Bluegrass Music Songwriting

Pro Connect: Not Just Another Songwriting Contest

This past Thursday, I had the privilege to be a part of a great songwriting get-together. While I have been a member of a local songwriting group here in the Detroit area called Songwriters Anonymous, I am also part of a national group called Songwriting Pro. It is run by Nashville songwriter Brent Baxter, and the concept is to help network songwriters from around the world doing specific genres so that they can showcase, critique and possibly co-write with each other.

One program that is part of Songwriting Pro is a monthly meeting called Pro Connect. Members submit a song that is related to the chosen genre, and 10 songs are chosen for review by a highly respected Nashville publisher. Brent and the publisher will listen to each demo and give honest advice, including good and bad points, suggesting restructuring of the arrangement, and possibly verbal agreements for further promotion of the song by that publisher.

I am not too keen on songwriting “contests,” but this particular session was for gospel music, as the guest was Randy Cox, a popular gospel and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) writer and publisher. A few years back, I co-wrote a bluegrass gospel song called “Superheroes” that I always though was a hit waiting to happen. I wrote it with bluegrass friends Dawn Kenney and David Morris. We had the late Steve Gulley record a demo with his wife (a different bluegrass demo by Dawn appears on my ReverbNation page: We have shopped it around for a while, but have had no bites. I decided to submit it for this particular Pro Connect session, and fortunately, it made the Top 10 choices.

The meeting Thursday night was on Zoom, and Dawn was able to join me on the internet with Brent and Randy. Our song was ninth in line, so there were a few ahead of us. There was not really any bad songs in the bunch. I was a bit nervous mainly because the other songs were much more geared toward CCM, and Randy does more work with those songs. He was extremely helpful with each songwriter, but wasn’t afraid to give harsh criticism, which put off one writer. When “Superheroes” came up, I was glad to see that Randy absolutely loved the song. He was honest in saying that he did not handle bluegrass gospel music, but was so much into the song that he provided a direct contact with a bluegrass record company that he felt would use the song.

Needless to say, both Dawn and I were extremely happy, so much that it motivated Dawn to join Songwriting Pro as well. If anything, it is motivating me to get back into writing full steam ahead, especially with a few bluegrass gospel bits and pieces that I have in my old notebook.

Of course, I got only about four hours of sleep that night, ecstatic that I received some notice on one of my works. Inspiration, as well as recognition, can come when you least expect it. I was not expecting much from this submission, but now I am glad that I did submit, and plan to pay a lot more attention to what Brent and Songwriting Pro have to offer.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Perfect Song #6: “White Dove” by The Stanley Brothers

All right, I am not going to end 2021 by complaining about how bad it was. Instead, I will end it with one of my choices for a perfect song. This time it is “White Dove” by the Stanley Brothers.

About 10 years ago, when I was working as a customer service rep for an automotive company, an older co-worker was talking about how much she loved opera, and that there were no American singers that had the capacity of letting the audience know what his emotions were without understanding the words, like an opera singer could. Before I could answer, my music buddy who also worked there blurted out, “George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Carter Stanley!” I was 100% in agreement, and it did seem to shut the opera lover down for a while.

Carter Stanley left this world way too early, passing away from cirrhosis in 1966 at the age of 41.He was an alcoholic, and some say that had an impact on his vocal approach to songs. His voice had a natural feel to it when he sang the Stanley Brother’s most popular songs, such as “White Dove,” “Rank Stranger,” and “How Mountain Girls can Love.” With the slower, more melancholy songs, it was as if he was talking about something that recently hit him in life. He had a natural voice for country music of that time.

As for the song, it is a 3/4 waltz time, but moves just a bit faster than a normal waltz. The chord structure is typical bluegrass. There are two things that make this song powerful. First is Carter’s approach to the lyrics. The song tells of the singer reminiscing about his parents and how happy he was spending time with them, but now is sad that they are both gone and feels frightened about his remaining life and death. The way Carter sings each line, it is like he is sitting on the porch with you and he is saying his feelings out loud. Totally human, no theatrics to the vocals. You as the listener can empathize with him.

The second powerful feature is the chorus, and how it is sung. Ralph Stanley’s high tenor comes in like a thunder storm, along with the other background singers. While we generally look at this as bluegrass harmonies, the Stanley Brothers’ approach to harmony singing was much more raw and in-your-face than Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys or Flat & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys. You could sense with the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys that there was an extra drive to make sure that every harmony note was sung to its fullest. It makes the listener react in a way of surprise and a tad bit of fear, as if the power of God is in that chorus.

The Stanley Brothers recorded “White Dove” at least twice, and it has been covered by a number of country and bluegrass bands. It is a powerful Gospel-style song that has become a standard in bluegrass music. However, it is the 1959 King Records’ version from the Stanley Brothers that is probably the best known. More mountain than Kentucky bluegrass, the song is so thematic of the people living in the Appalachians. In three minutes, the Stanley Brothers tell a lifetime of feelings and emotions about those mountain folks.

Chew on it and comment. Have a safe 2022!