Interview With Karen Taylor-Good
Grammy Nominated Hit Songwriter, Speaker and Author
A Monday afternoon in Nashville, sitting in a restaurant, talking to hit songwriter Karen Taylor-Good. She has a new book, "On Angels Wings: Messages & Songs Of Inspiration & Hope," which includes a 14-song companion CD. (Published by Insight Publications, Ltd. Nashville, TN 615-228-8060. Copyright © 2003 by K T Good Music.)
[Doak Turner] What should we know about Karen Taylor-Good and how she came to write this book, "On Angels Wings"?
Karen Taylor-Good I always knew I had the gift of a good singing voice. As I tell in one of the chapters of my book, I've been on a lifelong search for HOW I am supposed to use the gift. I spent several years in Holiday Inn bands in El Paso, where I grew up. I did a duo with a guy also from El Paso named Hugh Prestwood (The Song Remembers When). He was the songwriter and I was the "chick singer." The duo was called "Hugh and Me" (laughs). My search for what I was supposed to be doing continued, and I did not think I was supposed to be a songwriter, or would ever be a songwriter. I just knew that was a gift reserved for the special few, so I kept being the "chick singer." I moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and became a jingle singer for the William B. Tanner Company.
I did that for several years and got to sing back up on many album projects, including Al Green. I also did lead sheets for Isaac Hayes Publishing Company. I moved to Nashville in 1980 and slipped into the spot that Janie Frickie vacated, as she was starting to do her solo thing and she had been a background singer in Nashville. I did a lot of studio work, but always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I learned a lot singing oooh and ahhh on the albums, but it was not a real satisfying job. When you hear the record, and you can barely hear the background singers!
I decided, "OK, I am supposed to be a country music artist." I went that route on an independent label called Mesa Records, which included my partner/manager, Taylor Sparks, and myself. We did some amazing things on this independent label with no money. We had nine chart singles, a couple that went Top 40 and I was even nominated for The Academy of Country Music "Best New Female Artist" award in 1984. I really, really, really thought I was going to win. I even went to a psychic who told me I was going to win. I didn't. (Nicholette Larson did.)
I went into this huge depression because I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I knew I did not want to keep singing ooohs and aaahs, or jingles for dog food and toilet paper, because it just wasn't feeding my soul. I started writing some things down because I was hurting so bad. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and I took a look at what I was writing and thought," Gosh, that looks like a song," but I can't write songs (laughs).
I had taken piano lessons for years, so I slid over to the piano one night when no one else was around. I put my hands to the keys and out spilled music that matched the words….MY words about what I wanted to say!! It was a huge moment and a really big lesson for me. When God slams one door, no matter how painful it is, there IS always anther one open and WHAT a great door this has been. A chick singer's shelf life (laughs) is how long? When you get to be a sixty-five year old lounge singer, it doesn't look too good for you. You can be a songwriter when you are 100 years old!
[Doak Turner] In the book, you tell a story about "Saying YES," which resulted in an amazing song that really helped you in your whole career – right?
Karen Taylor-Good Yes.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about how you eventually started writing this book.
Karen Taylor-Good My career starting picking up in some pretty terrific ways about a year and a half ago. I went back to my former manager, Taylor Sparks, and told him I need help. I told him I saw some cool things in my future and I couldn't do them by myself. He came back on board full time.
Taylor had told me about six months earlier that I need to write a book. I thought, "Oooh – I can't write a book, I'm not an author." But then, I had also thought I wasn't a songwriter. It was a challenge. I started getting up early in the morning, going to the computer and writing things that were in my heart and I wanted to say… and before I knew it (with a LOT of help from Taylor), the book was born!!
[Doak Turner] Tell me about your concerts.
Karen Taylor-Good I have been doing a lot of Unity and Religious Science Churches, and did my first Methodist Church the other day. I have also done several Synagogues. However, I would not say that my music is religious at all. I even have a problem with that word, because it tends to separate people. I will say that my writing has a lot of spirituality and hope that it is inclusive, hope that no one in the audience feels left out. The God of my understanding is big enough to love ALL of His children. I recently got into the keynote-speaking world, which is really fun. I do basically the same thing as when I do a writer's night, but I wear a suit, stand up a lot more and use tracks, so that I can stand behind a podium, and get paid quite a bit more money!!
[Doak Turner] Whom are you speaking to with these keynote functions?
