Editor’s note: After interviewing Kent Blazy, the songwriter was named a 2020 Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee.
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, told me 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.”
For more of my interview with Blazy, visit Sounds Like Nashville.