Noteworthy Alumni—Do You Know The Muffin Man? A Little Get-Together with Jimmy Muffin
Yessian’s new album not a wave goes by gently guides the listener through a landscape none of us ever want to travel. He shares openly and intimately his feelings of losing a great love and his struggle with that loss. In this album, which is dedicated to his late wife Amy, Jimmy tills the soil in our hearts to ready us for the time of our own inevitable journey through love and loss. Acoustic guitar, piano, and cello dramatically set the mood through his painful, yet beautiful healing journey. His songs inspire us to appreciate even more the moments we share with those we love." —SESAC REVIEW
Jack Hayford: Muff, you were the very first person I met in Durango at the first Songwriters Expo. We were both at the bar watching the World Series and, of course, YOUR Yankees were in it. Despite the fact I'm a die-hard Red Sox fan, we had a lot of laughs that weekend and have remained friends ever since. What do you remember most from your first trip to the Durango Songwriter's Expo?
Jimmy Muffin: The first year was 1996. The Yankees won the World Series that year. They had those great shrimp cocktails at the bar. Many good things came out of that first year in Durango. I guess the thing I remember most was an impromptu "In The Round" near the bar at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Very few people were there. I remember playing songs with Liz Hengber and Wayne Perry who were the featured writers from Nashville that year. After a few rounds (of songs that is) Liz said half kidding to me, "do me a favor and don't go to Nashville, there's enough competition there already." It was a good validation for me to know I held my own with such top-notch Nashville writers.
JH: I remember those shrimp...they were awesome! And I was there at the late nite "round" with you and Liz and Wayne. Greg Dorschel was there too. I remember you played "Except My Guitar," which is still one of my favorites of yours. How many relationships did you make at just that FIRST event that have led to a definite progression in your songwriting career?
JM: I said "does anyone want to play a song?" That's like asking a dog if he wants to go out for a walk. So I grabbed my guitar and started playing. The rest is history. Greg was with Sony/Tree at the time. He invited me to come down to Sony and record some songs. That was the first of my many trips there and my relationship with Greg and Sony grew from that Durango weekend. There were so many people I met that first year that I am still in contact with and friends with. You, songwriters Allan Rich ("Run To You"), my dear friend Martin Page ("We Built This City On Rock and Roll"), Liz, Michael Laskow (President of TAXI), Jason Krupek who was with Capitol Nashville, of course Greg and Bruce and Jim [Expo founders].
JH: Well, we started hangin' out a lot after that and even wrote a couple of songs together. One is particularly memorable because it serves as a real-life example that when it comes to what makes a hit "nobody knows." I remember you and Amy [Muff's lovely wife] came down to Florida and we met for a few drinks and we were talking about Wayne Perry who, by his own admission, has had a hit or two with what can be called "bumpersticker songs." That is, songs that evolve from one-liners, even jokes. An example is the Bellamy Brothers hit a number of years ago with "If I Say You Have A Beautiful Body (Will You Hold It Against Me?)." Wayne had a #1 hit with Lorri Morgan with such a song ("What Part of 'No' Don't You Understand?"). Anyway, I asked you if you had ever heard the expression "Keep it Simple, Stupid" (often referred to in sales as the "KISS" approach). We laughed about turning it into a song and ultimately did, and played it the next year at Durango in a listening session with Gary Baker and Walt Aldridge and a few other people. It was really just a playful little experiment but a lesson came out of it that we both still talk about...do you remember what was said in that listening session about "Keep It Simple, Stupid" and the "lesson" we learned?
JM: I sure do. They all basically said, "No female in Nashville is going to call her man stupid." I remember I called you not too long after that. I had just heard Shania Twain's new song and she was going on about "Don't be stupid, don't be ridiculous." I couldn't believe it. The only thing they didn't like about our song was the use of the word "stupid." The rest of the song they liked. They even said "get rid of 'stupid' and it's a good song." I think Walt summed up the lesson in a hilarious song he performed at Durango last year. The gist of it was "we say that about your songs and we say this but really we don't know s_ _ t." Meaning all they can do is give their professional and personal opinion in critiquing a song. Nobody knows what song is likely to become a million seller. Gary Baker and Frank Myers wrote "I Swear" something like five years before it ever got cut. I bet they never thought it would become the monster hit it is when they wrote it.
JH: And in fairness to Walt and Gary and the others, their feeling about a woman calling a man "stupid" in a song was shared by everyone in Nashville that I talked to. At the time, little did anyone know that a new female country singer/sex symbol was being launched onto the scene with an attitude that allowed her to call her man "stupid" (playfully and affectionately, but so did the girl in our song)...and that the public would love it. Nobody knows Muff, nobody knows! And that's so important for aspiring writers to understand. Speaking of Walt Aldridge and Gary Baker, two great guys and incredible writers, you've had the good fortune to co-write a couple of tunes with them. I assume that opportunity came directly from your getting to know them in Durango, right? And didn't one of those songs just get used in a film?