Karen Taylor-Good It is very interesting. I think since 9/11 many people are ready to have more spirituality in their lives to look at some deeper issues. I know that I am and it is happening all over the country. There is an international organization called Spirit in Business that I spoke to a couple years ago, and am returning this June. There are members from Thailand, England, Africa and all over the world – serious business people from companies like Hewlett Packard, American Express and other huge companies. These are people who want to bring more spirituality, integrity and ethics into their business life. Those seem to be the types of companies that are calling me to do my keynote. I weave several of my songs around my talks.
[Doak Turner] What are you telling them, are you giving them hope?
Karen Taylor-Good Yes. I just presented to a US Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, last week, and got to see the comment sheets that people filled out. Many of the participants left very upbeat, hopeful and feeling more connected to each other. I think that a lot of times we forget that we are on the same journey, experiencing the same fears and pains in this human experience. It is good to remember that we are not all alone.
[Doak Turner] In your book, you really open up, as I have never seen any author do, and that is appreciated, to talk about her own personal struggles. Most authors want to talk about the fact that they know someone, and they have a friend that … you are talking about your mom and dad, the challenges that your daughter has had in life. What allows you to not have any hesitation to open up?
Karen Taylor-Good I will say that I have permission from my daughter from a long time ago, when I started writing songs about her and wanting to share them with my audience. Because she did a lot of work in 12 step programs, she is OK with sharing her story. With my parents, it was a little trickier, as I have yet to send the books to my folks, although I am going to do that this week. They know most of the songs, as they have been to my concerts. My mother is 87, and her memory is really failing. The good news is if she gets upset with me about what I shared in the book, she will not remember it tomorrow (laughs). There is a blessing.
[Doak Turner] A chapter that really stands out in your book talks about The Sandwich Generation, which is in the chapter and song title, Hold The Mayo, "Me There In The Middle." Tell me about that chapter of the book.
Karen Taylor-Good The Sandwich Generation is defined as those of us sandwiched between our growing children and our aging parents and still caring for both. There are more and more of us in that classification. That is quite a challenging job. It can be extraordinarily exhausting. My parents lived in Nashville for three years and recently moved to live with my brother, and I miss them terribly. While they were here, there were some days that, when it was 7:00 PM, I just cried, got into the bed and pulled the covers over my head, and thought "I cannot do this!"
[Doak Turner] Did you write the chapter based on the songs, or the songs based on the chapters? Which came first?
Karen Taylor-Good The songs actually came first. I teamed up with Scream Records to do the CD "On Angel's Wings." Since it was a collection of 14 of my favorite songs, it made sense to tell stories based on the songs.
[Doak Turner] The chapter and song title, The Not So Still Small Voice, "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye" is a great story. Can you elaborate on it?
Karen Taylor-Good I had been doing some big time jingles in Chicago, kept an apartment there. That was after the country music career seemed to be going nowhere. I figured I would just do that and make good money for a while, and had a couple nice national commercials on TV.
[Doak Turner] What types of jingles were you singing?
Karen Taylor-Good (Singing) "Taco Salad, oooo what a treat, made just for you in a bowl you can eat –Taco Bell". I also had Peter Pan Peanut Butter, United Airlines and others. It was good for my pocketbook, but not for my soul. I had started writing songs, and at one point I told myself, "This is killing me, trying to live two lives in two cities." I started trusting that I am a songwriter, and gave up my apartment. A couple years later, all the money from the tacos and peanut butter was gone. I had been to see the bankruptcy attorney, my poor husband, Dennis, was freaking out.
I had been going to a couple "new thought" churches, Unity and Religious Science, and they were very positive and upbeat. One Sunday morning the alarm went off, I was going to go to church, but couldn't stand the thought of it, I was so depressed with everything. I thought, "My life sucks, I have no money, I am going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself." Then, honest to God, I heard this little voice and it said, "Go to church" and I said, "No!! I am not going, I am depressed and going to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself." The little voice got a little louder and said, "Goooo to church" and I put the pillow over my head and said, "Noooo, I am not going to church." It got really loud and I thought. "OK, OK I am going," but I wasn't happy about it!!
I went to church and Rev. Mitch, (Mitch Johnson, who came to town to be a songwriter!) was talking that day about saying "YES" to life. He is a very passionate speaker, and he gave this wonderful talk. At the end of the sermon he challenged us. He asked how many of us were willing to go out into the world, just for one week, and say "Yes" to life as often as we could. I was so into it, that when he asked how many are willing to take the pledge, I raised my hand and took the pledge!
