George Strait's fast-rising single, "Desperately" was inspired by the divorce songwriter Monte Warden went through a few years back. Warden later wrote the song with Bruce Robison. Monte was thrilled when Strait recorded and finally released the song as a single, and tells us exclusively that he was able to tell thank Strait in person last week at the Houston Livestock and rodeo show.
"We got to Houston in the afternoon and left the baby at my sister's," Warden says. "After getting to Reliant arena we were taken back to the Meet and Greet and were told to wait as George wanted to talk to us. My two older boys, Van and Sam, went up to him first and said 'Hello Mr. Strait.' My 10 year-old, Sam, said, 'Thanks for the cut, Mr. Strait,' which cracked George up! I said thanks too and George replied, 'Hey, great song--thank YOU'...I was floored," Monte recounts.
Warden adds, "My wife Brandi, introduced herself and told George thanks for sendin' the kids to college. George laughed real hard at that too. The boys got autographs and a picture made and then right before I left George said 'Hey, Monte--Go on back to work and write me another.'
I told him I'll try REAL hard. He was as sweet and gracious as a person could be. The show was AMAZING and hearing 'Desperately' with my family was one of the highlights of my VERY blessed life," Warden says gleefully.
"Desperately" is the 8th cut on the "Honkytonkville" album, a new Strait single riding the top of the charts! George's new album is on MCA Records; also available at . georgestrait.com The Story of "Desperately"
I was goin' through a very sad, sudden divorce when my wife of ten years left our two sons and me for another man. Because of that hurt I was drinkin' and runnin' around too much and thankfully, had a great friend like Bruce Robison. I would spend a lot of time over at he and his wife Kelly's home and they would let me talk, cry,just be, whatever....One mornin' Bruce and I were havin' coffee and I told him what hurts most are the little things like learnin' to make coffee for one and how desperately I missed my wife. He said "Man as awful as that is, we could at least try and make some of this rhyme'." :-) --- We weren't even planning on writing that day at all, but we sat down with our guitars and wrote DESPERATELY in less than two hours. We knew it was good but had no idea how good until we started playin' it for others. Everyone was blown away by it and we knew we had somethin' special.
Fast forward five years from writing DESPERATELY -- I am happily remarried to a wonderful woman I met in Nashville, and we moved her here to Austin. She became my music publisher in 2002. One night we were out at supper with Kelly and Bruce. Brandi (my wife) said, "I have a silly question, how many times has 'Desperately' been pitched to Strait? It's perfect for him." Bruce said, "I have a sillier answer, ZERO!" Brandi sent the song up that next Monday, and on that Friday we got a call from MCA saying the song was on 'hold' for George -- meaning we promise not to pitch it anywhere else until they give us an answer and they promise to really look closely at the song -- it's a decades long industry standard practice. Well, we were thrilled but a lot of songs get put on hold for a Strait record...Anyway that Monday -- three days later -- we got a call from Bruce who was in Nashville early that morning and he said "Didja hear?" We said "What?" -- honestly thinkin' we lost the hold -- ONLY because holds are let go quickly. "He cut our song this morning -- it was on the album's first session!!!" My wife started crying, I started crying..:-) When the kids came home from school, they were so happy. We heard Tony Brown played the song for George the Friday night before the session and George loved it. I haven't met George, but I sure can't wait to shake his hand and thank him for changing my life.
We got to Houston in the afternoon and left the baby at my sister's. After getting to Reliant Stadium (where the gig was), we were taken back to the M&G --- we were asked to wait until the end as George wanted to talk with us(!). :-) My 2 older boys, Van and Sam, went up to him first and said "Hello Mr. Strait." My ten year old Sam, said "Thanks for the cut, Mr. Strait" which cracked George up! I said thanks too and George replied, "Hey, Great song -- thank YOU." I was floored. My wife Brandi introduced herself and told George SHE got the song to him and THANKS for sendin' the kids to college. George laughed real hard at that too. The boys got autographs and a picture made and then right before I left George said "Hey, Monte -- Go on back to work and write me another." I told him "I'll try REAL hard." He was as sweet and gracious as a person could be. The show was AMAZING and hearing DESPERATELY with my family was one of the highlights of my VERY blessed life.
"Desperately" was a song her husband Monte Warden and his writing partner/best friend Bruce Robison composed in the Nineties. The Tennessee-born former schoolteacher comes by her instincts naturally as the third generation in a songwriting dynasty. Her résumé includes stints in Nashville at Decca Records' A&R department and later in Austin as manager of Arlyn and Pedernales studios. Once married, she started Moonkiss publishing for her husband's songs.
