By Kevin Wierzbicki
Photography Credits: Melinda Milligan photo by Jerry Plunk,
CJ Solar photos courtesy of CJ Solar, Steve Bogard photo courtesy of Steve Bogard
Songwriters are often the wind beneath the wings of musical stars. You may not know their names, but you certainly will recognize the songs of these Memphis and Mississippi creators.
Without them, King George might be just a prince. The songwriters that craft hit songs for the likes of George Strait and other top stars may not be household names, but most music fans are familiar with their work; it is with these folks that the seeds of many a No. 1 and Top 10 hit began germinating. The songwriting community is especially strong in Tennessee and Mississippi, with many who ply the craft residing in the Memphis area. One such songwriter is Melinda Milligan, who is a coordinator of the Memphis chapter of NSAI, the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
“I love the community of songwriters in Memphis and I love how Memphis fosters the individuality and uniqueness of the talent here,” Milligan tells DeSoto Magazine. “As a songwriter, honing my craft is an important and never-ending process. I utilize my NSAI membership to stay sharp and current; I can have any song I write professionally evaluated and receive laser-focused, beneficial feedback.” Milligan plans on releasing an EP entitled Embers sometime this summer.
Steve Bogard is the Board President of NSAI; the Nashville-based songwriter has penned 10 No. 1 hits, including “Carried Away” and “Carrying Your Love with Me” by the aforementioned George Strait, and “Prayin’ for Daylight” by Rascal Flatts. Bogard says his main goal as NSAI president is, “to continue our momentum in the effort to get songwriters compensated fairly in the digital age,” noting that the organization was instrumental in the passage last fall of the Music Modernization Act.
“Songwriters have been unfairly penalized by arcane government rate setting rules that have not kept up with technology,” Bogard says, adding that the NSAI hopes there will be a reexamination of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. “The DMCA has had devastating unintended consequences for songwriters and their publishing partners.”
With Bogard and the other Board members of NSAI seeing to the serious side of the songwriting business, members like CJ Solar can easily avail themselves to the day-to-day benefits of being a member.
“Being a member of NSAI was a huge help when I was thinking about moving to Nashville,” Solar explains. “When I came to visit the first time, I met lifelong friends at Spring Training (an annual NSAI event now known as the Tin Pan South Songwriting Seminar) who I still write with and have had major label cuts with. I continued going to NSAI events until I got my publishing deal and got great advice from the industry pros they brought in. And I can’t say enough about the legislative work that they do to help songwriters make a better living.”
Solar had his first No. 1 hit last year with “Up Down” by Morgan Wallen and is also on the airwaves as co-writer of the latest cut, “Like You’ve Been There Before,” by his friend Jameson Rodgers.
“It’s always cool hearing your songs on the radio and even more special when you’re friends with the artist!”
Of course, like all creatives, songwriters love to sing their own songs, and one of the most important annual events where they can showcase their work is at the Mississippi Songwriters Festival. The event is celebrating its 10th anniversary Sept. 19-22 at various venues in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The fest draws hit songwriters from throughout the South. Those in attendance in 2018 included Troy Martin, who has written No. 1 hits for George Strait and Rick Trevino, Danny Wells, who also hit the top of the charts with King George as well as Rascal Flatts and Colin Raye, and Mississippi Delta native Muleman, who having spent time in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm Prison (some 25-years ago) surely has some interesting things to say in song.
One of the folks behind the Mississippi Songwriters Festival is George Cumbest, an NSAI member who is also the president of the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance.
“Actually, the Mississippi Songwriters Festival started first, in 2010,” Cumbest says. “Over the years people kept wanting to join our organization, so we created the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance in 2015, and then developed our newsletter and other events.”
Cumbest has had four cuts on the national charts, and he co-wrote Taylor Made’s No. 1 hit “Somewhere Between.” The Mississippi Songwriters Festival, which is free to attend, offers a bit of education for beginning songwriters through songwriting workshops, and there is always a big closing show featuring lots of the performers. Besides putting on the festival, the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance also works with the Nashville-based Operation Song, a non-profit that seeks to empower veterans and active duty military personnel to tell their stories through songwriting.
It’s not the easiest thing to do, to think about all the people and effort that went into making a great song when you’re singing along or dancing to it. But should you remember, the next time you’re out at a club enjoying your favorite songs, raise a glass to the folks who’ve been there since the first note.