Monday, April 28, 2008

A Guitar and a Pen:Stories by Country Music's Greatest Songwriters

As a decades-long fan of country music, I can vouch for Vince Gill when he says in his foreword to A Guitar and a Pen, “…some of the greatest songwriters around are also some of the best storytellers.” Heck, whole movies can be, and have been, made from a three-minute country song without requiring much of a rewrite. Now, finally, with A Guitar and a Pen, arrives a collection of short stories from a group of songwriters responsible for some of the biggest hits and, much more importantly, some of the best songs, to come out of Nashville in the history of country music.

The collection includes stories from Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Braddock, Hal Ketchum, Janis Ian, Mark D. Sanders, Robbie Fulks, Marshall Chapman and Charlie Daniels, among others.

The twenty-five stories encompass a wide range of themes and writing styles. Among them are exaggerated tales of humor; stories of good love gone bad; some about growing up poor, or just growing up; one about the old West; some offering insights into the life of a songwriter; a few about early influences of musicians; even one about terrorism. I won’t claim that all of the stories worked for me, but this collection did have one of the better “hit” to “miss” ratios of any short story collection I’ve read in a while.

Among my favorites is Bob McDill’s “The Care and Treatment of Camp Cooks,” a story about a hunting club’s temperamental, but extremely talented, camp cook who goes on strike after one of the club members mistakenly offers an honest opinion on that evening’s meal when pressed to do so by the cook. Lesson learned by all but the cook. Another is “The Elk Hunters,” Tim Johnson’s story about a Nashville songwriter’s annual return to Oregon to bow-hunt elk with his brother and father and the shocking truths he learns about his father on one of the hunts.

There are also stories like the unforgettable “Gathering Together” by Robert Hicks, the story of Aunt Willie and her unique contribution to one family’s Thanksgiving meal and Monty Powell’s “The Point,” a touching account of how a man’s retirement dreams are ruined when he returns to the scene of his best childhood memories.

But the stories I found most interesting were the ones directly related to the country music business. The collection leads off with Robbie Fulks’ frank look at what life is like for those who do music “on a lower-than-celebrity level” as part of the presentation his story narrator makes at a local high school “Career Day” event, and it ends with “Will It Ever Happen Again,” a Michael Kosser story about a one-time hugely successful songwriter who hasn’t had a hit song in ten years and who might be forced to finally give up his dream. These are perfect bookend stories for a very fine short story collection.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Hi,

    I like country music, writing and poetry....sounds interesting.
    Thanks for the info...
    Have a great day,

  2. In that case, Milou, you should like this short story collection. Country music songwriters are special...they can tell a whole story in a three minute song, so short stories are like novels to them...and these are good.

  3. Very nice write up. Easy to understand and straight to the point.