This woman that I hardly knew walked up to me right after the sermon was over. She said, "Hey Karen, you are a songwriter," and I said, "Yea." She said she had a friend who was a new songwriter and was coming to town, and was an actor from LA, and would I write with him? I promise you, I did NOT want to do this! This guy was a new songwriter, and I figured that being an actor from L.A., he was probably a big egotistical jerk. I would have said no in a heartbeat, however I had just taken "The Pledge." I was so unhappy, and I was mad. I gritted my teeth, and said. "Yes." I figured I would have this jerk over for a little while for coffee and send him home. Well, his name is Burton Collins, he was not an egotistical jerk and he was a good songwriter. He had also been writing screenplays. The one comment that I often hear about the song, "How Can I Help You Say Goodbye," is it is like a little mini movie. That was thanks to Burton.
Before I had a chance to send Burton away, he said to me, "You know I have had this idea for a song. I was so close to my grandmother and was with her while she was so close to dying in the hospital. She looked at me, saw that I was having a very hard time, and she said, "Burton, how can I help you say goodbye?" He asked if I thought we could write a song with that idea. I went, "Whoa"!! I felt the goose bumps, and the song just fell out in about four hours. That song absolutely changed my life.
[Doak Turner] In what ways did that song change your life?
Karen Taylor-Good The house we live in was bought with the royalty checks, after Patty Loveless recorded the song.
[Doak Turner] What was the process of the song getting recorded?
Karen Taylor-Good Once again, I did not understand that the Universe works in mysterious ways, NOT in the ways I want it to!! I wanted to control the song. I loved the song and knew it was huge. I thought I was supposed to sing the song. I wasn't going to give it away. I got a call from Paul Worley, a big time producer, and he was in the studio with Pam Tillis, and they wanted to cut the song. I told them no.
[Doak Turner] You were still in financial trouble at the time and turned down having your song recorded by a successful singer?
Karen Taylor-Good Yea. I didn't get it (laughs). Then, I had sent my song to my SESAC rep in New York, Linda Lorence. She had taken the song to an A&R person at Atlantic Records. It sat on this woman's desk for months. She finally played it and freaked out. She played it for the head of Atlantic Records, they flew me to New York, the limo driver met me with my name on a sign and I am thinking, "This is it! This is why my Country Artist career didn‘t happen…..I was supposed to be POP star!! " I went to the meeting with the head of Atlantic Records. Linda had told me they planned to make me "the Carol King of the ‘90s."
Mr. Head of Atlantic Records was absolutely in love with my songwriting and voice. We walked into his office and it was supposed to be a very long meeting, he had a piano and I was going to sit down and play him everything I had ever written. But, he had fallen in love with my voice and made up an eighteen year old face to go with it. I did not have an eighteen-year-old face. I have a nice face, but not the one he imagined. The meeting was very short, and I could see it in his eyes as he took one look at me and went, "Too old." At the end of the meeting he asked who does my publishing. I told him that I do the publishing, and he asked me if I didn't want a publishing deal. I replied, "Yes." He said that his good friend, Les Bider was in town. Les is the CEO of Warner/Chappell Publishing. The call was made and Les happened to have a half hour available the next morning.
The rep from Atlantic went to the meeting with me the next morning. She is putting my tapes into Les's tape player, and Les heard five songs and asked me why I didn't have a publishing deal. I told him that I had not found the right place yet. He said, "Welcome home." He gave me a big hug and that was my first and only publishing deal. I was at Warner/Chappell for seven years. I just left a couple years ago. The next time somebody called, which was Patty Loveless, I called Les Bider and told him that I do not want to give up that song. He said, "Karen, you must give it away! Songwriters give away their songs. You will write a song that you love just as much later." I said, "No I won't." He said, "Yes you will." It was the best advice that I ever got in my life.
Patty Loveless cut the song, Laura Brannigan cut the song, Al Jarreau, European artists cut the song, and it is on karaoke machines all over the world. It was nominated for a Grammy in 1995 and I continue to get checks, plus what a great song to have as one's first cut. It is a healing song and I cannot tell you how many letters and e-mails that I get from people telling me it has been played at funerals and memorial services. Burton, Patty, and I have had a lot of people thanking us for the song. It was a miracle song being conducted from a higher place. Thank heaven I listened to the "Not So Still Small Voice" and said, "YES"!