Monte Warden is a native Austinite with a textbook music career, playing professionally since his early teens. In 1983 at the age of 15, he won his first career notices as the Austin Music Awards' Best New Band for Whoa, Trigger! Later that decade, he formed one of the prototypes of modern "alt.country" in Austin's Wagoneers, then embarked on a successful songwriting career that included "Just to Hear Your Voice." With 245 work titles listed on the BMI Web site, his songs have been recorded by the likes of Toni Price and Patty Loveless, and he sports a gold record for "I Wish I Was Wrong" on Travis Tritt's Down the Road I Go.
Robison, who's penned songs for the Dixie Chicks ("Traveling Soldier"), Lee Ann Womack ("Lonely Too"), and Tim McGraw ("Angry All the Time"), hails from Bandera, just outside San Antone. He's released critically acclaimed albums of his own and co-written with the likes of Allison Moorer and Dixie Chick Martie Seidel. That's no surprise as Bruce's brother Charlie is married to Seidel's Chick sister Emily. It's a cozy extended family.
By coincidence, Mike Owens, A&R man for Universal South, had Robison's version of "Desperately." Owens' wife had played the song repeatedly and urged him to consider it for George Strait's new album Honkytonkville. Owens did just that.
The Monday after Willis' birthday, Brandi Warden sent the song to producer Tony Brown in Nashville. By Thursday, "Desperately" had a hold placed on it, and on Friday, it was played for George Strait. The tracks for Honkytonkville had already been chosen, but Strait gave the nod to "Desperately."
The last song picked was the first recorded the following week. On their November 2003 anniversary, the Wardens toasted not just marital bliss but George Strait. Jan. 17, 2004, "Desperately" entered the country music charts at No. 56.
During his SXSW interview two weeks ago, one-time Rolling Stones manager-producer Andrew Loog Oldham reiterated the golden rules of songwriting: "Use words, thoughts, and phrases from everyday language. 'Baby, I love you.' Brilliant."
It's a lesson Monte Warden knows well. For country audiences, hits are usually simple and formulaic, with a wide margin for ballads, religious songs, and novelty tunes. At a songwriting session in the winter of 1997, Warden expressed to his friend Robison a longing for the comforts of life before his then recent divorce, a desire he felt, well, desperately. Robison's solution was pragmatic.
"'If you're going to be this miserable, make it rhyme,'" recounts Warden, chuckling. "In two hours, we were done. It's one of the few songs I've ever written that not one word was changed. No rewrite, no nothing. I love co-writing. I love the challenge of it.
"It means," he states with conviction, "that forever after, I have had 'The Hit.' People at Wal-Mart can hum that song. That's what I've wanted my whole life. It's a nice feeling, young at 36. I've felt old at 34."
"'Angry All the Time' changed my life and made people look at me in a different way," he states simply. "Nashville is all about success. That's the measure of a song. You can write a song like 'I Sure Do Like Shopping at Sears,' and it could be the dumbest song on the planet, but if it's a Top 10 hit, that's all that matters there. It's the business of music."
For Brandi Warden, a hit song means something different. The song publishing business lies at the opposite side of the industry she was raised in. Still, during her years in Nashville, she witnessed firsthand how songs were presented what worked and what didn't.
"My business is to get people to cut my songs, and every success in that realm helps. I was maintaining a good reputation as a songwriter in Nashville, but put in a place outside the commercial realm. Part of my struggle has been to change the perception that my songs are good but don't sell lots of records.
Little more than 25 years ago, he was playing San Marcos' Cheatham Street Warehouse weekly with Ace in the Hole Band. Fifty-seven million records later, he is, in every sense of the word, a superstar. George Strait has 25 platinum albums, four American Music Awards, 11 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 15 Country Music Association Awards.
"She'll Leave You With a Smile" was Strait's 50th No. 1 single on both the country and R&R charts. In reaching that milestone, Strait surpassed Conway Twitty, who racked up 49 No. 1 solo singles. Strait had his 50th at the age of 50, and if "Desperately" goes No. 1, he'll have had his 51st at age 51. And George Strait wants it as much as his label.
That's good news for the songwriters, says composer and Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson, who, like Warden and Robison, plays the Nashville game living in Austin. He says the key to success is radio.
"Here's one little math lesson. If they sell a million records and the rate per song is somewhere around 8 or 9 cents, that's about $800,000 split two ways, and the publisher gets a share. That's on a million-seller record. But the performance rights when it gets played on radio the BMI/ASCAP dollars are in the six figures for both for the life of the song."
