Song Writer Story Time

Rick Stanley has had a hand in writing some memorable bluegrass songs. One that has become somewhat of a standard was written at the tender age of 15 and recorded originally by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys with Keith Whitley doing the lead vocals on his song, Home In The Mountains.

It has since been recorded by numerous bluegrass artists and also included on the Grammy nominated album, The Stanley Tradition.

1- How old were you when you wrote your first song and what was the title and the story?

I was around 15 years of age in the year 1832, he says as he laughs. The name of the first song I wrote was “Home In the Mountains” and I was inspired by the old family home up in the Clinch Mountains that belonged to my dad and also the fact that I was raised up being around Ralph and Carter Stanley, who popped in and spent weekends in our home in Portsmouth, Virginia quite often. I listened to them sing with my dad in our front room and when I was old enough I got to join in. Through this great music, I knew what a good bluegrass song consisted of and couldn’t wait to try my hand at writing one. The story is completely made up and I still can’t convince my wife that I never knew a girl named Jeanie.

2- Do you remember where you wrote your first song and why?

I was the only boy in the family and had four sisters that resented me having my own bedroom. I used to play my guitar in my room and one day, as I was plunking around I came out with this first line. …when I turned twenty one my life was before me…I remember thinking about ever being 21 and what I would be doing with my life then. That was a long time ago.

3- Did you have a great amount of support when you started writing and if so, can you elaborate on who and how?

Yes, I certainly had a great amount of support and it was my father who lended the encouragement. It might have been a little selfish on his part because he was a fiddle player and he taught me how to play his Martin guitar so he could have some back up.

4- Name a songwriter that has influenced your writing style and give me an example of this writers composition that still blows you away today…a chorus or verse perhaps?

I will have to go with Carter Stanley and his “White Dove”.
The lines that still kill me to this day from that song are,

In the deep rolling hills of old Virginia
There’s a place I love so well

Where I spent many days
of my childhood
In the cabin where we loved to dwell

White doves will mourn in sorrow
The willows will hang their heads
I live my life in sorrow
Since mother and daddy are dead

5- How often do you sit and write these days and is it still something you enjoy?

I’ve always got melodies rolling around in my head but these days it takes my wife throwing a rope around me and pulling me into our office. Once I’m in there writing I remember why I love it so much.

6- What is the most difficult part in the writing process for you and why?

The most difficult part for me is staying focused on the initial idea for the song. I’m accused of drifting when I’m in our office with a certain wife of mine and she not so gently slaps my hand for noodling on the guitar.

7- Who do you sing your new songs to before letting artists hear them and do you heed suggestions for change when you get feedback?

Nowadays I run them by my favorite co-writer, my wife. Trust me, if she doesn’t like it I will be rewriting until she does.

8- Where is the strangest place you’ve ever written a song?

I don’t know how strange this is but I’m sure it’s dangerous. I’d have to say it’s when I’m rolling down the interstate at maximum speed and singing out lines. I’ve written many that way.

9- Can you describe what you feel when you hear something you’ve written come across the radio?

Most of the time what happens is a big smile will slide across my face and I always say out loud, I wonder who wrote that?

10- I know songwriters have a catalog full of songs waiting to be recorded. What song in your catalog still surprises you because it hasn’t been recorded yet? And would you mind giving us the lyric to display here?

It’s a song I co-wrote with Donna Ulisse called “The Sacrifice”. I am positive the day will come when someone will pluck this out of my treasure trove.

The Sacrifice
Rick Stanley and Donna Ulisse

Laura knew first hand how cruel a forty four could be
When she watched a stranger shoot her husband down
She held him as he slipped away not knowing what she’d do
To earn enough to feed five hungry mouths

She darned and laundered clothes until her boys could hold a plow
They helped her keep the wolves from their front door
They grew fine and strong and Laura found her smile again
‘Til a neighbor brought news about the war

And one by one, her boys joined up and left her all alone
A letter now and then would promise they’d be coming home

Until her youngest fell in Shiloh, he was only seventeen
They sent her back a lock of his brown hair
And Seven Pines laid another son down in a grave
Unmarked in East Virginia, God knows where

In sixty two her oldest caught a chill top Lookout Mountain
A fever took his life in Tennessee
And Gettysburg finished taking everything she had
When she read her last two boys names on a sheet

Lincoln sent a letter thanking her from the Republic
He regrets she had to make this sacrifice
But she could lay her solemn pride down upon the alter of our freedom
With the knowledge that our country had survived
But how could she do anything, when all her dreams
Had died

The paper wrote about it, how the president reached out
And Laura heard her name all over town
But she didn’t want condolence, didn’t want to hear their thanks
There’s was nothing that could bring her grief around
When everybody that she loved lay in the ground…