Gordie Sampson Finds Songwriting Success In Nashville

Even if the name Gordie Sampson doesn’t immediately ring any bells with you, chances are you have heard of some of the hit songs that he has written for other artists.

While he has penned songs for Keith Urban and Faith Hill, one of Sampson’s best known is Carrie Underwood’s 2005 hit Jesus Take The Wheel. That song earned Sampson the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Country Song, one of the highest honours in music.

And though Sampson has been an in-demand songwriter for much of the last decade in Nashville, Sampson has also had a fruitful solo career that has seen the release of four albums, including 2011’s Almost Beautiful.

Sampson’s success has been no overnight sensation, however. From Halifax last week, Sampson recalls how he had not dreamed about making a living as a songwriter at any point in his life. In fact, he admits that it wasn’t much before he’d entered his mid-20s that he decided to look at songwriting as something he could do.

“I had written a couple of songs by the time I had turned 20 years old but it was only when I was in my mid-20s that I decided to become serious about writing,” a now 40-year-old Sampson says.

It was approximately eight years ago that Sampson, his wife and their child left the comfort of Nova Scotia behind to help further Sampson’s songwriting career in Nashville. Sampson had signed a deal with a music publisher in Nashville while he was still living in Cape Breton which had resulted in a couple of his songs being picked up. In light of catching such lucky breaks, Sampson decided there would be greater opportunities afforded him if he were in the thick of Music City full-time, rather than commuting to Nashville from his Maritime home.

Having spoken with other artists who have spent a portion of their career in Nashville or continue to live in the city full-time, many have said that aspiring songwriters should anticipate it taking five years before the wheels really start turning and things start happening for them.

Sampson doesn’t disagree with this assessment but says that he knows of many cases where success has found songwriters much sooner, but also much later.

“In general, Nashville is a town that is very embracing of its songwriters. If you are serious about writing and it is something that you are willing to do every day, it is really unlikely that something won’t happen for you. If you were living in Nashville and writing every day, you’d have to be pretty bad to not get some action,” Sampson laughs.

“Nashville is a town that operates on songs though. That’s the gasoline that keeps the city running and artists and record labels need those content providers which is exactly what I do.”

While Sampson says that Nashville is a very competitive city in the respect that you’ve got such a large number of songwriters jockeying for a limited number of positions on artists records, being a songwriter means that you also need the foresight to anticipate where a singer might go next with their next project. He jokes that no one told him that predicting the future was part of this songwriting gig.

“You can actually spend a significant amount of time trying to guess what the artist is going to need for their next record,” he says. “Some of the time and with no disrespect intended towards the artists, they don’t always know where they are going to go with their next effort. It’s almost like you have to try to do the guess work for them, pitching them ideas and what not. There is a lot of intuition involved but it is also a lot of fun.”

Asked how much material he keeps for his solo projects such as Almost Beautiful, Sampson says that he keeps very few songs for himself. Since his bread and butter comes from writing songs for others, his first inclination is to offer the songs to others rather than keeping them.

Despite Almost Beautiful sounding like well-plotted record from start to finish, Sampson says that he did not take the typical approach to putting the record together. Rather than starting with a vision on where he wanted the record to go and writing songs to help achieve that vision, he picked 12 songs from around 200 works that he felt formed a coherent piece of art and made that his record.

As ramshackle and as informal as Sampson portrays Almost Beautiful to be, the record showcases his remarkable songwriting abilities through every moment of the album.

And though some artists thrive off performing live, Sampson is more than happy to be working behind the scenes in the music business. Stating that he typically performs in the vicinity of a dozen shows each summer, the pace is more than ideal for him.

“Songwriting is a good fit for me,” Gordie says. “I wouldn’t want to be out playing 200 shows a year or anything like that. I would if I had to but I’d much rather be behind the scenes and not have to worry about travelling much at all. I tend to be a pretty low key person and this life that I am leading suits me well.”

Article published in July 30, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript