Roger Russell 2013 DSA Songwriter of the Year

Roger RussellRoger had numerous songs selected as Best of Meeting during monthly 2nd Tuesday programs in 2013. Roger has been an avid supporter of the Dallas Songwriters and is a past-president and former DSA board member, as well as a frequent and sought-after sound engineer. Lately, Roger has been breaking the ReverbNation top 10 local charts for Americana. Keep up the good work, Roger.

The award is named after the late Vern Dailey. Though well known among Dallas Songwriters as the all-time record holder for Songwriter of the Year and as a fantastic lyricist and world class curmudgeon, Vern is probably best remembered as the puppeteer partner of the long-running Dallas children’s program from the 70s to the 90s, Peppermint Place. He was Muffin the Bear and many other characters who supported the late Jerry Haynes, better known as Mr. Peppermint. We miss you every day, Vern, you rascal.

In an interview with DSA, Roger shared some songwriting wisdom.
Interview by Buck Morgan

1Q: Who is your favorite songwriter? What is it about these songwriters that attracts you?
I grew up listening to classic country every morning before school. Charley Pride always stood out from the crowd. Then, the Beatles invasion and Elvis Presley were larger than life. I also include Neil Diamond and Bobby Goldsboro in my list along with Tommy James. As times changed I added Carole King, James Taylor, and Carly Simon. And of course there was Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

2Q: When is a good time for you to write songs? When happy? Sad?
I write good sad songs when I am between relationships. A good breakup song or You Done Me Wrong song can usually emerge from a breakup. I am an observer of people. I write about things I see and things people do, but I also sometimes get inspired listening to others musicians play and write something that I heard as part of a song. I explore a topic another songwriter has opened. If I hear music without words, I sometimes feel words in the music and write those to fit the music.

3Q: Are your songs typically personal and from your own experience?
Again, I am an observer of life and people. Some of my songs are personal but edited for public consumption, but often, my songs are observations that lead me down a path. Sometimes, my imagination takes me down a “what if” path. I may see a couple, for example, and think, what if they just met and they are exploring a relationship, and I build a scenario to fit where my mind takes me, but with a dose of reality.

4Q: You have much experience with co-writers. What makes a good co-write?
The biggest things that I look for in co-writers is that they have skills that compliment mine and that they are open to ideas. I don’t fancy myself as a performer, so I look for people that like to perform and sing and play well. Co-writes take many avenues. I am not always in the room with my co-writers. We may connect via email or Skype, for example.

5Q: Is there someone at the DSA you’d like to co-write with?
I am open to co-write with many people. I constantly come up with hooks and ideas that may fit one persons writing style better than another. I use my observation skills to try and understand a co-writer’s, or potential co-writer’s, style and influence.

6Q: What is the hardest part of songwriting? What is the easiest part?
Words come to me easily. Opening up my mind and letting the words flow through me feels natural. Editing and giving a song an interesting story line and powerful lyrical message are more difficult. The most difficult is putting the words to music. I have to find a way to communicate the musical production and riffs I hear in my head to players to help them understand what my take is on the arrangement and production.

7Q: When did you know that you wanted to write songs? What prepared you to write songs?
I have written songs and poems for most of my life. I did not fully take advantage of songwriting until after my divorce. I had the means and the time to write, so I submersed myself into music and songwriting. I have done sound production and recording for years, but often times people don’t think of the sound guy as a songwriter. As a sound guy, I have things that I have to pay attention to in a mix, which I think sometimes helps me in arrangement and production. I can hear different instruments fall back into a mix and emerge. Sound engineers and recording engineers need to know how to balance instruments so that all of the instruments are not competing for limited bandwidth. In that I am primarily a lyricist, I find words to use and instrumental mixes that support the lyrics rather than bury them behind a wall of music. Sometimes the lyrics are the important part of the song, and sometimes the musical hook is what needs to be prominent.

8Q: If you could give advice to someone in the DSA who wanted to become a better songwriter, what would it be?
People who want to be great songwriters need to expose themselves to other songwriters. Take advantage of opportunities to network with other songwriters and make use of workshops and development exercises. Read and listen and observe.

The late Vern Dailey was named Dallas Songwriter a record four times, maybe more, who knows. He was short, shy, vain, funny, poetic—in short, a real stinker, and we miss him every 2nd Tuesday of the month.