"People say you have to be up-tempo and positive to get a song on the charts," Robison explains. "Believe me, I've tried and have had no success except with my most depressing stuff, so my success has been the exception rather than the rule. Dixie Chicks' and Tim McGraw's number one hits were among my least commercial songs.
"Garth Brooks recorded one of my songs, and the record went on to sell millions of copies. He recorded the song months before and kicked it off the CD at the last second. For months, I was twisting in the wind."
Robison is entitled to note Brooks' diminishing popularity, especially as Strait's is rock-solid. Honkytonkville is currently No. 25 on the Billboard country album charts, one of three Strait titles there. For a songwriter like Robison, it's a good place to be.
Bruce and Kelly are parents of a toddler and nearly year-old twins, and they guard their family time carefully. He never had much use for the star-making machinery of Nashville anyway and admits he doesn't do the things that put him in the spotlight.
"The Chicks are one of the biggest acts on the planet, and when they go to work, they work at a pace I can't imagine. I can see the dedication it takes to get to that level. I've never worked that hard at my career in my life. When it comes to visiting radio stations, doing the roadwork, and all the legwork it takes to sell lots of records and get songs on the radio, I'm reluctant to do any of that crap."
Monte Warden is not reluctant to do the PR, but he's likewise a family man. Van and Sam, sons from his first marriage, are well-mannered young men concerned mostly with school. Warden takes the greatest fatherly pride in sharing with them his own best moments.
One of those moments occurred in February, when Monte and his sons stood at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and watched George Strait perform "Desperately" before a cheering crowd of 60,000. Van, who has Down Syndrome, is the household's biggest Strait fan, but it was young Sam who announced to anyone within earshot, "My daddy wrote that song!"
And late last year, Monte and Brandi had their own son, Brooks Warden. Brooks is better known to the family as "Caterpillar," which sounds like nothing so much as the name of a fourth-generation songwriter.
"My work is done," declares Brandi, and as publisher, it is. Strait's label will continue to promote the song and urge its rise. Still, the good fortune and excitement of being so close to the ultimate success keeps her grounded, as do baby duties.
George Strait has the No. 7 country single in America this week -- a song about heartache and separation called "Desperately." There's a man in Austin who feels a smile in his heart every time he hears it. His name is Monte Warden.
Warden wrote "Desperately" with his friend Bruce Robison more than seven years ago. And while Robison and his wife, Kelly Willis, have enjoyed much acclaim as performers and writers over the past several years, this is clearly Monte Warden's career moment . . . especially since this quintessential Nashville ballad about losing love and living alone was inspired by his heartache, and his divorce.
"This is my lifelong dream," says Warden, 37, referring to the circumstance of a country music star picking up one of his tunes as a single. "To get any cut is a miracle. To get a George Strait cut is the miracle of miracles."
Monte Warden isn't just pleased by this good fortune. The man is filled with so much boyish excitement that he can barely sit still. As they tell the story of "Desperately," Warden and new wife Brandi -- who is forever feeding and bouncing and toting their infant son Brooks -- pace about excitedly in the living room of their South Austin home. "I hope this doesn't make you nervous, us walking around all the time like this."
Who among us wouldn't be excited? Warden has devoted 20 years of his life to writing and performing music, paying his dues. He is Austin through and through, that rare member of the local music scene who was actually born and raised here. In the 1980s, Warden fronted a band called the Wagoneers, and in the 1990s, he released three solo albums. And while Nashville recognizes him as a songwriter who once placed a tune ("I Wish I Was Wrong") on a Travis Tritt album, Austin music lovers know him best as the man who wrote "Just to Hear Your Voice" -- one of the most beautiful songs Toni Price has ever recorded.
When it comes to country music, Warden likes it served with a restless dash of West Texas rock 'n' roll. "My taste in music runs from Buddy Holly all the way to the Crickets," he says with a playful smile. Warden's passion for the legacy of Holly is second only, perhaps, to his fascination with Texas history. Roots matter to him. He does most of his writing, in fact, at McKinney Falls State Park. A place to stay grounded.
Warden is enough the storyteller to appreciate that the history of "Desperately" is a fascinating tale in its own right. Wanna know "Eight Easy Steps to Country Music Nirvana?" Monte Warden can tell you.
