Randy DeFord: What musical styles first grabbed your attention?

Marc-Alan Barnette: One man and one man only stands out. RAY CHARLES! My Dad was a huge Ray fan and played Ray Charles sings the Greatest hits of Country and Western Music. I picked up so much subconsciously  from that but still sticks with me. I am an enormous student of music history and going forward in time, the Motown sound and Joe Cocker, leading into the rock world of the 70's and 80's.  I was a huge fan of the Eagles, but there is not much that I haven't drawn some kind of influence from: Elvis, Otis Redding, Beatles, Three Dog Night, Styx, Journey, KISS, Loverboy, anything that had powerful vocals, a ton of harmony, and of course, anything that had SHOWMANSHIP!!!!

Marc-Alan Barnette

RAD: What events influenced your decision to move to Nashville?

MAB: I had a 12 year career in rock bands out of high School in Birmingham, Alabama before Nashville. It culminated in 1984, when my Band, 24 KARAT, won the MILLER HIGH LIFE ROCK TO RICHES NATIONAL BATTLE OF THE BANDS. We won a MCA contract, and out of about 30,000 bands, we got to go to LA and be rock star for a week. But like most contests, once they are over, they are OVER, and the band broke up in 86. I met a guy in Birmingham named Ron Muir who had lived in Nashville for ten years and had some success with cuts by Ronnie McDowell and Jim Ed Brown and Helen Cornelius in the 70's. He mentored me and taught me about Nashville. I had always loved country music with George Jones and Alabama; so it was a no brainer to switch to country music. It was all changing at that time, and rock was going darker with Nirvana and those types of bands. I didn't leave rock; it left me. And Country picked up. So Nashville was an easy decision.

RAD: Nashville is known for its wealth of writing talent.  What is your experience with the songwriting community?

MAB: I'm one of those weird guys who hit the ground running. I made three trips up first to check it all out, recorded my first album and auditioned at the Bluebird. I was playing there almost immediately, and on my first night in town, I  made the connection that led to my first cut on Grammy winning artist, Shelby Lynne. I never really had to chase after other people as things came to me. For awhile, people thought I was going to be "THE NEXT BIG THING," but I ended up being the "Patron Saint of the Almost There!" Things always got close:  record deals, publishing deals, cuts, you name it.  I was close, but it never quite fell together. Just the way of the business. Taught me patience.

Marc with Telly Award

RAD: Have you worked in other cities than Nashville?

MAB: I grew up in Birmingham but have played most of the states. At first a lot in the south: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. Then spreading out over the years to Utah, California, Arizona, Texas, Montana, New Mexico, Idaho, Nebraska, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, etc. As far North as Canada and as Far South as Cozumel and Key West, you get the idea. Between clubs, concerts songwriters workshops, mentoring, and  charity events, there are not many states I have not been to. Even went to Brussels, Belgium to represent the Bluebird. I've been everywhere, man! Wish I'd wrote dat! LOL!

Marc-Alan Barnette
RAD: Songwriters always have great stories about influences and ideas for their songs.  Any favorite stories you'd like to share?

MAB: Are you kidding? My ENTIRE LIFE is a story. But I guess the most interesting was that first one, the Shelby Lynne cut. The idea came from my Father, Grady Barnette, who was my best friend, and we were in business together, buying, selling and restoring collector cars. He always had HORRIBLE ideas for songs and would try to get me to write one. Finally, he came up with this one about a trucker (OH NO!!!!) who went to a doctor to find out what was wrong with him since his woman left. That was not that bad and to shut him up, myself and Ron Muir wrote it with him. To make a long story kind of short, the song, THAT'S WHERE IT HURTS became one of the songs on my first recording session. Even got JD Sumner (Elvis' bass singer) to sing on it. He had known my Dad from the 50's when they were both Gospel Quartet singers. My Dad even sung with the original Oak Ridge Boys for awhile.

At any rate, my first night in town, I went to a writers night, was the first to sign up but the last to play. There were three people in the bar, and one of them, a guy, approached me and  asked me if I had a tape. I did and gave it to him. But at that time, I did not have a Nashville phone number; so there was no way to contact me. Months later, I saw that guy again, and he said that they were trying to find me at Tree Publishing. They had been hearing the songs, because that first guy's roommate worked at Tree. A producer, Billy Sherril, who discovered George Jones and Tammy Wynette, had been walking by an executive's office, heard the song and wanted to cut It on this new act he was producing, Shelby Lynne. That song ended up on a WILLIE NELSON / KRIS KRISTOFFERSON TVMovie, called ANOTHER PAIR OF ACES. It got us in the movie, got us some decent money and got our names in PEOPLE MAGAZINE.

My Dad used to mess with me because it was the only song he ever wrote. He would say, "I don't know what's so hard about writing songs." That's kind of my favorite.
Marc and Bob Babbitt, 2008
RAD: Which known writers in the country music field do you think represent those who were the biggest influence on other writers?

MAB: That's a pretty hard one, because I don't think there is ever just one. I would think you have to look at IMPACT on the field in a broad context, and that would be someone who has been around for a long time. For me, that would probably be Don Schlitz. From the Gambler, to most things of Randy Travis, to hit after hit. Of course if you go back to the early days, you'd have to say Hank Sr., Harland Howard, Bobby Braddock, etc. The list goes on and on. I can't name just one.

