Songs & Short Stories: Tom Douglas

 "Tom Douglas is, quite simply, our conscience.  He shines a spotlight on the dark side of society so brightly that we can no longer ignore it.  He's a realist, but he's also an optimist.  As he says, the pain in this world is great, but the love is even greater.  I love his raspy voice.  When you hear him sing, you know he just knows.  He's lived every word that he writes.  He makes mature music for mature people.  He's had some huge hits, but I always like his versions better.  No one can sing a Tom Douglas song better than Tom." - music journalist Beverly Keel
With a sophisticated simplicity that succinctly addresses life's ultimate truths, Tom Douglas puts a unique spin on the phrase "singer/songwriter."  "I view myself as a 'songwriter/singer' rather than a 'singer/songwriter' because I fell in love with the song first," he says.  "So out of my love for the song comes the singing."  Having a slightly rough but authentic voice that shows the wear and tear of surviving 40 plus years, he brings his stories to life in lyrics that somehow feel more like everyday conversations.  It's a voice of character from a man of character.
Over the course of his career, a whole cast of like-minded characters have been drawn to Tom Douglas' writing and have breathed—or belted— his discography to life.  Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Bucky Covington, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Collin Raye, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood ... and the list goes on.  Each in their own way, these artists have illuminated not only Tom's work but the man behind the music.  Womack, for whom Douglas and Brett Beavers' tune "Something Worth Leaving Behind" was a hit single, album, and book title, sums it up: "Tom's great at taking a snapshot of real life and putting it in a song.  He's not afraid of writing about the hardships or the beauty of the world; in my opinion, that's what makes a true artist."
A true artist, indeed—and one who almost missed his calling.  Twice.    He was born in Atlanta, where his father spent his days selling steel but his nights playing the piano and ukulele.  "He was an artist at heart," says the son.  "There was always music in the house."  Tom took piano lessons in second grade, but it didn't stick.  It wasn't until he heard "Your Song" by Elton John that he decided to give the piano another try, eventually moving on to performing Glen Campbell hits, especially those written by Jimmy Webb, who remains Douglas' idol today.

But he put his musical ambitions aside for a while and graduated from Oglethorpe University in 1975 and from Georgia State University in 1977 with an MBA.  He sold advertising in Atlanta but increasingly felt like he was missing his calling.  "I had this gnawing feeling inside me all the time, so at 27, I quit my job and started a little publishing company with two friends."  Nearly two years later, he moved to Nashville where he spent four years writing and plugging songs and traveling the coffee house circuit.  "I never got anywhere because my songs weren't very good," he admits.
Tom met his wife, Katie, and together they decided to move to Dallas, where Tom became a father of three and embarked upon a successful career in commercial real estate.  "I enjoyed that for 13 years," he says.  "About seven years into it, I started picking songwriting back up.  I read books on songwriting, joined the Dallas Songwriters' Association and played at local clubs occasionally."  This time in, Douglas felt that his songs were reaching the people.

"I never thought that I'd ever come back to Nashville," he says.  "But without the pressure of having to succeed at it, I was enjoying songwriting more than ever...just for the love of it.  For years, I had been so hung up on trying to be a commercial songwriter and finally I said 'Forget it.  I've got a job and family; I'll never be a commercial songwriter.'  A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Ironically, as soon as I did that, I wrote "Little Rock."

In 1993, Douglas attended a songwriters' seminar in Austin and he played "Little Rock" for producer/publisher Paul Worley.  "Paul thought that I had turned a corner as a songwriter and took some of my songs back to Nashville with him."  Sony/ATV/Tree signed Douglas as a staff writer and in June 1994, "Little Rock," as sung by Collin Raye, became his first number one hit and was nominated for CMA Song of the Year in 1994.  He moved back to Nashville with his family three years later. 

Tom has gone on to become one of the most widely respected and successful songwriters of our time.  He earned his second number one on the pop charts in 1998 with "The Gift," as recorded and co-written with Jim Brickman. In 2001, Tim McGraw took Douglas' "Grown Men Don't Cry" all the way to number one, and subsequently collaborated with Tom on the top three country hit "My Little Girl."  This father-daughter classic was the end title in the Fox Film release Flicka in 2006.  "Love's The Only House," as signatured by Martina McBride, reached top five on the country charts.  In addition, Martina had a significant hit with the moving ballad "God's Will" and she included "Loveland" on her 2007 CD Waking Up Laughing.  

Douglas would be the first to say he hasn't made it alone on his sojourn from business school to the top of the charts—and his friends are more than happy to have helped.  "Tom is one of the great songwriters in Nashville," says Tim McGraw.  "He crafts wonderful stories about real life situations—songs that impact and touch people's lives.  And it doesn't get any better than that."

 And so, after years of observing those around him while overcoming his own personal and professional obstacles, Tom is ready to tell us what's been revealed to him in his journey so far.  With the DVD release of Songs & Short Stories: Tom Douglas, Tom shares his simple philosophy:  "To inspire and to encourage our cling to the hope of love and be loved.  It's critical to keep trying because as long as you're trying, you must be getting better.  I'm in it for the long haul," Tom affirms, while remembering not to take the short haul for granted.  "Each day that I get to write another song and be involved in the creative process, well, that is a great day!"

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