Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Kent Blazy sheds some light into his life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of his many hits including Garth Brooks’ “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and Chris Young’s “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song).”
Kent Blazy grew up writing poetry in Lexington, Kentucky, and by the time he was in high school his work was featured in the school newspaper. It wasn’t until later on when he got a guitar that he realized he could put those poems to music, and he began writing songs.
“It started from there and I never looked back,” Blazy, who recently released the 13-track album Authentic, tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone.
Some of the bands Blazy was in would play his songs and at the urging of several songwriters he respected, he decided to move to Nashville in 1980. While Blazy admits he thought it would take several years to become an established songwriter, he got lucky and had his first Top 5 song within a year and a half of relocating to Music City.
“I had written [‘Headed for a Heartache’] with a guy that I had been writing for his publishing company for a little while, and he played softball with Gary Morris [who] was on Warner Bros. Records,” Blazy says. “While they were playing softball, he pitched the song to Gary and Gary ended up cutting it. It’s still one of my favorite songs and the guy I wrote it with [James Allen Dowell], I’m still friends with. That opened some doors and let me do some other things that might not have happened if I hadn’t had that song.”
Morris released “Headed for a Heartache” in 1981 and while Blazy had many other songs cut by country acts in town, he didn’t see chart success until he began working with Garth Brooks in the late 1980s. In 1989, both Blazy and Brooks garnered their first No. 1 with “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”
“I think I was the only person who had had a Top 10 record that would write with Garth at the very beginning. We’ve had a string of [hits] because he’s a very loyal person and we have a good chemistry writing together,” Blazy says.
The pair met while Brooks was singing demos in Nashville. Blazy started using him as a demo singer and Brooks eventually told him that he also wrote songs, so they got together to write one day at Blazy’s home. Blazy vividly describes the day Brooks came in for their first writing session, saying he was “wearing these big, long dusters and a big cowboy hat and he looked like he was 8-feet tall.”
“He walked into my living room and I was sitting on the couch and he looked down at me. He said, ‘I’ve got this song idea I’ve run by 25 writers and nobody likes it.’ I looked up at him and I said, ‘Well, gee, thanks.’ He said, ‘Don’t you want to hear it?’ And I said, ‘OK, play it for me,’” Blazy recalls. “He played me what he had, and I said, ‘Well, the problem with the song is you’re killing somebody off in the first two lines of the song. It’s like killing the star of the movie off in the first three minutes, there’s really nowhere to go.’”
Brooks then asked Blazy what he would do with the song and they began reworking the original. At the end of the day they had a song they were both proud of and went into Blazy’s studio to record a stripped-down demo with an acoustic guitar and Brooks’ vocals.
“I still remember that day. I thought, ‘This guy’s 25-years-old going on 60.’ He’s such an old soul and has such knowledge on how songs should be written,” Blazy praises. “He’s such an amazing writer. He’s very underrated. He deserves every award that he gets because he’s fantastic.”
While both Blazy and Brooks thought they had a hit on their hands, none of the labels in Nashville were interested. One evening Brooks was performing at the Bluebird Café and he sang “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” In that moment, his entire career shifted.
“Someone from Capitol Records who’d passed on the song for the third time approached Brooks and said, ‘Hey, we missed something. Why don’t you come back in?’” Blazy explains. “And he went back in and got a record deal and our song was the second single and his first No. 1. That’s just the magic of Nashville.”
“If Tomorrow Never Comes” was the first of a string of No. 1 songs for Brooks and Blazy. Both men say the song holds deeper meaning today than when they initially wrote it. In an interview with Sounds Like Nashville ahead of his 2017 performance at Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium, Brooks credits Blazy for steering the co-write and says “If Tomorrow Never Comes” has made an impact in his live show as well.
“Blazy kind of carried the load on it. I think there were things in ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ that a 27-year-old guy hadn’t experienced yet. And I think that song, when you get to sing it now, especially getting to the age where now you’re starting to lose some of your buddies … I have kids, too. I think that song now really gets out there,” Brooks explains. “The longer you live, I think the more that song does its thing.”
Blazy, meanwhile, explains when they penned the song in the 1980s, they wrote it for their wives. Twenty years later, his wife passed away from a brain tumor and the song took on a whole new meaning while she was going through it and then after she passed.
“It’s one of those things of, ‘Wow, I was almost predicting the future.’ You just hope that they know how you felt about them while they’re alive,” he reflects. “That was why I loved that song when Garth ran the idea by me. My mother always used to tell me, ‘Tell the people you love how you feel about them while they’re still alive.’ Because of her saying that is why I resonated with that idea that he ran by me … it’s just a magical thing that you can’t explain how it happens, but you’re always grateful that it happens.”