RAD: Nashville is the home of many famous musicians who play sessions in the city. We know you've worked with the likes of the late Motown Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt.  As a musician, are there other players that you've had the pleasure of working with over the years?

MAB: Bob was the definite high point. On that same session was Tommy Wells on drums who has also passed on. Tommy was a great drummer who played in the later days of Motown with Jimmy Hall and a bunch of Southern rockers. I was able to work with Larry Butler, who won a Grammy for The Gambler as producer, the only Nashville producer to ever do that. Others would be Chris Luzenger, guitar for Garth Brooks, the late Brian Barnett, drummer for Big and Rich and Hank Jr., Fiddle Player, Larry Franklin, George Straight
and Allen Jackson. Incredible singers like Vickie Carrico, Jonelle Mosser, and Sheila Lawrence, and of course, my partner in music, Jay Vernalli, who was band director for Lorrie Morgan, The Memphis horns, and producer of most of my
Marc with the Music Row Show at Pucketts
the Kinleys
CD's and owner of the studio I do almost everything out of. Of course, my most notable now is working with my partner in crime, CAPITOL RECORDING ARTIST DANA McVICKER. Dana is an amazing artist, and she and I have a weekly bus tour called MUSIC ROW CONFIDENTIAL. That is an hour and a half music, comedy and historical tour of the Music Row and the business, and  all on a BIG PINK BUS as part of the Jugg sister's NASHTRASH Tour company. My Favorite group of people. There are many more, but those are the most memorable for now.

RAD:  Do you have a formulaic approach to writing, or is it more spiritual?

MAB: I'm VERY FORMULAIC. Since I actually TEACH by doing, I am SHOWING someone how to build these songs. I try to find realistic situations out of their (and my own) lives. I picture the video scene in my head  and write from the first line down.
I do lyrics on a yellow pad before I transfer to my laptop. I get conversations going and pick up pieces of
TPS After-Party, Marc and Big Kenny
dialogue, phrases, and situations. I actually am writing a script. Normally, I have found out what type of music they are passionate about and know what STYLE of song we are writing. I get a verse and chorus down and then pick up my guitar and play it off the cuff. I hit the target about 92% of the time. If that is where we are going, then we go on to the next verse, bridge, etc. The initial process takes about 20 minutes to find the form and  then about 2 hours to finish the song. Have done that over 2000 times in 13 years.

RAD: What accomplishments do you hold as your best work?

with Wynn Varble, Greg and Bryan Althammer
MAB: Again, it is hard to pick one. When I hit people with songs and they laugh, cry and nudge their friends. When I hear people talking about the songs in conversations, when people refer me to other people to write or as an authority on the subject. When I get calls from record companies and publishing companies to work with their artists and season their abilities. And of course when I
see and hear them taking it forward, developing songs, getting publishing and record deals, and finding their own pathway with the public.
Helping others would be a testament to what I do.

RAD: We understand you coach other writers. Explain what that involves and what the paybacks are for that kind of mentoring?

Doing this for about 35 years now, I have been through pretty much everything a writer or artists will go through. From starting at 14 with your Father taking you around to gigs and trying to help you, to winning major contests, to getting cuts, publishing and record deals, AND having so many things fall through, I can pretty much help anyone at any stage of their journey. And many need help in different ways.

I do SONGWRITER and ARTISTS TOURS of Nashville. The "Tour" is through the past, present and future of the participant or group. I find out what they have done, where they come from and who they are as people and artists. With younger writers and artists, they lack life experiences. So I show them how to find things around them they can work with. I work on performance abilities; I help them in the studio; I introduce them to others that might help them.
I pair them up with other co-writers. I answer questions  fill in the blanks. And I help them develop a step by step approach on how to keep their career going.
Frankie Ballard's head on Marc's shoulder
One of my proudest achievements is working with Warner Brothers artist Frankie Ballard. Frankie was a great guitarist based out of KALAMAZOO, Michigan but didn't have a lot of experience in writing. Over 6 months, he would come to Nashville and spend three days. We would write six songs, and he would go back to Michigan and play them out. I helped him get in with other hit writers and  co-produced his first CD.
He also got me in with people like Walt Aldrich, and we all wrote a good bit. The end result was that in six months time, he signed a publishing deal with SONY. Then two months after that, a record deal with WARNER BROTHERS. Between myself, the guy who brought him to me, RENE MEAVE, Walt, Troy Tomlinson, the head of Sony, Michael Knox, his producer and many other people, we kind of helped a great talent get out there. And he is a great talent. I'm honored to get the opportunity to work with someone like that. And now, he is going top ten. Go Frankie Man! But I have also had the opportunity to work with a lot of people in different capacities. Artists like Meghan Linsey from Steel Magnolia, High Five's John Maison, and new comer Dani Jamerson, along with dozens of others. I get to work from people of the world. Multiple artists like Jason Petrick, David Pesterak, Mackenzie Porter in Canada, and tons of writers, actors, artists, and sometimes the significant others and parents or grandparents of some of those. Writers like Julie Moriva, who wrote for Taylor Swift's Big Machine, and others who have guided and assisted many careers, like Janice Starodub in Winnipeg, Matt Casey in Boston and Cliff and Bev Nelson in California. Like TEACHING A MAN TO FISH, and paying it forward. Got a pretty big extended family out there. THAT'S MY PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT.

Marc-Alan Barnette with his guitars