good business decisions because you don't have the deep pockets of the big corporations," he said. "So you have to figure out how to turn the investment around quicker. We're always looking for ways to increase the cash flow. We're seeing new revenue streams in publishing with ringtones and we've discovered unbelievable amounts of money in karaoke."

In addition to Murrah and his brother Michael, the other songwriters currently signed to Murrah Music include Luke Bryan, Michael Carter, Neal Coty, John Edwards, Adam Holland, Mike Mobley, Megan Sheehan and Rachel Thibodeau. Mobley and former Murrah Music songwriter Philip White composed Neal McCoy's recent hit "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On."

"Our biggest selling point as a publisher is the nurturing environment that we have here," Murrah explained. "It's very supportive. It's an ideal place for a writer, especially a beginning writer, but also for an established writer."

Other hit songs that have come from the pens of Murrah Music songwriters include Kenny Chesney's "When I Close My Eyes," Martina McBride's "Where Would You Be," Reba McEntire's "I'm A Survivor" and Rascal Flatts' "I'm Movin' On."

Murrah is keenly aware of what it takes to make it as a songwriter and he has firsthand experience with the hardships that many young tunesmiths endure.

"When I first got to town in 1972, I made ends meet any way I could," he recalled. "I was on a $50 per week draw from Bobby Bare's company, Return Music. If I got behind, I'd borrow a little more money from Bobby. But I never did think that I wouldn't be successful. I always thought it would just be a matter of time. So I lived on the dream for the first few years and then things started clicking. I can remember the first time I got a song recorded, the first time I got a B-side and the first time I had a single on the A-side. It's funny how you can just live on those little moments along the way. They get you through. It's amazing how many months you can run on the least amount of success."

During his formative years, Murrah admired the work of legendary songwriters Dallas Frazier, Mickey Newbury, Curly Putman, Billy Joe Shaver and Joe South. Now he has joined their ranks as a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"It's a great honor," Murrah said. "What's most sobering to me are the peers in that group. Mickey Newbury is incredible. Dallas Frazier is as great a Country songwriter as there ever was. Billy Joe Shaver was signed to Return Music at the same time I was. I remember he once told me, 'Roger, if people like your writing, they're going to have to come to you to get it.' His point was that if there is something unique about your songwriting, people will come find you. That meant a lot to me."

One person who fully understands Murrah's unique style is songwriter and producer Keith Stegall. Among the 20 songs that Murrah and Stegall have written are "We're In This Love Together" and "Stranger Things Have Happened," and "Don't Rock The Jukebox," the No. 1 hit they penned with Alan Jackson.

"Roger became my mentor in teaching me how to write songs," Stegall said. "One thing he taught me is that lyrically, less is always more. The more concise a lyric is, the better. He taught me that little things, which seem like they might be insignificant, can actually be the things that make a line zing or make it hit you in the chest. Roger is so conversational. He has a real down-to-earth approach to writing songs that makes them very believable. I think he's one of the greatest songwriters in this town."

Murrah and James Dean Hicks wrote "Goodbye Time," which was a Top 10 hit for Conway Twitty in 1988. Blake Shelton's version of the song became a Top 10 hit earlier this year. Shelton first heard the tune years ago, in the closing segment of a television documentary on Twitty.

"As the credits rolled, they had a live performance of Conway singing it," Shelton said. "He had that thing where his knees were bent and his veins were popping out of his head as he sang it." Shelton's rendition of "Goodbye Time" is included on his latest album, Blake Shelton's Barn & Grill.

"I was elated at how Blake did that song," Murrah said. "It is so unusual for somebody to cover an artist as established as Conway and maybe even exceed the original version. I think Blake did that."

Just like dozens of artists before him, Shelton discovered that a Roger Murrah song can be a pathway to tremendous success.    

On the Web: www.murrahmusic.com

 

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