As recently as October 2015, Rodney Clawson (“Fast,” “American Kids”) won the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s songwriter of the year award.
Not surprisingly, he has another top 40 title on Country Airplay — Jerrod Niemann‘s “I Got This,” currently at No. 38 — but he’s not even the best-charting member of his own family.
Son Brad Clawson is enjoying his first top 20 single as a songwriter with the Morgan Wallen/Florida Georgia Line recording “Up Down,” at No. 23 on the same chart. Meanwhile, wife Nicolle Galyon authored four titles on the current chart: Keith Urban‘s “Female” at No. 12, Lee Brice‘s “Boy” at No. 18, Lady Antebellum‘s “Heart Break” at No. 32 and Dan + Shay‘s “Tequila” at No. 39.
You won’t hear Rodney complain.
“It’s hard to get too competitive about it when it all ends up going in the same bank account,” he says. “You’re on the same team. When you’re playing football and one of your buddies scores a touchdown for the team, you’re probably not going to get mad at him.”
In fact, it seems they’ve established a precedent in country music. The Clawsons appear to be the first family to have three members all charting simultaneously as full-time songwriters without a single collaboration among their titles.
There have been husband/wife songwriting couples, such as Country Music Hall of Fame members Boudleaux & Felice Bryant or current songwriters Jon Randall (“Tin Man”) and Jessi Alexander (“I Drive Your Truck”). There have been parent/child relationships in the composing ranks, too, particularly when songwriter Max T. Barnes topped the chart on Jan. 4, 1992, with Collin Raye‘s “Love, Me” at a time when his father, Max D. Barnes, trailed at No. 4 with Vince Gill‘s “Look at Me.”
Throw in family units where at least one member was an artist — such as son Thomas Rhett and father Rhett Akins, or the 1990s team of Rodney Crowell and then-wife Rosanne Cash — and the ranks swell.
But it doesn’t appear that any family beyond the Clawsons has had three full-time songwriters earn concurrent hits independently of each other.
Much about their success is out of their control, but the fact that it has happened without any collaborations was intentional. Rodney, who earned his first top five single with Buddy Jewell‘s 2003 release “Sweet Southern Comfort,” encouraged both Brad and Galyon to pursue their songwriting separately to avoid the appearance that they were simply putting their names on his songs.
“If anything positive ever happened — which it did — she would share credit with her co-writers,” says Rodney of Galyon. “Nobody could say that she married a guy who already had a few hits and she was just riding his coattails. We wanted to avoid that happening so she could go out and make her mark and get credit for it.”
Rodney set an example for the other two, even if he tried to avoid meddling. Galyon had some writing in her background — she had been the yearbook editor during high school in Kansas — but she was pursuing artist management at Belmont University when the idea of writing songs took hold.
“Getting to know Rodney and getting to know a lot of other songwriters really opened my eyes to it,” she says. “So I was a closeted songwriter for many years, probably ’til I was about 21.”
Brad was meanwhile opposed to songwriting. He had watched his father commute from a farm in West Texas to Nashville to establish his career and was very aware of the financial uncertainties it entailed. That firsthand experience took away any fantasies that writing songs is an easy profession.
“That was a big part in the beginning that kept me at arms’ length,” says Brad, recalling his early resistance. “I always liked music, and I always played music, but I didn’t want to have to work that hard to maybe make it. More people fail than make it, and I was like, ‘There’s so many other things that I would love to do.’ ”
Oddly enough, Brad’s pursuit of a parks management degree at Middle Tennessee State University proved to be its own dead end. When he graduated, he met with a series of closed doors. Meanwhile, he had worked with his college roommate — Mitchell Tenpenny, who recently signed with Sony Music Nashville — as a songwriter and guitarist, and Brad got the bug. He valeted cars at the Omni Nashville Hotel and worked at a retail store to pay the bills while he honed his writing craft and eventually received several less favorable offers before he landed with Ashley Gorley‘s Taperoom Music. (Rodney writes for Big Loud; Galyon is signed with Warner/Chappell).
With all three now vying for singles, it creates some odd moments. Galyon says Florida Georgia Line’s “Smooth,” which she co-authored, was allowed to die in the teens when Brad’s “Up Down” began to take off for the duo. And one of her husband’s songs knocked her out of a prime position with an undisclosed artist.
“I got the phone call that my song was supposed to be the first single, and then they changed their minds and it was Rodney’s instead of mine, and then mine didn’t even make the record,” she recalls. “That stings, but it’s still my family and big picture, we [all] win when one of us wins.”
It creates other odd clashes, too, especially if Galyon and her husband hear a potential song title at the same time.
“There have definitely been moments where we look at each other and go, ‘First to write it wins,’ ” she says.
But there are side benefits, too. Since they all share a very unique career, they’re able to understand one another in ways that most non-writing family members would not. And now that they have begun to loosen their own restrictions and Rodney has written separately with each relative, they’re sharing in other ways. The second song Rodney wrote with Galyon, “Win Life,” is the closing track on Luke Bryan‘s What Makes You Country. And writing together allows them to see one another as co-workers — not just as relatives — though Brad suggests that writing with his dad creates some self-conscious moments.
“It’s not uncomfortable, but it is different than writing with other people,” says Brad. “I want to have good ideas and don’t want to say anything stupid. I don’t want to show off, but I do want to show up.”
Meanwhile, the family is well aware that it’s beating the odds by having three members simultaneously chart in country’s top 40.
“There’s way more players in the NBA,” says Rodney, “than there are successful songwriters.”