Thursday, July 19, 2012

UNO Alumnus Tops The Charts

mccormicNashville songwriter and University of New Orleans alumnus Jim McCormick co-wrote this week's number one country song in America -- and on Monday, saw another song that he helped to write released as a single by country rock mega-star Jason Aldean. 

Nashville songwriter and University of New Orleans alumnus Jim McCormick is sitting high in the saddle this week. He co-wrote this week’s number one country song in America -- and on Monday, saw another song that he helped to write released as a single by country rock mega-star Jason Aldean. That tune quickly soared past pop hits to number one on iTunes all-genre singles charts.

“I really think that having gotten the exposure to the great poems and the great writers and the reading skills and the critical abilities that I did at UNO certainly gives me an enormous left hook when it comes to writing songs,” said McCormick, who received a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from UNO in 1994 and matriculated from the University’s first Creative Writing Workshop.

“Because of that program, I feel that I have, you know, a very fortunate grasp on a lot of things literary, and, you know, that most songwriters might not have. It allows me to bring to the table in my collaborations this sort of skill set and this tool box that I try to make use of.”

While he does not apply the tone or content of American poetry directly to country music songs, McCormick said, the collaboration, creative writing and critical reading skills that he gained during his graduate studies and days as a teaching assistant at UNO have served him well in his songwriting career -- as have years of practice writing within strict forms, such as the sonnet or villanelle.

“It’s a muscle. Your ability to create and understand metaphor and other poetic and rhetorical devices is a muscle, and I think that you’re either going to keep that muscle in shape or you’re going to let it atrophy,” he said. “I think I’ve been very fortunate to have studied like I did at UNO and had that introduction to a lifelong study and companionship of poetry that continues to this day and forms my ability to write, I think, on a daily basis, the songs that I do.”

McCormick, who graduated in 1986 from Jesuit High School in New Orleans and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in 1990, is now a staff songwriter at BMG Chrysalis Music Group in Nashville, Tenn. Top-line country music stars regularly seek him out as a collaborator, due to his lyric-writing abilities and the high volume of successful work that he has produced.

He has written top hits performed by Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, Luke Bryan, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap, Rodney Atkins, Jamey Johnson, Anders Osborne, Amanda Shaw and many others. He writes more than 150 songs per year, working from a notebook of thoughts, titles and ideas extending more than 600 pages, and cuts major publishing deals for his songs about six or seven times a year. He has seen three of his songs released this year as country radio singles – a beyond-impressive record in today’s high-dollar entertainment industry.

Topping country music charts this week is “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” recorded by and co-written with Brantley Gilbert. The single appeared earlier this year on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart at the same time as “When I Get It,” a song that McCormick co-wrote with Craig Campbell.

On Monday, New Orleans radio station WNOE and Clear Channel sister stations across America played “Take a Little Ride with Me,” written by McCormick, Dylan Altman, Rodney Clawson and recorded by Aldean, every hour, on the hour. Expected to be another hit, the song is among the first that Aldean has released in three years and will appear on a new album expected to hit the market in October.

McCormick’s song, "We Rode in Trucks," written together with Roger Murrah and mega-star Luke Bryan, made the Top 40 in 2007. “Good Times Ain’t What They Used to Be,” co-written with Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson, appears on “The Guitar Song,” a Jamey Johnson album and Grammy finalist in 2011.

McCormick, who has released two albums of his own and is now working on a third, now serves on the board of governors for the Recording Academy, or the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, a U.S. organization of musicians, producers, recording engineers and other recording professionals dedicated to improving the quality of life and cultural condition for music and its makers. He is a member of Leadership Music’s class of 2013, and this fall will teach a course on the business of songwriting at Loyola University New Orleans.

But he is quick to tell aspiring amateurs that success as a nationally recognized songwriter does not come easily or overnight. He spent years writing songs and poems, playing in a band, then painting houses and hanging sheetrock in New Orleans and driving once a month to Nashville while pursuing his passion.

“I think that if you can identify what you love doing in this life and you are fortunate to find some way to synchronize a way to make money with that thing that you love: Glory, hallelujah,” said McCormick.

“Because you’ll probably be awesome at it, eventually. Not that it’s not going to take an awful lot of hard work to get good. But you’ll probably be awesome at it one day. And at least, along the way, during all the days that it takes grit to keep going, because you’re getting your teeth kicked in, and you have to keep smiling, at least during those years, you’ll still be able to get up out of bed and try to go to work again. To try it again.”

To learn more about McCormick’s journey to Nashville, read the next issue of the UNO Magazine. Or keep up with him at