DIARY - 27 DECEMBER 2012 - MATRACA BERG
BERG - BELATED RESURRECTION
the streets of this little town/ late last night when it all shut down/
feeling stuck between lost and found and nowhere/ waiting for the resurrection/
fire from the ashes and the tears/ the resurrection, you know dreams die
hard/ dreams die hard around here."- The Resurrection - Matraca
Matraca Berg no longer needs a resurrection - she has been riding
high in the saddle since her first #1 hit at 18 on February 19, 1983.
She wrote Faking Love with veteran hit writer-producer Bobby
Braddock - it topped charts for T.G Sheppard and Karen Brooks.
''It was easy getting that first hit,'' Berg revealed.
"But I didn't have another cut for a year."
There was a good reason.
The singer, now 48, raised her younger siblings when her mother Icie
Berg - a session singer from Harlan County in Kentucky - died in 1985.
"I didn't have a choice," she said.
Berg brews her songs from the harsh reality of life that began when
her dad disappeared before she was born.
the song Appalachian Rain from 1990 debut RCA album Lying To
Two singles Baby Walk On and The Things You Left Undone
cracked Top 40 but others did not.
didn't release follow-up CD, Bittersweet Surrender - it included
Wrong Side Of Memphis that Trisha Yearwood turned into a 1992 smash.
Yearwood recorded XXXs and OOOs 1994, Everybody Knows 1997
and half dozen more Berg songs.
Suzy Bogguss also had a 1994 hit of Berg's Hey Cinderella and recorded
Eat at Joe's, Give Me Some Wheels and Diamonds and Tears.
IN APPALACHIAN RAIN
came to town in the early spring time/to work with my daddy down in the
mines/it was hot in the summer when he said goodbye/ and he left me a
secret I can no longer hide/now the only thing that is welcoming me/ is
a cold rainy morning and a Greyhound bus seat/he has just had to come
back and try to explain/cry for your daughter Appalachian rain" -
Appalachian Rain - Matraca Berg-Ronnie Samoset
to write from her mother - whose name Icie was taken from an Indian great-grandmother
- long before she married latter day nuclear physicist Ron Berg.
Matraca was in second grade and Berg was a Vanderbilt University graduate
He adopted Matraca and after earning his degree took a job in Indianapolis
and moved the family.
Ron taught Matraca how to play piano but Icie missed the music world and
returned to Nashville.
"We became very rootless, and we were really poor," Matraca
"We moved a lot, running from bill collectors and stuff. Mom never
got off the ground in the music business. She was too busy trying to survive."
Although Icie sang on sessions, was briefly a member of Harden Trio and
had 17 songs published by Four Star, Twila and Chappell, her priority
was nurturing the writing of Matraca.
Several years later Icie became a nurse and married prolific Texan born
songwriter Dave Kirby who died at 65 on April 20, 2004.
Kirby was also once wed to singer Leona Williams - third ex-wife of Merle
Berg, 48, cut second RCA album The Speed Of Grace in 1993 and
Sunday Morning to Saturday Night for short-lived Rising Tide in 1997.
That Train Don't Run and Back in the Saddle made the charts
from her third CD, and Good Ol' Girl became title tune to the theatrical
production of the same name.
She and fellow singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman also wrote other songs
for the show.
Matraca released Masters in 1998 and compilation Lying To The
Moon And Other Stories in 1999.
She wed Nitty Gritty Dirt Band co-founder Jeff Hanna on December 4, 1993.
Although Berg remained a prolific writer she took a recording hiatus before
her style of resurrection in 2011 with The Dreaming Fields (Dualtone)
and Love's Truckstop in 2012.
AS A TEEN
fixes her hair every morning/ long before seven o'clock/ she'll tell you
with her hair piled up, she feels closer to God/ and she fires up that
old Chevy/ gets to the truckers in time/ serves up the biscuits and gravy/
and the wise cracks by nine." - Good Ol Girl - Matraca Berg- Randy
has written hits for the cream of country music since her teens.
Clients included Reba McEntire, Deana Carter, Pam Tillis, Martina
McBride, Linda Ronstadt, Patty Loveless, Randy Travis, Faith Hill,
Tanya Tucker, Keith Urban, Dusty Springfield, Clint Black, Loretta
Lynn and dozens of others.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and 2013 Australian tourists Rascal Flatts
were also among the recipients.
Matraca was nominated for a Grammy for The Last One To Know
- a #1 hit for Reba.
appeared in 1987 motion picture Made In Heaven and soundtrack
of 1993's The Thing Called Love.
