The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on Oct. 23 will induct Walt Aldridge as part of its 2017 class of honorees, alongside Jim McBride, Dewayne Blackwell, Tim Nichols and the late Vern Gosdin. Operated by the Nashville Songwriters Foundation, the hall of fame is dedicated to honoring Nashville’s songwriting legacy through preservation, education and celebration.
Aldridge chatted with Billboard about co-writing Ronnie Milsap’s hit “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” with Tom Brasfield — which went to No. 1 on Hot Country Songs and No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 — and the classic country hit he wishes he had written.
How did you get the news that you’ll be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame?
I got a call that I’d been nominated and I didn’t figure I’d make the cut. But I was here in Muscle Shoals [Alabama] where I live and when I finally got the call from Pat Alger [chairman of the Hall of Fame] that I had been elected. I was just floored. It’s quite a group of names to be mentioned among.
Tell me a little bit about your experience co-writing Ronnie Milsap’s “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.”
I owe a big debt of gratitude on that one to my co-writer and mentor Tom Brasfield. He was a guy who had already been writing some in town and took notice of what I was trying to do. He came to me and said, ‘You know, I think you have some great ideas. You just need some help from somebody who has some experience.’ And if I ever did anything right in my career, I listened to him when he said that.
Sometimes it’s hard to hear people when they say, ‘This is a good idea, but it’s not quite there.’ But he told me he thought he could help me write better songs. So we started rolling up our sleeves. We were both working regular day jobs. I was an assistant [recording] engineer and Tommy was, I think, doing some song plugging for another studio in town.
So after hours, we would write and it seemed like we wrote for almost a year every week. We would write these songs and I was kind of like the puppy dog. ‘Is this one good enough?’ And Tommy would say, ‘No we’re not quite there.’
Finally when we wrote that song Tommy said, ‘I think we’ve got something here,’ and he was a great sales person. He got in his car and went to Nashville and came back — within a week we had three people call. Alabama called. Milsap called and I think one other called. I forgot who it was but it just so happened that Ronnie called first.
It was a great lesson for me as far as knowing it’s one thing to have something that’s pretty good, but you’ve got to go that extra mile. Again, to Tommy’s credit, he knew what that extra mile was.
It became probably the biggest chart-topper that I ever had, my first country single, and because it was back in the days of crossover, it went top 5 on the pop chart. So by the time it was at its peak, it kind of became a game to me. We’d get in the car and I’d press the scan button and see if I could go all the way across the radio dial without hearing the song on some format. When it was at its peak, it was hard to do because it was playing on so many different formats. That became my entrée into Nashville and the country music business.
What was it about that particular song that had that broad appeal?
Like a lot of things that were popular, it was kind of hybrid. I always thought, when we were writing it, it was a Sam Cooke/James Taylor sort of melody. I was probably the guy who said let’s write a song called “I Can’t Get Over You” and Tommy would have been the guy that said ‘Well that’s been written a lot. How about you can’t get over me?’
He was one of those guys who taught me to kind of process things and think about them in different ways. And I think everybody secretly wanted to say it to somebody who was breaking up, ‘Well you can do that if you want to, but you’re going to always regret it for the rest of your life.’ And that’s a songwriter’s job, to say it in way that people don’t always know how to verbalize. So that when they hear it they say, ‘Yeah that’s it! That’s what I’ve been wanting to say to you!’
What song do you wished that you’d written and why?
“Mama Tried” [a No. 1 hit on Hot Country Songs for Merle Haggard in 1968] is a great country song. What I find on great songs so often, it’s sort of hard to observe the song separate from the singer and from the record. They are sort of all together and you can’t really imagine them apart. But when I hear that, that’s another perfect country song.
What has made that song so timeless?
You’ve got to believe that it’s true. I think that’s what all great songs have in common. You hear it and you don’t know if it’s true or not, but you believe it is and I think the artists of that time really had that in common. You feel like when Willie [Nelson] and Waylon [Jennings] and [Johnny] Cash and Merle [Haggard] and [Kris] Kristofferson [sing]. Those songs that they wrote were absolutely life stories and so you bought into it.
You bought into the fact that Johnny Cash was in Folsom Prison. I don’t know that country music is still that, and I’m not saying it’s bad or good. But during that era I think the old saying, ‘three chords and the truth’ was really king. It just felt true. All great songs felt like they had an air of authenticity to them that was not crafted or made up or twisted or concocted in any way. It came from a real place inside the writer and singer and that’s what I would say about “Mama Tried.” You’ve got to believe it’s his life story when you hear it.