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Great songwriters without big names

By guest columnist R. Shaw Furlow

Great songwriters without big names
Libby Rae Watson

I’ve tried nearly my whole life to turn out that perfect song, the one audiences knew and sang along to. That one song that the audience comes to hear. Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. But, that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Every time I get an idea I think this may be the one. My "American Pie" or "Hotel California" is just a few chord changes away.

I've discovered since retiring from Co-Lin that I'm not the only one. I have made a whole new group friends in the songwriters community, particularly since starting the Overbrook Songwriters Festival, which will run for the third time in Brookhaven in August. I’ve asked a few of them to help me tell the story of songwriting. They haven’t had big hits, and you don’t know their names. They have regular jobs and write when possible. But their music is great, and all they want to do is to share it with you.

Nancy Bryant Roppolo and her husband Joe own a nursery in St. Francisville, Louisiana. They play together in a couple of bands, and she has a solo act. Nancy is a mult-instrumentalist and plays piano in her church. Roppolo wrote her first song at the age of twelve and performed it in a school talent show. In the 44 years that have followed, she has written hundreds of songs. “It’s hard to define my style," she says. "It’s rootsy, bluesy, country and gospelly. They call it Americana these days.”

Garbriel Bass is the youngest. For the most part, the songwriters telling their stories in this column have been creating their songs longer than Gabriel has been alive. Bass, from Natchez, is a physical therapist and gigs every weekend. He is a talented songwriter with more depth than most writers his age. “The first song I wrote was eight years ago sitting around a campfire," he says. "I decided the old bridge on my road needed an eerie story, so I wrote "The Bridge of Curly Jones," a song about a man who haunts the old bridge. Turns out Curly worked for the City of Natchez, heard the song and liked it and I was honored.” Now Bass has thirty songs that are finished, and hundreds more unfinished. His style ranges from Americana, country ( not pop country), rock and soul. “My message is that your song may touch someone who needs it," he says. "Music is the key of life.”

Libby Rae Watson, Pascagoula, is a performer. That’s her job. She has written or co-written hundreds of songs over the span of her career. Watson, known as one of the women of the blues, has toured the world proclaiming Mississippi’s birthright as home of the blues. “I’ve been writing songs for over fifty years, don’t consider myself a songwriter, but rather someone who writes songs. I’m not a wordsmith with clever lyrics. My songs are about people and their stories.” The word Americana comes up again. Watson’s new album is with Burt Deivert includes cuts from her buddy, fellow Mississippian and harpist Charlie Musselwhite. You can download the music of all these artists on streaming services, and Roppolo, Hailey and Bass will perform at the Overbrook Songwriters Festival in Brookhaven on August 6. Check Watson's website to see where she will be on the road.

That’s it for now. Next month, the Brookstock Music Festival returns to Brookhaven. Until then, support the arts, my friends.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region. Bob Arnold is Editor of the Wesson News.


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