Along for the Ride is featured as the end movie credit song for
A Cool Dry Place.
It all started many moons ago.
''I had been writing seriously since I was 15," Berg recalled.
"I was raised on Music Row. My aunt and uncle were in the music business
and they did well. I watched it for many years from the inside. I watched
people come and go. I watched what they had gone through during each transition.
I don't think I have any disillusions at all.''
Although her mother changed careers she was Berg's main supporter.
''My mom was definitely there to coach me when I finally made up my mind
that songwriting was what I wanted to do," Berg added.
"She put me into contact with some good people. I knew I wasn't going
to college so I just decided I was going to get going on this as soon
as I could. I just knew I had to get out there and do it. And I knew that
this was the only thing I wanted to do - there was never any question
in my mind. The fact that only a miniscule number of songwriters actually
get to practice their craft successfully didn't faze her: "I think
it was just youthful exuberance and fearlessness."
STAYED ON TRACK
ran hard, he ran fast/ a fallen angel on a weekend pass/ never looked
forward, never looked back/ a blaze of glory down a one way track."
- That Train Don't Run - Matraca Berg-Garry Harrison.
has 400 published songs and a dozen BMI songwriter awards.
Patty Loveless followed up 1991's I'm That Kind of Girl by scoring
a major hit with Berg tune You Can Feel Bad in 1996.
Patty also recorded You're So Cool, My Heart Will Never Break This
Way Again and On Your Way Home.
Martina McBride succeeded 1996's #1 hit Wild Angels by recording
Berg's Still Holding On as a 1997 duet with Clint Black.
She also cut he Anything's Better Than Feelin' the Blues and Cry
on the Shoulder of the Road.
Other Berg hits included Sara Evans Fool I'm a Woman 1999, Mindy
McCready All I Want Is Everything 1999, Dixie Chicks If I Fall
You're Going Down with Me 2001, Faith Hill You're Still Here 2003,
Terri Clark Working Girl 2003 and Keith Urban Nobody Drinks
Alone - 2004.
was working through college on my grandpa's farm/ I was thirsting for
college and he had a car/ I was caught somewhere between a woman and a
child/ when one restless summer we found love growing wild/ on the banks
of a river on a well worn path/ funny how those memories they last/ like
strawberry wine and seventeen." - Strawberry Wine - Matraca Berg-Gary
Carter - photo by Carol Taylor
first #1 hit Strawberry Wine - was prompted by memories of a summer
Berg spent on her grandparents' Wisconsin dairy farm during her teens.
The 1997 CMA song of the year - penned with Gary Harrison - details summer
"My dad is a farm boy from Wisconsin," Berg recalled.
"And I used to go up there and stay with my grandparents Inga and
Elmer Berg and I met a boy up there. There's something about being away
from home, the rolling cornfields and starry nights and the bored and
wild farm kids. Farm kids know how to have a good time.'
"I just wrote the title down, Strawberry Wine, because Boone's
Farm Strawberry Hill - that's what all the teenagers used to sneak off
and drink and get sick on. I wasn't sure what it meant. I'm the kind of
writer. I kind of need music to figure stuff out. I usually don't come
up with the words first. I'll have a title and the music will tell me
what it's about. But I figured out what it was about: My Grandma Berg
just kept having babies, so my aunts were my age. So we used to run around
and get in a lot of trouble together, chase boys and whatnot. I told Gary
this story, and he latched right onto it. We wrote it quickly, in about
three or four hours. We really liked it but we thought nobody else probably
Grandmother Inga found the tune scandalous and "wondered what my
husband thought,'' says the singing spouse of Hanna.
And the song's subject - farmhand-college guy - Berg hasn't heard from
"He has a wife and some kids," Berg added.
"I don't even know if he's heard the song. I considered recording
it anyway, but I thought Deana did such a lovely job that I would let
After Strawberry Wine was one of the biggest country hits of 1996,
Berg also co-wrote Deana Carter's #1 hit follow-up We Danced Anyway
She and the singer have since collaborated as songwriters on Dickson
County, Goodbye Train and You and Tequila.
say I latched onto you/ like you was the last train leaving town/ but
you kept on moving, boy/ left me here to live you down/ momma said she's
send a wire/ and cried on the phone/ said you'd always be my angel girl/
won't you come back home." - If I Were An Angel - Matraca Berg-Gary
If I Were
An Angel also dates back to her teen years.
