Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.
Carrie Underwood released her first gospel album, My Savior, today. The singer celebrated the release with a Q&A with fans and performance on Instagram. On Easter Sunday, she’ll return to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium for “My Savior: Live From The Ryman.” The virtual live concert will stream globally on her Facebook page at 11am Central with donations benefiting Save the Children.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness Underwood several times in concert as well as interview her. Below is an excerpt of my chat with Underwood following her two wins at the 2019 CMT Awards for Female Video of the Year for “Love Wins” and Video of the Year for “Cry Pretty.”
Following her performance at Nashville’s The Parthenon, Underwood returned to the Bridgestone Arena to speak with me and shared her gratitude for her fans backstage after the fan-voted awards show.
“I love what I do, and my fans have always been super supportive,” she says. “It means a lot that they take the time — their time is precious — and they take their time and they vote and they spread the word and they show up at the Parthenon.”
A month into her Cry Pretty Tour 360 the country super star says the trek, which includes openers Maddie & Tae and Runaway June, is going well and the venues are full of energy each night.
“Maddie and Tae and Runaway June are a pleasure to be around and so talented, so professional. I love listening to them every night. They get me fired up to go on stage,” she says. “I definitely have favorite parts [of the show] but all for different reasons, like interacting with different band members at different times. I love when we do ‘The Champion’ because I get to encourage somebody else when they’re on stage and I see somebody who has never done anything like that before get up on stage and conquer a fear and the crowd’s going crazy.”
She adds, “The women’s medley is such a fun moment in the show not only because I get to sing with the other ladies, but we get to honor people that we genuinely admire. It just makes me sad I couldn’t make that an hour medley. It was really hard whittling it down to a few songs.”
For more of my interview with Carrie Underwood, visit Billboard. My recap of her Birmingham, Alabama performance at Legacy Arena at the BJCC tour stop of the Cry Pretty Tour 360 is here.
Hillary Lindsey was born into a musical family in Washington, Georgia. Her father was a drummer and some of Lindsey’s earliest memories include her grandfather playing an old pump organ while she helped by pushing the pedals as he played. Around the age of 10 she wrote her first song about a friend’s parents getting divorced.
“One of my best friends, I found out that her parents were getting a divorce, and she didn’t know about it,” she tells me over the phone. “I overheard my mom and dad talking about it. It really devastated me thinking about what that was going to do to her. I wish I remembered the song, but I wrote a song about that. As I got older, it turned into me having a crush on a boy that didn’t like me. Then I would write songs for my girlfriends who also had crushes on boys that didn’t like them. That’s how the writing started.”
From a young age, Lindsey entered the town’s singing competition. One year she debuted a song she wrote on piano, and a family friend urged Nashville session player Buddy Blackmon to take a trip to Georgia to listen to her songs. Loving what he heard, Blackmon suggested Lindsey attend Belmont University once she graduated high school. Belmont was the only school she applied to and after getting in, Lindsey majored in music business with the goal to be an artist.
Lindsey admits that it wasn’t until attending Belmont in 1994 that she realized a career as a songwriter was possible. She began writing songs in her dorm room and playing writers nights at local venues like the now defunct Jack’s Guitar Bar on Nolensville Road that frequently boasted appearances from Patty Griffin and Keith Urban’s former band The Ranch.
“I would sit on my bedroom floor with one of those old cassette tape recorders and just record my ideas,” she says. “I would hide [the tapes] in my panty drawer because I didn’t want anybody listening to them. One of my roommates snuck one out without me knowing [when] she was interning at MCA. She came home one day [and said], ‘Hey, don’t be mad at me. I took one of your tapes out of your underwear drawer and played it for some people. They liked it.’”
Unbeknownst to Lindsey, her tape was passed around in the industry and Pat Finch at Famous Music Publishing loved what he heard and invited her to lunch. During their lunch meeting he offered her a publishing deal. She accepted and never returned to Belmont. Her first year signed to Famous Music was a learning experience in itself as she began co-writing every day, which at first was foreign to her. Pretty soon she found her tribe of writers and mentors that included Tia Sillers, Tony Lane, Brett James, Troy Verges, Angelo and Gordie Sampson. Shannon Brown recorded her song “I Won’t Lie” and released it as a single in 1998, and Lindsey also garnered countless album cuts that year. “It happened fairly fast,” she says of getting her songs placed with country acts. “Mainly a lot of album cuts, but back then that was amazing because records were selling.”
