Steve Charles—Last Friday Dan Couch ’89 was showing me around Nashville’s Music Row in the black pickup he bought with some of the money he’d earned from “Somethin’ ‘bout a Truck,” the first of two #1 Country hits he wrote with singer/songwriter Kip Moore. We’d just pulled out of the parking lot of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) at the intersection of Music Circle North and Music Circle East and were merging with traffic around the Buddy Killen Roundabout.
“Not exactly what you expected to see on Music Row?” Dan asked good-naturedly as we circled Musica, a sculpture of nude dancers that is the roundabout’s centerpiece.
Two hours earlier in a posh reception room BMI provided (thanks to Dan) for our interview for the next issue of Wabash Magazine, the former Wabash psych major and catcher for the Little Giants told me part of what has become one of the favorite “good guy finishes first” stories in Music City: How Dan left his lucrative job as a medical supplies salesman in Seattle in the early 1990s and moved to Nashville (via a long stay back in his hometown of Logansport, IN) to chase his dream of becoming “the next Garth Brooks,” an aspiration that changed to a focus on songwriting and has taken more than 10 years of hard work and faith to achieve.
Dan talked about his wife, Tina Marie, the sacrifices she made, how she continued to believe in him, even during a crucial moment when he doubted himself. And he spoke of friends who kept believing, too—guys like Wabash classmate Bill McManus, who he still talks with every morning (and called during our interview!).
But driving down Music Row, our conversation turned to potato chips.
More precisely, to his old job supplying a potato chip route in the Nashville area (at various times to make ends meet he also worked construction and tended bar, while Tina Marie works as a nurse.) He’d met a fellow aspiring writer on that chip route. Dan would finish around noon, clear the chips out of the car, pick up his friend, and drive to a songwriter’s circle to play his songs and listen to others’.
“I was overwhelmed by this place when I first came here,” Dan admitted. Driving up and down Music Row, it’s easy to see why: Nashville may be the most competitive music market in the world right now, with the largest concentration of songwriters in the country. The Tin Pan Alley of our day. Don’t let the modest two story homes converted to office space and the relative scarcity of multi-story corporate buildings on Music Row fool you; behind those quaint doors are some of the biggest labels and names in music, not to mention all the people who support this industry. Jobs (song pitchers and pluggers?) I’d never heard of.
Statistically speaking, the former Little Giant baseball player would have had a better shot at making the major leagues than being paid full-time as a songwriter in Nashville.
He knows that. But there’s gratitude, not boasting, in his voice. He’s thankful to do what he loves for a living (he’s old school, too—eschewing computers for the feel of pencil and paper, and his song notebooks read like a journal of each year’s work.)
He’s grateful for those who helped him learn his craft and those who write alongside him now. He counts the trust he and Moore have in each other as a great gift that gives both the freedom to be their most creative.
Most of all, there’s Tina Marie.
You’ll meet her some day,” Dan promised during our interview as he fretted to find the words to do her justice.
Not unlike the way he struggled a couple of years ago on the sixth-floor terrace of the BMI building, when he and Moore were being celebrated for hitting #1 with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.”
CMT News saw it this way: Couch was so overwhelmed at having finally achieved success as a songwriter, he could hardly get through his comments to the crowd.
“My wife and I always believed I could get here,” he said looking out toward his family standing near the front of the stage. “She gave me three wonderful kids. Life is good.”
The lyrics to his second #1 hit with Moore, “Hey Pretty Girl,” get to the heart of it. Lines like:
Life’s a lonely, winding ride
Better have the right one by your side.
“I like to say that song is about who I found, and the kind of person Kip hopes to find someday,” Dan said.
There’s a 19th century poem titled “Ode” inscribed in large letters in the BMI lobby. I photographed Dan in front of it because I read the opening lines—“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” When I was reviewing those photos after I left Nashville, I realized that in several, Dan is walking toward these words:
“One man with a dream, shall go forth and conquer.”
“Dirt Road,” another song that Dan wrote with Moore (and Westin Davis), debuted Monday as a single from Moore’s upcoming second album with MCA. The song has been a fan favorite at Moore’s live shows, the young singer/songwriter was a nominee this year for the Academy of Country Music’s New Artist of the Year, and he’ll be playing that song a lot when he tours in May with Tim McGraw.
None of this guarantees that “Dirt Road” will hit #1 or even climb the charts. But, as we like to say, Wabash always fights.
Nashville was my second stop photographing and interviewing Wabash alumni for the upcoming music issue of Wabash Magazine. A week earlier we were backstage with Ben Kitterman ’06, the classically trained musician and steel guitar/dobro player turned tour bus driver turned musical sideman turn bandleader for Aaron Lewis. (Watch Ben’s arrangement for Lewis and the band of Sheryl Crowe’s “Strong Enough.”
Saturday we spent a late night photographing luthier and violinist Dan Gillespie ’08 at the Galway Arms in Chicago, where he was playing fiddle with his band Can I Get an Amen as part of a raucous folk collective called Old Lazarus’ Harp (Listen to their amazing music at: https://soundcloud.com/can-i-get-an-amen
On my way there stopped by campus to cover chemistry/music major Taylor Neal ’14 at his remarkable composition recital, and topped it all off with Beethoven at Sunday’s Chamber Orchestra Concert.
Here’s a photo album from several of those visits: http://www.wabash.edu/photo_album/home.cfm?photo_album_id=3836