Backstage Pass: Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 12 in NYC

It's one thing to be born into the family business. But it's another when your family business is the formidable hit catalog of the legendary husband-and-wife songwriting team of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, writers of more than 6,000 songs, including nearly all of The Everly Brothers' classics - "Bye Bye Love," "Wake Up Little Susie," "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and many others.

Their son, Del Bryant, didn't stay in the family business full time - he's stepping down this month from his post as BMI's president after some 42 years with the organization, and on June 12 will receive the Songwriters Hall of Fame's Visionary Leadership Award.

But it's hard to imagine a better education for the career he did pursue. Songs and songwriters have been his entire life's work, from the writing his parents did at all hours of the day to the pitch sessions at their house, from his early years as a BMI rep in Nashville to leading the company as its president/CEO.

"When I was born my parents were in the middle of having their first hit: Jimmy Dickens' 'Country Boy,' " recalls Bryant, 65, seated on a couch in his ornate but tasteful corner office at BMI's New York headquarters. "So my and my brother's childhood - Dane and I are only 16 months apart - was a backstage existence. Some of the earliest faces I remember were Chet Atkins - he was my dad's best friend - Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb. Everybody knew my brother and myself because we were kind of a fixture in the country music life of Nashville."

Bryant graduated from the University of Miami and did a stint in the Air Force, but his involvement with the family business was constant. So he was ready when a call to the family home came from Frances Preston - the pioneering executive who founded BMI's Nashville office in 1958 and rose to become its CEO - asking which of the Bryant boys would like to come work with her.

"I had married very early and had a young child and one on the way, as Loretta [Lynn] would say, so it was primarily a monetary driver. But I had been in charge of a lot of the ­[family's] royalties, I was good with numbers, I understood how a writer was paid - [that] could not have been better schooling to work in Nashville with BMI."

He was working with and/or signing established writers - "the Billy Sherrills ["Stand by Your Man"], the Curly Putmans ["Green, Green Grass of Home"], the John D. Loudermilks ["Break My Mind"], The Everly Brothers, the Roy Orbisons" - and others who would become pillars of Nashville's songwriting establishment - "Dennis Morgan and Kye Fleming and Paul Overstreet and Dean Dillon and Eddie Rabbitt, and so many more."

Along the way, "I'd get to hang out with a lot of these artists on their buses: Tammy Wynette, Willie [Nelson], Waylon [Jennings], Alabama … David Allan Coe - that was a scarier bus!" he says with a laugh. "On another great trip I went down to [Miami] with the Bee Gees. They were big fans of my parents. They did a little a cappella [version of] 'All I Have to Do Is Dream.' I had a career full of those types of exciting situations."

Bryant also wrote a hit of his own: "I Cheated on a Good Woman's Love" was a top five hit on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for Billy "Crash" Craddock in 1978.

Bryant succeeded Preston as BMI CEO in 2004, and during his tenure he has directed the establishment of divisions for Latin music and R&B/hip-hop, led the reorganization of the company's royalty distribution system, boosted its film and TV department and signed countless writers (the company represents more than 600,000 writers and 8.5 million works). In 2013, he was succeeded as CEO by Michael O'Neill. And, inevitably, when you've been in the business as long as he has, certain things come full circle.

Years after he signed the songwriting couple Hugh Moffatt and Patricia "Pebe" Sebert, he was invited by Sebert to come hear their grown daughter. "I said it didn't really sound right for my ears, but let me set her up with one of our people, Samantha Cox - she's the one who found Lady Gaga. Samantha liked her, got one of her tapes to Dr. Luke, and you know who it was? Kesha.

"You stay somewhere long enough and those types of things happen."


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