Blazy has had a good track record working with newer artists. An early collaborator of Chris Young’s, Blazy says when he got in the room with the singer after his signing with RCA Nashville, none of the collaborators had an idea they could agree on. Blazy, Cory Batten and Young kept vetoing each other’s pitches until Blazy remembered an old idea Batten had sung into his phone six months prior. The recording had Batten singing, “All I could think about is getting you home.”
Blazy suggested the line, “Seeing your black dress hit the floor” during the co-write and a then 23-year-old Young thought the line was too risqué. While they were debating it and hit a wall, Blazy decided to take a break to fix lunch. As Batten was looking around his home, he noticed that Blazy’s previous No. 1 song with Brooks, “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” had the line “standing in the kitchen with nothin’ but her apron on.”
“He said to Chris, ‘He’s had good luck with risqué songs.’ Chris said, ‘Well, let’s put it in there then.’ So that’s how it came about. And then Chris had the great little twist on it in the second verse of, ‘all you can think about is getting me home,’ which to me made it that much of a deeper song,” Blazy says. “That, to me, helped the song mean even more to different people because it could go either way, male or female.”
Blazy jokes that he felt vindicated when RCA said that they loved the song and wanted his risqué line to be in parentheses, titling the song “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song).” The original risqué song that convinced Young to kept Blazy’s line was “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” which Blazy says Brooks had the title for. When the frequent collaborators got together to write, neither could agree on a song idea so they spent the afternoon in the backyard throwing a frisbee with Blazy’s Labrador Retriever and talking about women. Eventually, they headed back into the house and Brooks picked up the guitar and sang a line and then Blazy sang a line and pretty soon they were writing a song.
“He had gotten this idea of what turns a man on when he comes home from work and he wanted it to be about a cowboy. So, we talked about it and we couldn’t come up with anything. And I said, ‘Well, how about standing in the kitchen with nothing but an apron on?’ He liked that and so we put that in there,” he says. “To me, that was the line that stood out to a lot of people when the song came out. Once again, it was a little risqué, but it was also something a little different. I think it helped the sale of aprons after that.”
In addition to writing for other artists, Blazy continues to release music of his own. His latest album, Authentic, was written and recorded during the pandemic. While most of the songs were penned solo, Blazy recruited several musicians to record at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios including Jon Pardi’s bass player Lee Francis and drummer Kevin Murphy, as well as Steve Allen on electric guitar and Josh Martin on guitar, mandolin and vocals.
“Going into the studio to record the album with real musicians and being in the same room, I should have called it Six Masked Men,” Blazy jokes. “Everybody followed the protocol in the studio. Sound Emporium was really great on making sure everybody did what they were supposed to do. It was fun. It was very emotional to be playing with other musicians again. It had been awhile, it’d been four, five months, so it was really great.”
He says the theme he was trying to get across to the listener throughout Authentic is “hope for the future and that we will get through this.” One of the songs, “Crazy Times,” was written in March at the start of lockdown while “Faith Stronger Than Fear” is Blazy’s plea to listeners that “we can overcome this thing if we don’t buy into all the fear.”
An album standout is “Me Without You,” which Blazy penned with Brooks and was originally scheduled to be on his upcoming album FUN. When Brooks decided not to include it on the project, Blazy asked if he could put it on his record instead and his longtime collaborator obliged.
“He’s a generous soul. The song really doesn’t fit on an album called FUN, but it’s really a song that means a lot to me. When we sat there and wrote that song we cried and then we played it for Trisha and she cried,” Blazy recalls. “I love that song and I loved the way the guys played on it. It’s just exactly how I hoped it would be.
“It’s [about] not taking somebody for granted that you love — that you realize if your life turned out a different way because you hadn’t met that person there’s no telling where you would be. I know Garth feels that same way [about Trisha Yearwood],” he continues. “It was emotional, and it was something that we both wanted to say about who we’re with now.”
While album opener “Thanks to You (Back from the Dead)” holds special meaning to Blazy, he says “What I Am” describes who he is: “Part Don Quixote and part Peter Pan.”
“My wife tells me that I’m like Don Quixote because I’m always fighting windmills. If you’re a songwriter, musician, you kind of stay Peter Pan your whole life,” he says. “You’re always hoping the magic is going to happen. And, it does, if you think that.”
For Blazy, the magic has been happening since he moved to Music City in 1980. It’s something that is not lost on him either.
“I’ve been so fortunate that I moved to Nashville when I did. All the circumstances that came together — meeting Garth and everything else,” he says. “To be able to make a living being a songwriter, that’s a dream a lot of people have, but very few of them get to see it come true. I feel very fortunate.”