A Guitar and a Pen Review
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It’s been said that country songwriters are actually storytellers whose tales just happen to be short—around three minutes long. But what happens when these fine songwriters are allowed a little more time and a few more pages? The results materialize in A Guitar and a Pen: Stories by Country Music’s Greatest Songwriters.

In this collection, 25 songwriters relate stories—some fictitious, some humorous, some painfully real. Many of these songwriters are performers that you’ve heard of—such as Kris Kristofferson, Charlie Daniels, Hal Ketchum, and Janis Ian. You’re probably not familiar with most of them, though—that is, until you read the short biography following each story. Then you’ll definitely recognize the top songs that they’ve written.

Putting the famous names and popular tunes aside, however, these stories still stand on their own. Early 1960s Texas reminds us of the tragic past that we try to forget in “Whitey Johnson.” A 41-year-old country songwriter/U.S. history teacher drives from Georgia to Nashville to finally see a woman he met on the Internet in “Cybersong.” A deadbeat uncle by marriage gets his final comeuppance in “Gathering Together.”

Many of the stories offer readers a peek into the life of a songwriter. “Will It Ever Happen Again?” is an all too familiar story. One day, you’re at the top of your game, and as soon as you get used to the lifestyle, the hits stop coming, and you’re dropped. And, in another story, a middle-aged country songwriter tries to figure out how to impress a classroom of teenagers at an Illinois high school on Career Day.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d have to say that mine is “Cheeseburger Boogie,” in which Bob DiPiero describes major events in his own life and discusses how pop culture has changed throughout the decades—all in relation to a Nashville hangout and burger joint called Jesus Jones. But I also can’t forget how Janis Ian revealed an intimate relationship—including the painful separation and, ultimately, a reunion—with her first guitar, a 1937 Martin D18.

Yes, country songwriters can be amazing storytellers—or at least these 25 writers sure are. There isn’t a dud in this collection, and that makes it a difficult book to put down. Once you’re finished with one, you can’t wait for the next. A Guitar and a Pen offers readers slices of Americana, past and present, which makes for a captivating read.

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