[Doak Turner] Please tell me about the chapter and song title, Teenage Mutant Alien Pod Person - "Heart of My Heart (Where Did You Go?).
Karen Taylor-Good Anyone that has a teenage child or has had a teen knows that you are everything to them the first eleven or twelve years of their lives. You rule! It is shocking and painful when all of a sudden you aren't so hot anymore. All of a sudden you get stupid and are uncool and they do not want to be seen with you anymore.
I wrote a song with my friend Brenton Roberts called, "Heart of My Heart (Where Did You Go)." I have a lot of people that connect with this song. As we were writing this song, every once in a while Brenton, who does not have children, would want to veer off to write what it was like to be a teenage. I told him there are countless movies and songs with teenage angst. No one has ever addressed what it is like to be the parent, and I really wanted to write THAT song.
[Doak Turner] Tell me about the love notes at the end of the chapters in the book.
Karen Taylor-Good The love notes were my sweet husband Dennis's idea. I am so grateful to him for that. At the end of every chapter is a note of encouragement. This one that I am reading says, "If you are currently experiencing a similar situation with your teenager, please know that most often they come back. Give them the space to grow through this horrendous phase. Rachael, my daughter, is nineteen now, and she is asking for my help and my opinions and even asked me to go to a movie with her the other night. Hang in there, I know how much it hurts."
[Doak Turner] When is this book available?
Karen Taylor-Good Check my website, www.karentaylorgood.com, and also on Amazon.com.
[Doak Turner] What about your concerts and speaking engagements? Are you still available to groups that may want you to speak to them?
Karen Taylor-Good Contact information is also on my website.
[Doak Turner] Is there anything else that you would like to say to songwriters reading this interview?
Karen Taylor-Good My opinion about songwriters has not changed. I think that we are blessed with an amazing and special gift and we are supposed to share the gift! I notice in my speaking engagements now, if I was strictly an author with a new book and said the same things, I could do my forty-five minute talk and I am sure it would be "nice." The ability to use music along with words really adds a great deal. "A song can travel to places in the heart where the spoken word alone cannot go." It is so true!
[Doak Turner] Did you think up that statement?
Karen Taylor-Good I am one of the people, I have seen it other places. It is so true, and that is the reason we chase after this incredible dream and gift of songwriting. We know that it is a powerful gift, a powerful tool. Something wonderful happens when we write a song and it touches people's hearts. I think songwriters are special people. I love them and bless them on their journey.
[Doak Turner] What is the future of Karen Taylor-Good?
Karen Taylor-Good My goals have changed. They used to be "Please let me have a Celine Dion Cut." I used to just want the big cuts. I would sit back and collect the mechanical royalties and checks. That is not my only goal, although, PS - I am pitching my songs and would gratefully accept those cuts!. I am finding it just feeds my soul to be able to deliver my songs myself.
[Doak Turner] The other day when we spoke on the telephone, you said you were on your way to voice lessons. Why do you continue voice lessons, after all these years of singing? You are so talented and have several years of voice training, why continue with these lessons?
Karen Taylor-Good I have been taking voice lessons once a week for twenty something years (laughs). When I am out of town I have to miss them, but it is just the feeling that I can always get better.
[Doak Turner] What can someone still teach you with voice lessons?
Karen Taylor-Good I needed them early on to teach me the right techniques so that I did not screw up and hurt my voice. I did not want to develop horrible habits. Now, it is interesting because it is just like any other muscle in your body. If I don't go to the gym and workout, what do I notice after a couple months – oops I am getting a little flabby there! Age and gravity unfortunately take their tolls. I think all of us have heard our favorite artists who have gotten older and did not continue to take care of their voices, using that muscle, and I refuse to do that, let that voice go away. I want my voice to get better and stronger so I can continue to share the gift.
[Doak Turner] Anything else you would like to say to the readers of the interview?
Karen Taylor-Good I want to say "thank you" for the comments that I have gotten back on this CD/book, from the people who have read it, and listened to it, and who tell me that it is very healing for them. I guess I feel like that is part of my mission now, to spread some inspiration and healing in these uncertain times. And I want to thank you Doak. You are a dear person, and a dear friend.
[Doak Turner] Thank you Karen Taylor-Good for your time and continued success!