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An interview with Randy Goodrum

by Tom Redmond

Randy Goodrum
Randy Goodrum is a keyboardist, producer and songwriter who has written (or co-written) numerous popular songs, including Anne Murray's #1 hit "You Needed Me" (1978) and "Broken Hearted Me" (1979), Michael Johnson's "Bluer Than Blue" (1978), England Dan & John Ford Coley's "It's Sad To Belong" (1977), Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" (1984), DeBarge's "Who's Holding Donna Now", cowritten with David Foster and Jay Graydon, Toto's "I'll Be Over You" (1986) and Chicago's "If She Would Have Been Faithful..." (1987). He also co-wrote with Brent Maher some of Dottie West's hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including her No. 1 Country hit in 1980, "A Lesson in Leavin'".

He performed as a keyboardist on recordings by countless artists in a variety of genres of music including Chet Atkins, Roy Orbison, Dionne Warwick, Steve Perry, Earl Klugh, DeBarge, Al Jarreau, Steve Wariner, and George Benson.

Randy toured extensively with Chet Atkins and performed and produced cuts on many of Chet’s albums. As a co-writer with Chet Atkins, Randy wrote “To B or not to B” and “Waltz for the Lonely” among others. Randy’s song “So Soft Your Goodbye” won a Grammy award for Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler in 1991.

Randy Goodrum was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2000.

Randy divides his time between projects in the Los Angeles area and also in Nashville. His current CD “JaR” is a collaboration with songwriter Jay Graydon. For more information on Randy, visit www.randygoodrum.com or www.jarzone.com

TR: How did you get started with Chet?

RG: I played briefly on the road with Roy Orbison and I was playing on a Roy Orbison session with a guy named Steve Schaefer, and I told Steve that I had heard the piano player gig for Lynn Anderson was coming open. So I mentioned that and Steve told me, “You ought to go try out to play with Jerry Reed, I think he’d really like what you do.” So I went out there and Jerry was working on “Lightning Rod” while I was there. So I auditioned for Jerry learning how to play that song.

TR: How do you play Lightning Rod on the piano?

RG: I was just comping him. But I ended up writing and playing the bridge solo on the finished recording. They had the track cut, and I went over to this little studio with Jerry and Paul Yandell and I told them I had an idea for a solo in one spot, and they liked it and so I demoed it. Well, then they played it for Chet. After that they called me into the studio and I went in and sat down and played the piano part. And one thing I’ll never forget was the doubling.

TR: The doubling?

RG: In those days they would play a part in the studio, then play the exact solo over top of it on a different track to get a chorused effect. So I played the solo through and then when it was done Chet said, “Well that’s good, now why don’t you double it” and so I did and when they played both tracks back and they said “Something is wrong, we didn’t get the second one”. They saw the signal moving but they couldn’t understand why they couldn’t hear the doubling on the play back. Well it turns out it was an exact, virtually phase-locked double.

TR: You played it exactly the same when you were doubling the solo on a new track? I guess they were astounded at that.

RG: I don’t know if they were astounded but I could say impressed. Let’s put it this way, it wasn’t a bad day for me. But anyway that’s how I met Chet. Jerry had told him that I was a jazz player and Chet liked that and of course in those days Jerry was all over the place musically himself.

TR: Do you remember what year it was?

RG: 1974 or 75 maybe, I don’t know. After that I got a phone call from Chet’s secretary one day and she said “Are you booked at 2 o’clock on the 21st? Chet wants you over at Studio A at Columbia.”

And I was like “Oh my God, I am going to play a session for Chet Atkins!” I remember telling my wife that I thought this was way too much too soon.

So I went over there to studio A at Columbia at 2PM and nobody was there. So I thought I was in the wrong studio. I started thinking “Oh my God, I have had my shot and blown it all in the same day”.

Pretty soon Chet walks in. He was by himself and he sat down and took his guitar out of the case and had me sit down at the piano and I said “Are we going to do a session?” and he said, “No, I just want you to show me some things. I want to learn some new alternate chords, and new things I can play.”