"I left town," she says.
"Went to Louisiana with a boy - If I Were An Angel was inspired
by this experience. I was so overwhelmed. When that song hit, I wasn't
that good a writer, and I just wasn't ready for success. I had people
coming up to me wanting songs, and I had like two songs in my catalogue
It was overwhelming for a teenager; I should have been worrying about
what to wear to the prom. So I left town for about a year and a half,
played keyboards in a band. Then I missed my mommy and came back, and
I started trying to work naturally, from the bottom up."
Not long after she returned her mother died of cancer.
It was an especially bitter blow because she never knew her father who
abandoned her mother when he learned she was pregnant with Matraca.
That was the basis of Appalachian Rain from her first RCA album.
here I am again kicking dust in the canyon wind/ waiting for that sun
to go down/ made it up Mulholland Drive/ hell bent on getting high/ high
above the lights of town 'cause you and Tequila make me crazy/ run like
poison in my blood/ one more night could kill me, baby/ one is one too
many, one more is never enough. - You And Tequila - Matraca Berg-Dean
Berg, Kenny Chesney & Deana Carter
recent smash was Tennessee superstar Kenny's #1 hit with Grace Potter
of You And Tequila on his huge selling 12th album Hemingway's
Whiskey and reprised as a live track on 13th disc Welcome To The
Chesney, 44, has never toured here but Potter and her band The Nocturnals
are playing the 2013 Byron Bay Blues festival.
Berg vividly recalls writing You And Tequila with Carter who cut
it before Chesney.
"Oh, gosh, we wrote that two days after Harlan Howard's memorial
service," Berg revealed."
"Being the godfather of all us songwriters, he was like an uncle
to me. Harlan bought me my first shot of tequila when I was 18. That was
the drinking age back then. I just dated myself.
After the memorial, his kids bought me shots of tequila all night. It
took two days to get over that. I was writing with Deana two days later,
and I told her, "I'm feeling kind of sick still because I don't do
shots of tequila." And I'm saying, "Me and tequila." I
was having so much fun, and I was like, "Tequila makes me crazy."
She was like, "Well, that sounds like a song." I can't remember
how You and Tequila got into it, but it was very natural feeling
and we wrote it quickly.
THE DREAMING FIELDS
the houses they grow like weeds in a flower bed/ this morning the silo
fell/ seems the only way a man can live off the land these days/ is to
buy and sell/ so I'm goin' down to the dreaming fields/ but what will
be my harvest now/ where every tear that falls on a memory/ feels like
rain on the rusted plough/ rain on the rusted plough." - The Dreaming
Fields - Matraca Berg- Gary Harrison.
2011 album The Dreaming Fields was her first since 1997 when
her label Rising Tide went under.
And historic encouragement by Harlan Howard was again a catalyst.
"When Rising Tide Records was no more - when they were closing
their doors - they had a little going-away party, and Harlan Howard
came over there and kind of held court," Berg recalled.
"I was literally sitting at his feet drinking a beer, and he
patted me on the head and said, 'darlin', you're not a country star.'"
He said, 'you've always been more like Nanci Griffith or Lyle Lovett.
Go make a cool record like that and forget about this country stuff.
Write good songs and don't worry about being a country star.' I never
really was worried about being a country star. But that was the easiest
place for me to be. I didn't know where else to go. I was fortunate
enough to have major-label deals. But probably not a good fit."
she kept writing she had a latent desire to return to recording.
"I always wanted to make another record," Berg revealed.
"I guess the time had to feel right or the collection of songs had
to feel right. After my last label, Rising Tide, went under in the middle
of my second single, I had to step back and think about what I was doing
- if it was what I wanted to do, if I was meant to do it. I took some
time off, and after you're not a kid anymore, you have family to take
care of. You have other things that come into your life. I just chose
to spend that time doing that until everything calmed down and I had some
songs. And here we are."
Berg's songwriting peers also encouraged her.
"When I went into the studio to record, they started out as demos
because that's what I do," Berg added.
"I'm a songwriter, so I demo songs - certain things that were more
personal to me. The musicians approached them totally differently. After
we recorded several of them, they were asking for copies. Of course I've
been doing shows with various girlfriends - friends, songwriters, co-writers,
Gretchen Peters, Marshall Chapman, Kim Carnes - and they really were on
a mission. Gretchen Peters said, "I'm gonna get your skinny butt
on the road if it's the last thing I do." I felt like it was time.
Maybe I needed a nudge."
