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Terry Whitehead

Terry Whitehead

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 years?

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 written.

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 cause.

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 rules.

You can buy Terry's CD Perfect Wave online at CD Baby.

Check out his website, http://www.terrywhiteheadmusic.com/ for more information.

Terry's myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/424940735

Jacksonville Times-Union article about Terry and his song for the Race for the Cure: Atlantic Beach musician's song used in fight against cancer.