Around the same time, Lindsey continued to pursue an artist career. She recalls a well-attended showcase at South By Southwest where she met Los Angeles-based lawyer Seth Lichtenstein who offered to represent her. Lindsey started to travel to L.A. to shop for labels and was offered two record deals. She ultimately signed with John Polk at Epic Records out of Los Angeles, but the deal lasted just three months. When Polk transitioned to a job promotion in New York he decided to leave the label, which resulted in Lindsey and two other artists being dropped.
Lindsey returned to Nashville after several months of co-writing in Los Angeles and had lost the will to create. After a month, she slowly began writing again and when Martina McBride recorded and released “Blessed” as a single in 2001, Lindsey’s luck started to change. “Blessed” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart in March 2002 and Lindsay began to focus on her songwriting more while still toying with the idea of an artist career.
“The writing thing started taking off. Once I started writing more and meeting artists and understanding what that [artist] life meant, I realized I really was not cut out for that,” she says of the decision to pursue songwriting full-time. “The writing life is definitely the life for me.”
Lindsey has seen much success writing for Carrie Underwood, having penned 11 No. 1 songs for the American Idol alum. Underwood’s 2005 debut single “Jesus Take the Wheel” marked a turning point in Lindsey’s career as she had decided to leave Famous Music after being signed as a staff writer there for six years. She wanted to own her publishing and went independent. With enough money saved up for one year of expenses, Lindsey was determined to make things work on her own as she had already developed great relationships with the writers, artists and A&R staff in Nashville.
“I would just pitch my own songs. Within that first year it was something crazy like I had five Faith Hill cuts, a LeAnn Rimes cut, a Tim McGraw cut, a Keith Urban cut,” she recalls. “It was like, ‘Holy moly, are you kidding me? Why did I not do this sooner?’ Well, then the record came out. None of my Faith Hill songs made the record. I lost the Tim cut. I lost the Keith cut and they were cuts, not holds.”
The only song that did stick was a song called “Painless” that Lee Ann Womack recorded and featured on her 2005 critically acclaimed album There’s More Where That Came From. It never was released as a single and while earlier in the year Lindsey thought she hit the jackpot going independent, she was wrong and money was running out.
“American Idol was around then. I don’t remember this conversation, but my dad very vividly does. He said that I called and said, ‘I think this girl’s gonna win American Idol and if she does, if I could just have one song with her maybe this would change things.’ Then she won and ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’ was her first single and the dry spell stopped.”
For more of my interview with the Academy of Country Music’s 2020 Songwriter of the Year, visit Sounds Like Nashville.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing Miranda Lambert once, years ago while living in New York City. We chatted a few days before her album Platinum was released in 2014 and although our interview was barely 10 minutes long, she revealed a lot about herself, her songwriting, aging gracefully and the importance of female artists to uplift each other. You can view the interview above and read my article on Radio.com.
Watching the interview back nearly four years later, the part that struck me most was when she mentioned her duet “Somethin’ Bad” with Carrie Underwood and how it’s important for females in country to collaborate.
“When I heard ‘Somethin’ Bad’ the song just popped,” she told me. “It really struck a chord. I wanted to collaborate with Carrie because we need to and there’s not that many females in country that do collaborate. We’ve known each other for a really long time but I needed it to be the right song. I thought that one could be cool. It was a female-male duet so we asked the writers to re-write it for two girls and make it sort of Thelma & Louise themed and they did and it’s so perfect for us.”
Lambert went on to rave about Underwood, saying that she pushes her to be a better vocalist.
“It’s really cool to collaborate with her. She’s such a great vocalist and artist and really pushes me as a singer to be better,” she added.
Carrie Underwood has reigned on the country charts for over a decade following her 2005 American Idol win. With seven GRAMMY Awards under her belt and 26 No. 1 singles, Underwood is one of very few female contemporary country artists receiving steady airplay.
Her pristine vocals are unmatched by any female singer today and her most recent headlining tour, The Storyteller Tour, displayed her vocal talent night after night. The tour was also recognized by Pollstar, who named Underwood as the top female country touring artist.
Underwood has released numerous songs over the years that touch upon female empowerment and embody strong female characters. On “Church Bells,” a married woman cleverly breaks free from her abusive husband and “Dirty Laundry” has Underwood singing of how she refuses to put up with an unfaithful man. Meanwhile, the memorable murder ballad “Two Black Cadillacs” has two women teaming up to seek revenge on a cheating spouse.