So we sat down for about 2 hours and I showed him some voicings, alternate chords and some different scales; modal, diminished, etc.

I’ll never forget that after the session Chet and I got in an elevator and then in steps Porter Wagoner and Chet says, “Hey, I want you to meet my friend Randy - actually he’s my teacher!” and I called my Dad who was a guitar player later that day and said “Chet Atkins just called me his teacher!” I think my Dad dropped the phone. (laughing)

I had such a good rapport with him and also Jerry. We really saw eye to eye musically I think. They understood complex chord progressions and jazz. I don’t play jazz just because it’s flashy, but to me it touches the soul. The colorations if done carefully can make any song better. I felt like Chet and I just connected that way.

When we wrote “Waltz for the Lonely” it was like that. Chet could make you so much better and Chet and I wrote a lot of stuff together.

Video: Chet plays "Waltz for the Lonely"

TR: I was going to ask what it was like to collaborate with him as a songwriter.

RG: He and I shared one thing in common - we worshipped the melody. I was in a car with him one day and on radio there was a commercial and part of the music in it was the song “Take me out to the ballgame” and Chet made a comment about what a great melody it was and I thought maybe he was kidding. In my mind that song was kind of hokey and old fashioned, but then as I mentally stepped back and thought about it, it really is a good song, really, it is a good melody - a remarkable, unforgettable and perfectly designed melody. And Chet opened my eyes to that.

He used to say things or do things that would make you walk away smarter. You would leave a little bit better than when you got there.

TR: You wrote “Sunrise” which Chet did with George Benson on the Stay Tuned album and also “To B or not to B”. What is the story behind “To B or not to B?”

RG: He wanted to write something in the key of B. I’ll never forget that because I hated playing in the key of B. We came up with this cool little melody then tried to find little subtle things we could weave in to make it more interesting. We wrote a lot of songs together and a lot of them didn’t get recorded.

TR: What was your relationship with Chet like?

(L-R) Chet Atkins, Randy Goodrum, Earl Klugh, Fred Kewley
RG: I would get calls out of the blue from him and he would invite me over to hang out with him.

One time my wife Gail and I were sitting at home, I think we were doing something out on the porch when Chet drove up. This was a few years before his death when he had started using a cane.

He got out of his car and walked over and had a cassette player with him and he put a cassette in and played this beautiful song and I thought it was great and asked him what he wanted me to do with it and he said, “Nothing, I just wanted to share it with you - I thought this was something Randy and Gail Goodrum would like.” Then he got back in his car and drove off.

TR: He just wanted to share it with you because he thought you would like it.

RG: Precisely.

You know it really kind of affected me when he was let go at RCA. I saw a sea change in Nashville back then. I felt like that they were saying they did not want to get too innovative. That’s just my perspective because ever since then it has got so organized.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with organization and I don’t have a fight with Nashville. I certainly have made my way through the business but guys like Chet were real renaissance men. They had no fear in producing. They wanted Nashville to truly be a Music City.

Chet was the kind of person that made an impact because he was a southern man making real music. He wasn’t the guy trying to stamp out cookie cutter records that would be called “country”. He had the vision that he could cut anything and it would be a Nashville record, it would have that flavoring. He was willing to try anything; he just wanted to do good stuff.

Chet did “Chester and Lester” with Les Paul and produced so many diverse things - comedian Brother Dave Gardner, Roger Whitaker, Perry Como, Jerry Reed and all kinds of different people he thought were good. He did so much and they were all so good. I wish I knew what was happening in his mind when he left RCA as director of A&R. To me that was a real turning point for Nashville.

There were a bunch of folks who moved to Nashville that were hoping it would become the music center of America, not to make New York or LA go away but to make it a completely multifunctional city in the south so that you didn’t have to pick up and move your whole family. I have to say, after looking back at that era, that after Chet was fired from RCA, Nashville became a less-interesting city.



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