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND REVENGE
"If I had wings I would fly/ over the river and into the night/ and
if I had wheels I would roll/ ten years of dreams tethered to my soul/
well, it's 59 miles to Memphis, ain't really that far to go/ with a little
money in your pocket/ it'll get you right down that road." - If
I Had Wings - Matraca Berg-Jessi Alexander.
So what about
"Well, I've never made a record with all my hits like Matraca Does
the Hits," Berg says.
"There are songs that I write that will probably never be recorded
by another artist. Because this is what I do, I felt like I needed to
give these songs a chance - to let whoever wants to hear these songs hear
them. And I happen to sing them, so I made a record. It is a little strange
to be back out here. But these songs and the women in them they deserved
to be heard and seen and to be realised. So many people are never put
in the light, and The Dreaming Fields is about recognising their
courage, strength and dignity in a world that is often decaying around
As a singer she was following the Trisha Yearwood version of her The
Dreaming Fields, Carter and Kenny Chesney's versions of You and
Tequila and Oh Cumberland - also cut by the Nitty Gritty Dirt
For her versions she created stripped-down arrangements.
"I knew when I was writing these songs, the ones that I was drawn
to that they deserved to be heard," Berg revealed.
"They were a bit deeper and darker than a lot of what's happening,
so I knew it was up to me.
I'd done some shows with various girlfriends - and when you look at the
women and the men in the audience - I realised these stories I'm writing
are their stories too. So, making sure they get to them became important
The Dreaming Fields songs touch on delicate subjects, from a battered
woman If I Had Wings, to selling of the family farm title track,
inspired by the plight of her grandfather's Wisconsin dairy farm - to
a mother seeing her son sent off to war - South of Heaven.
The title track shares a theme with John Gorka social comment tune Houses
In The Fields.
There's at least one song that Berg intended for somebody else.
If I Had Wings is a story of domestic violence.
"I wrote it with Jessi Alexander when she was just getting started,
still a kid," says Berg. "She had a deal on MCA, I think, at
that time and was writing for her record. So we wrote this, and, of course,
it wasn't exactly what they were looking for over there."
The fact that the battered wife in the story kills her husband in self-defence
made it a little harder sell.
"Not a lot of people are recording murder songs - or as Gillian Welch
calls them, 'killin' songs," said Berg who decided she'd do it herself.
said, honey, you don't know me/ but I know you, do you mind if I come
in/ It'll only take a minute or two/and by the way I really like what
you've done to this place /it doesn't really surprise me/ 'cause we kind
of have the same taste/ but that's enough small talk/ there's something
that we need to discuss/ your husband's cheating on us." - Your
Husband's Cheating On Us - Matraca Berg-Marshall Chapman-Jill McCorkle.
acknowledges the raw, rare beauty of albums she grew up listening
to and role music played in inspiring her writing.
She also revels in the dark humour of Your Husband's Cheating on
Us - based on a Jill McCorkle short story and co-written with
Berg is proud of her songwriting success.
"Trust me, I don't take that for granted for one minute,"
"I've tried to write more punchy hit songs, but I just kinda
I don't want to do that anymore. I'm just at a place where I just
want to write what I feel and hope somebody gives a shit."
And she's indebted to her writing partners.
"It seems to be a female-driven record," Berg revealed.
a bunch of these songs with a lot of women. There's Deana, there's Sharon
Vaughn, Gretchen Peters, so I suppose it's probably more geared to the
female audience. I don't want to have this select group of people or say
and 'no hillbillies!' I come from hillbilly central. We want everybody
to hear our records. As many people as possible so we can keep making
Equally important is performing her hits.
"Yes, I love having hits," Berg confessed.
"I would totally be lying if I said I didn't love having hits. I
love every artist's interpretation of songs that I've been blessed that
they've recorded. That's really fun. Of course, making a living doing
it is incredible. Nobody in their right mind would be a songwriter for
a living, so the validation is amazing. I can have a car that runs, and
it's freakin' awesome. Then the other part is performing songs that nobody's
going to hear unless I sing these songs. It is a whole another satisfaction.
Songwriting can be very lonely. I do co-write, and I think that's part
of the reason. It's very lonely writing songs. You have nothing in that
room but you. We all feel alone. We all wonder if we're nuts or if we're
neurotic or does anybody else feel this way.
Expressing yourself in a song and having someone recognize that, or saying
"Yes, that's how I feel" or "I felt that way" or "I
lost my grandmother and I felt this way" - that's incredible, really."
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