On each track, Underwood’s powerful vocals are at the forefront. The song that perhaps best showcases this is the poignant “Something In the Water,” which you can listen to below.
Today marks the singer’s 35th birthday so here’s to hoping at least 35 more chart toppers are in her future!
Last week I had the pleasure of escaping to the West Coast for a cruise to Catalina Island and Mexico to witness Carrie Underwood perform aboard the Carnival Imagination as part of the Carnival Live concert series. When I started You Sing I Write nearly 10 years ago I never imagined I’d be taking a cruise to cover a concert, I was simply hoping to write about some of my favorite bands. It was an experience I’ll never forget! Read my recap below and for an interview with Carrie, visit Sounds Like Nashville.
Passengers aboard the Carnival Imagination on Tuesday evening (April 4) were in for a very special treat when Carrie Underwood boarded the cruise ship in Catalina Island for an intimate concert. The singer played a nearly two-hour, 21-song set for a sold-out audience in the 900-seat Dynasty Lounge as part of the ongoing Carnival Live concert series.
Underwood’s performance culminated her year-long partnership with Carnival and Operation Homefront where the singer surprised several military families over the past year with meet and greet opportunities, tickets to her concert as well as a private show aboard the Carnival Vista in New York. Each audience member at Tuesday’s concert received a limited edition dog tag which benefits the Honor, Family, Fun initiative in support of Operation Homefront, an organization aimed at assisting military families.
The country singer was at ease in the intimate venue Tuesday night backed by her eight-piece band. Stories about her family’s whereabouts, her childhood hero Dolly Parton and frequently being told by her mother to “keep it down” when singing to her favorite artists as a child were peppered throughout her set as Underwood gave audience members a rare glimpse into her personal life.
“You guys seem like you’re having a great time,” she said two songs into her performance. “Of course you’re having a great time, you’re on vacation! We just ended a lot of travel. We were up in Toronto for a few days and then had the ACMs the night before last so we’re just going to pretend we’ve been on vacation with you all night long. It’s our night to cut loose and have some fun. Feel free to sing and dance and do whatever it is you want to do. There are no rules!”
Underwood segued effortlessly between the upbeat songs like “Good Girl” and “Cowboy Casanova” to poignant ballads including “Heartbeat” and “Jesus Take the Wheel,” a song she said she’ll sing a million more times and it will mean just as much, if not more, to her as the first time she heard it. Prefacing previous No. 1 “Heartbeat,” she dedicated the song to her husband before confessing that she wasn’t quite sure where he was.
“I see a lot of couples in the room. I don’t do too many love songs. When I was writing this one, it felt kind of nice,” she admitted. “I thought my husband could use it because I seem to write a lot of cheating songs and killing songs. He’s probably like, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ This one’s for my husband, wherever he is. Is he at home? Is there a home game tonight?”
After finishing “Heartbeat,” she told the audience that her husband, NHL Nashville Predators player Mike Fisher, had a home game that night.
“I know where my husband is. I feel like we’ve been away from home for a while so it’s nice to sing a little love song and think about him. He’s going to be gone when I get home,” she said as she received a collective “aw” from the audience. “I know! It’s all right. That’s our lives. My son will be there. He’s the one I really wanted to see.”
Tomorrow night, CMT will honor Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Zac Brown Band as the top artists of the year in a 90-minute special. Hosted by Kevin Costner, CMT’s “Artists of the Year,” premiers at 8:00 p.m., ET.
Taped in Nashville, “Artists of the Year” will bring the honorees together with their peers for an evening of performances from the country world and beyond. Tune in for surprise guest appearances by Joe Perry, Maroon 5, Adele, Amos Lee and more!
This year’s acts were chosen by ranking the top five artists based on the following criteria: sales, country radio airplay, concert grosses, and activity on CMT.com. The rankings were then compiled to identify the leading performers across the four categories cumulatively.
Watch a preview of tomorrow night’s special below.
For all you country music lovers, last week Walmart Soundcheck debuted their series with country’s very own soulful songstress Carrie Underwood. Watch the promo below and to view videos of Underwood performing some tracks off her new album as well as previous hits like “Before He Cheats,” “Jesus Take the Wheel” and a live interview click here.
If you like what you hear, be sure to pick up her new album, Play On, due in stores November 3.