Inspiration for some of the songs written by Bobby Keel simply came from every day life experiences and things he heard people say one way but were really meant in another way. "I take everyday conversations about life and turn them into songs," he said. On Saturday, May 5, Keel performed for a quaint and enthusiastic audience in the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church in Clinton.
The accomplished songwriter began his career at the age of 17. Writing now for almost 43 years, he first felt the desire to write songs when he was much younger. "I started picking up melodies when I was five," he said. He began playing the piano at the age of three and has written many of his most popular songs while hammering them out on the ebony and ivory keys.
During the concert, which was sponsored by the Hickman County Arts Council, Greg's Supermarket, and Ruby Faye's, Keel had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he played a variety of songs from gospel, country and more. He did it all while he strummed his guitar and told little tidbits about his life, his parents and some of the other songwriters he has collaborated with over the years.
"My favorite songs to write are ballads," he said. "I love to make people smile." Many of his songs are in the country genre, and inspirational gospel songs are also near and dear to the talented songwriter. He has written songs for The Carter Family, Tom Jones, Albert King, Kid Rock, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Confederate Railroad and many, many more.
The songwriter, who was on hand earlier in the day to mentor aspiring songwriters during a workshop held from 3 to 5 p.m. believes everyone should pursue their dreams. "My advice is to get a real job and stay away from it," he said jokingly. "I wouldn't tell them not to pursue their dreams. I followed mine. They are their dreams to pursue. It is your rodeo, ride it."
Keel discussed the creative writing process with those who attended the workshop. He also answered questions about how songwriters can get their songs recorded.
Writing songs is like laying out a storyboard to Keel. "I know how the song is going to end and where it is going before I finish it, sometimes writing the last verse first," he said. "If it is a good, strong idea, I can write the song anywhere even if I am in the middle of a boxing match."
Keel has toured with an assortment of bands and singers like Hank Williams, Jr. Lynard Skynard and Confederate Railroad. "I have played for a crowd of 150,000 people," he said. "I have even played for a small group of 15. I like the interaction with a small, intimate group. I am drawn to the one on one affect. When you play for a huge crowd, you can't even see pass the first three rows."
Saturday night's crowd in Clinton was the perfect size for Keel as he began the evening with a couple of gospel songs that he wrote including one based on Adam and Eve from the book of Genesis.
The acoustic setting was ideal as he sang about taking care of your own yard by watering it and worrying less about others and also his own version of Dr. Ralph Stanley's tune "Oh Death or A Visit from Death."
Having the privilege of recording a cd in the Alamo, Keel sang a couple of songs about Davy Crockett. "It was a challenge to record there," he said. "It was a somber event and one I am so glad I was privileged to experience."
Keel thinks gospel songs are the easiest to write "as long as you don't get in the way," he said. "I have also written a song about art." Keel loves art and sang a song that included the phrase "picture perfect portrait for my frame of mind."
In June, Keel will be playing in Austin at the Micky Newberry festival. "Everyone should spend a good rainy day listening to Micky Newberry songs,"Keel recommended as he sang some of the verses from a few Newberry songs. With each song Keel sang the audience learned more about the songwriter who likes to take everyday happenings and turn them into songs everyone loves to hear. One that was a big hit for several singers was about his mother, which got the crowd clapping along as he sang.
Merle Kilgore, a mentor to Keel, who passed away a few years ago wrote "Wolverton Mountain" and "Ring of Fire." Keel sang "Ring of Fire" for everyone as he asked them to sing along with him.
The last song he sang was another inspirational song sung by many, Amazing Grace. He told a story on how the song came to be, furthering touching everyone in the sanctuary.
Keel closed the show with a few beautiful instrumental pieces on the piano with a medley of hits from Greensleeves to George Jones. He was rewarded for his efforts with a standing ovation from the audience. A meet and greet session followed Keel's performance with most everyone purchasing some of the cd's he brought with him, including the one with the songs recorded at the Alamo about Davy Crockett.
The father of three sons, chatted with everyone and kindly signed cd's and smiled for several photographs. He also had kind words to say to many of those who were delighted to listen to him sing, play his guitar and grace the keys of the keyboard.
Keel, the youngest in his family, hails from Dover, Tenn. "He is Dover's treasure," Charles Berryhill said. Berryhill was one of the organizers of the concert. "Songwriters sometimes are overlooked,"he added. "Singers take songs penned by writers and turn them into hits, receiving all the recognition, but the songs themselves would never be brought to life if it wasn't for writers like Bobby Keel."