Terry Whitehead is a singer-songwriter living in
Jacksonville Beach, Florida. He has a strong, deep voice that
can soothe your soul and songs that make you think. His first CD
is titled Perfect Wave. He recently recorded a new
song at my studio for a benefit CD for the American Cancer
Society and I talked with him about songwriting.
Roy: What is your songwriting process? When you sit down to
write a song what happens?
Terry: Although it has happened in different ways over time, the
way it has been happening lately is that two things come
together. First I happen to play with a chord pattern and I
start singing a melody to go over it - usually it is what
becomes the chorus. The singing may be nonsense - just some
words to help me remember and I record it on a small recorder
calling out the capo position and chord patterns as needed.
Separate from that I have a concept or idea that I think would
make a good song. I usually go back and see if any of my
recorded melodies might work with a phrase. If that happens I'll
start putting lyrics to the melody. I'll construct a melody for
the verse that is inspired by the chorus but acts as a building
mechanism for the chorus and sometimes a bridge is written as
well if I think the song needs it. I'll go back to all of the
many scrap notes I have and start pulling together phrases that
fit with the concept and fill in other thoughts that are
inspired by the scraps I have. I tweak and rearrange phrases to
create rhymes and conform to the phrasing of the melody, but
sometimes I alter the melody to fit a phrase that I don't want
to alter. I tweak a song over weeks, sometimes months, and even
years in some cases. Sorry for being long-winded - you asked!
Roy: Name a few of your favorite songwriters and why.
Terry: Bob Dylan and Paul Simon were the first songwriters that
made me want to write songs. Bob Dylan's "Blowing in The Wind"
was one of the 1st songs I remember learning to play. Simon and
Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" was another one. I always paid
close attention to the lyrics and song structures. As I got
older I became extremely intrigued with Joni Mitchell's clever
wordplay and how she married it to music. I studied all of her
lyrics intently. Court and Spark still remains my
favorite singer-songwriter recording ever. Nashville Skyline
by Bob Dylan and Graceland by Paul Simon are
appropriately in the next two slots.
Roy: Has your songwriting process changed in any way over the
Terry: A little, but it has almost always started with the
chords and melody. It used to be that a concept would come
together as I wrote the lyrics that were on my mind. Now I
usually have the theme in mind before I start writing. I have
also recently done a little collaborating for the first time
ever. I wrote a couple of songs with Tamara Grigsby (of Willie
Mae) and it was very fun and fulfilling.
Roy: Can a song change after you play it in front of people?
Does playing live influence your songwriting in any way?
Terry: Nope. Other things can influence me to change a song -
and they almost always change a lot over time before I finally
think they are done, but I can't recall that playing a song live
changed anything about it.
Roy: Do you ever deal with writer's block?
Terry: I just ride it out. Writer's block usually happens when I
am very busy or very down. I wish that depression would inspire
me to write but I won't go near a guitar when I am sad unless I
am obligated to a gig or another person. I always have ideas and
phrases that I jot down for use later when I become less
encumbered and in the mood to write a song again. Meanwhile I at
least try to enjoy learning new cover songs and I don't let the
writer's block worry me too much. I have recently found that
collaborating with another person helps as well.
Roy: Tell me about how your song "Happy Valley Folks" came to be
Terry: I had a simple, fun chorus melody and I didn't know what
to do with it. In my music room I have an old photograph of a
bluegrass band that my Dad was part of. It was taken at a radio
station where they had performed live and the name of the band
"Happy Valley Folks" was on the photo. I happened to look up at
the photo and I started singing "Happy Valley Folks" to the
chorus and I realized I might be on to something. I started
making up names for all band members except my Dad "Lamar" and I
brought each one of them to life in the song. I decided to give
the song a small town nostalgic feel and continuing to use
poetic license I made the band and their live show very popular.
The song could not be about the band because I knew very little
about them, but a great example of how an image and a name in
itself can inspire a song.
Roy: Your song "Thunderclouds" uses a Jacksonville landmark, the
Mathews Bridge, as a pivotal part of the song. What inspired you
to use that particular bridge out of the many in Jacksonville?
Terry: Around the time I wrote that song some poor soul had
indeed jumped from that bridge.
Roy: Anything new you've written that you'd like to talk about.
Terry: Hey, thanks for asking! Yes indeed. My most recent song
was written specifically for a charity compilation "Songs For
The Cure '10." All proceeds will go to the American Cancer
Society's "Relay For Life." The song was recorded at my favorite
studio "Radical Recording" - sound familiar?
Click on this link
http://www.cancerdrive.org/ to sample my song "So I Am" and
also the other artists that are on the compilation. If you like
what you hear you can purchase music for the benefit of a great
Roy: You frequent the Atlantic Beach Songwriter Nights where
local musicians perform new songs in front of, mostly, other
songwriters. Can that be daunting?
Terry: Always. I have stage fright there like no where else.
Roy: Any advice to new songwriters?
Terry: Pay close attention to songs you like that are written by
other artists and understand what is appealing about the song.
Try to be original and try not to be predictable or obvious.
Stay away from worn out clichés, well-worn phrases and the most
obvious of rhymes. Don't worry if certain lines are esoteric
unless you are trying to market to contemporary country or pop
markets where obviously your song has to be something the masses
can relate to. Most importantly, forget everything I just said -
ha ha ha! Sometimes the most successful songs break traditional
You can buy Terry's CD Perfect Wave online at
Check out his website,
http://www.terrywhiteheadmusic.com/ for more information.
Terry's myspace page:
article about Terry and his song for the Race for the Cure:
Atlantic Beach musician's song used in fight against cancer.