The first working lyric hook of "Desperately" -- about the early morning pangs of "making coffee for one" -- reflected the real-life heartache of Warden's own divorce in 1996. "It was those little rituals that were the hardest part for me," he says. "The entire concept of making coffee for one: I remember thinking, 'How do you do that?' "
During those first difficult months of divorce, Warden sought comfort at Robison's house. Yet he was inconsolable. Concerned, Robison said to him, "Look, if you're going to be this miserable, the least we can do together is try to set it to rhyme." And so it was that a song was born. . . .
Robison liked their new tune so much he included it on his breakout "Wrapped" CD in 1998. From the beginning, he treated "Desperately" with a touch of Nashville sheen. Kelly Willis sang harmony vocals. Hearing Robison sing that hook --"Desperately, I long to feel your touch; you left me all alone in love . . ." -- it's hard to deny that his rendition of "Desperately" is the definitive one.
Warden was visiting Nashville in the summer of 1997, shopping songs, having a hard time making an impression, when he met the woman who would become his second wife at an industry party at a Hard Rock Cafe. It was love at first sight. Even so, Warden didn't see Brandi right away. There was a distraction. . . . "The only reason I went to the party that night was because a friend told me they had Buddy Holly's sweater on display at the Hard Rock," says Warden, grabbing one of his Holly CDs and pointing to the singer's taupe sweater. "I mean: It was this sweater. The sweater. I was looking at it, thinking, 'That looks like a size 42. Why, I bet it would even fit me . . .' "
As fate would have it, Brandi Warden grew up in a family of country music songwriters. Her father, her uncle, her grandparents: All of them were writers. Brandi was doing promotional work for the Decca label, in Nashville, when she met Warden. A few years after their marriage in 1999, she started her own publishing company -- Moonkiss -- and began pitching her husband's songs to the finest artists in Nashville.
Brandi really, really liked "Desperately." She thought it perfect for George Strait from the instant she typed the song lyrics into her home computer. "It was truly an epiphanic moment," she says. Brandi could imagine Strait singing it in a video. . . .
"I have a silly question," she asked Bruce Robison at dinner one night -- and this was important, for Robison was the man who would sell "Traveling Soldier" to the Dixie Chicks. "How many times has 'Desperately' been pitched to Strait?"
The Wardens got the call, out of the blue, on a Friday: Strait was interested in "Desperately" -- and asked permission to put a "hold" on it while he made up his mind whether he wanted to record it. But when Strait's office phoned again only three days later, Monte Warden was visibly upset to hear back so soon. "C'mon," he was thinking, "At least sleep on it a little bit more before calling us to tell us 'No." Warden had it all wrong. Nashville was calling to say Strait had recorded the song over the weekend. It would appear on his new studio album "Honkytonkville." A few months later, the Wardens received a second call: "Desperately" was going to be a single.
What does it mean to have George Strait turn one of your compositions into a hit single? "Monte puts it in a real neat way," says Brandi Warden. "An album cut on a George Strait record means you can get some real nice things for your home. But a single? A single will get you a nice new home. . . . I think Momma is going to be looking for a nice Spanish-style house very soon now."
The truth of the matter? The saddest circumstance of Monte Warden's life has been turned into a song that has brought him great material pleasure. Even when he sings its lonesome lines -- "I watch the sun goin' down, there ain't nobody around" -- Warden can't help but smile. "I'm just not in that place anymore."
When George Strait performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo two months ago, Monte Warden took his wife and children -- he has two sons by his first marriage -- to see the country music icon perform at Reliant Stadium. When Strait played "Desperately," one of Warden's sons exclaimed, "That's my daddy's song!" to anyone who would listen.
"My dreams are a lot different than other musicians in this neck of the woods. At least, I'll admit 'em," says Warden, knowing that the success of the Strait single affords him new credibility as a potential songwriter for big names around Nashville. "I want success on a large scale. I want to sell millions of records. I want everyone in America humming one of my songs. I want 'Desperately' to be the start of something, not the culmination."
NASHVILLE, TN Friday 5.14.2004 /netmusiccountdown.com/ -- When George Strait's office in Nashville received a box of 6-ft. Wrangler George Strait cardboard stand-up cutouts, they immediately separated one of them out and sent it to Texas, to the home of writer/performer, Monte Warden (co-writer of "Desperately"). It was addressed to his son, Van, who is a huge Strait fan and who's birthday was May 9. Monte and his family were touched by the gesture.
"These folks are beyond sweet and thoughtful. With his Down's (syndrome), Van has daily challenges we will never know -- but he had not a care in the world when he opened the BIG box from Nashville. I said, 'Son, this is from Mr. Strait's office.' You shoulda seen his smile."