Some of us heard Bruce Lee tell this story of his ex-wife’s songwriting debut.Â Here’s, the rest of the story.Â Go toÂ Billings Gazette Online.Â Â to hear a sample of her song and to read reader comments.Â Great job Terry (and Bruce on the melody).
ED KEMMICK Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 11:15 pm
Right connections help lyricist get her work recorded and on radio
Terry Zee Lee has been a leather clothing designer, the owner of a horse-drawn trolley and carriages and the organizer of a series of kite exhibits at the Billings Logan International Airport.
She’s still trying to get used to thinking of herself as a country music songwriter.
So far she’s a one-hit wonder, which isn’t bad considering she has written only two songs. She started writing the first one, “Heroes and Horses,” 17 years ago, and at first it was going to be purely about horses.
“The idea came into my mind that there had never been a song listing all the horse breeds,” said the lifelong horsewoman. In time, she began adding the names of late, great country singers and Western painters, imagining them up in heaven with various horses – Will James on a Paso Fino, Johnny Cash and June Carter on geldings and so on.
She sent it off to a few country singers over the years, with no luck. Then, last spring, with the encouragement of her husband, Drake Smith, she asked Billings country disc jockey Lonnie Bell for some advice.
Bell, who seems to know just about everybody in Nashville, sent her to Gene Kennedy, the owner of Door Knob Records, billed as the oldest independent record label in the Music City.
Kennedy liked the lyrics to “Heroes and Horses,” and asked her to get someone to write a melody for it and he’d give it another look. Lee recruited her ex-husband, Bruce Lee, a flat-picking guitarist in Billings, who came up with an old-fashioned waltz melody for the lyrics. He also gave her rights to the song.
That was in February. When Kennedy heard the song, Lee said, he invited her to Nashville. As a newbie, she had to pay her own way down and pay $3,000 for the studio time. Kennedy’s role would be to record, produce and promote the song.
Kennedy said 90 percent of the songwriters he works with are established artists. He said Lee would never have been one of the 10 percent who come in “off the street” if it hadn’t been for his friendship with Bell.
Kennedy originally hoped to have the song sung by Tommy Cash, Johnny’s brother, but he had a conflict at the last minute. As an alternative, Kennedy brought in Ernie Miller, who sings in Kennedy’s church but had never recorded a song before. The closest he’d been to the music industry was driving buses for various stars, including Ozzy Osbourne.
Lee flew to Nashville with her husband, daughter and granddaughter, and they all got to watch the song being made. Just before they went down, Kennedy told her she might want to write another song, since the studio was booked for eight hours and she might as well get her money’s worth. It took her relatively little time to come up with “Twenty-two Years Ago.”
“One takes 17 years. The other takes seven days,” she said.
After getting both songs recorded with a studio full of experienced musicians, Kennedy sent out copies of the song to 200 radio stations in April. To Lee’s delight, it soon made the Country Main Chart and has been climbing ever since.
Kennedy said the Country Main is a chart for mostly new artists and independent labels, tracking song plays on “secondary market” radio stations. If a song reaches the range of No. 30 to 25, he said, it will probably get onto the Billboard country chart, the industry standard.
As of Tuesday, Kennedy said, “Heroes and Horses” was No. 37 on the Country Main Chart. And in Japan, it was No. 4 on the play list of Real Country, one of the larger country music stations in that country.
Bell said the Japanese have long been big fans of country music. When he was in the Navy in 1958, he said, “they was playing country music in Japan like you couldn’t believe.”
Under her arrangement with Door Knob Records, Lee gets a nickel every time the song is played on one of the radio stations. This week it was averaging 1,400 plays a week. She’s not getting rich, but she’s still amazed.
“I can’t really appreciate it because I’ve never done anything like this,” she said.
Kennedy said the one who really appreciates it is Ernie Miller, the singer.
“He’s on cloud nine,” he said. “Cloud nine. He just never expected this.”
Â Posted in Local on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 11:15 pm Updated: 9:50 am. | Tags: Terry Zee Lee