JM: Gary and Walt are great guys. They put in as much time as Jim needs them to every year at the Expo. I haven't had the opportunity to write with Walt yet. But I've written a couple of songs with Gary. Gary heard me do a showcase in Durango the second year I was there and invited me to come to Nashville and write with him and Frank (Myers). I took him up on it of course. We wrote a beautiful ballad called "There's a Song." Then after 9/11's horrific events, I called Gary (who happened to be in Los Angeles producing a record with Jerry Williams) who like me was raised in New York. I told him we had to do something to try help out in some small way. I went to the studio where they were mixing and the three of us worked on a song written from the Twin Towers perspective called "Stand Tall America." We wound up donating the song to a documentary film about a 1000 year old Alaskan pine that was rescued from the bay of the port of Chicago after a terrible explosion near the end of WW 2. It's difficult to explain in a sentence or two but basically the explosion sank the 36 foot tree which helped support the dock. This "Healing Pole," as it has become known, brought together many different nationalities who helped carve beautiful likenesses of America's endangered species into the tree. It will be gifted to New York City on the anniversary of the attack and will be placed in the New York Botanical gardens. The documentary is a very moving story and I'm proud to have our song featured in it. I should get you a copy.
JH: YES! I'd love to have a copy. What's the name of the film, by the way, in case our readers get a chance to see it somewhere?
JM: It's called "One Voice/ Healing Pole." Most likely you can catch it on PBS in the coming months. Check your local listings. They are submitting it for some awards but I'm not sure which ones yet.
JH: I'll watch for it! Let's talk a little about the "roller coaster ride" that songwriters often take. The "almosts," the "deals" that die on the vine. The songs on hold that don't get cut. It happens to everybody trying to build a career in this industry. What keeps you going, what keeps you creating and pitching songs after a disappointment? What keeps the fire burning?
JM: With me it's several things. One is the sort of "ladder climbing," as I call it, that happens along the way. In between the disappointments there always seem to be some major steps that I manage to take that keep me moving up. Like writing with a great writer like Gary Baker or getting that meeting with Tony Brown or Garth Fundis. Or when you get an the opportunity like I've had to sit "In a Round" with the likes of Larry Cordle, Al Anderson, Jeff Steele and many other great writers. Then there's also the TV and movie cuts that keep money coming in. But the main thing for me is the reaction from a live audience. When someone comes over to me after a show and they say they had tears in their eyes or that a particular song described their childhood or their relationship with their father to a tee...that blows me away. I have a song called "A Father & Son Say Good-bye." I played it in Durango two years ago and several fathers told me they left the room after I played it to call their sons just to tell them they loved them and hear their voice. That makes it all worth it.
JH: Speaking of TV and movies, tell me about that Rebekah Del Rio cut that got used on TV. And, pretty cool that she got cast in the new (and highly acclaimed) David Lynch film, "Mulholland Drive."
JM: I met Rebekah Del Rio about 6 years ago in LA. I was on a show with my friend and writing buddy Kent Gray and he brought Rebekah up to sing one of our songs, "Black and White and Blue." She blew the place away. Then she moved to Nashville and recorded an album for Giant records. She moved back to LA to do the David Lynch Film. She sings so effortlessly. We've written several songs together. "Sex In The City" is the one you might know. We've had some good luck with that one on TV. It's amazing to watch her sing. In the studio she usually gets the song in one take with a line or two she wants to redo. Her live performances are flawless. In Mulholland Drive she sings Roy Orbison's song "Crying" accapella in Spanish. It's on the sound track. Most people I've met, and I agree, say it's the most moving scene in the film. She also just performed (April 13th), get this, at Carnegie Hall for The 12th Annual Rain Forest Benefit. She performed "LLorando" ("Crying") accapella to a sell out crowd and got a two minute standing ovation. She also sang "La Bomba" with Sting, Sir Elton John and James Taylor as her back up singers. Can you imagine! She has several record deal offers on the table. We're actually writing songs now that will hopefully end up on her CD. Check out her website at RebekahDelRio.com.
JH: I just saw Mulholland Drive. I have to say it is one strange movie. Personally I felt there were enough loose ends for a "lynching" but maybe I'm just not too bright! Interesting and artsy, great shots and music... especially Rebekah...absolutely sensational! Muff, you mentioned that you met Rebekah through Kent Gray and that's a perfect segue for me. You know that I plan to interview Kent about his recent success in Europe. You too, have taken a few trips abroad. What can you say about the European response to American music? How was your original music received there?
JM: A "lynching," very clever. I went to the premier in LA with Rebekah and Amy and as we were leaving the theater this guy turned to me and said "what was that?" People either get him, pretend they do or walk away with a deer in the headlights look. It seemed at times that the script ended and David said "OK, any ideas where we go from here?" That's Lynch. Oh yeah...Europe. The first time I went to Europe I played in the south of France and Paris. I played 26 shows in like 22 days. The highlight was performing at THE CAFÉ TERRACE IN ARLES. Made famous by the Van Gogh painting. That I'll never forget. I played lots of afternoon gigs at little bars & restaurants playing mostly all my own material. As long as I played a ballad people didn't seem to care that they couldn't understand a word I was singing. You know the French, they have a different word for everything. Still I sold plenty of CDs. This past summer I played in Italy. There seemed to be a lot more Americans around. I guess summer is tourist season. Again I sold a ton of CDs. I had a blast. Kent's CD, which I have 4 co-writes with him on, was #1 on the European charts for a time. I'll let him tell you about his trip to Europe and playing to a crowd of 12,000 people.
JH: I know you're getting ready to head back east so I'll end with this question that I think might be helpful to our Durango writers. You've signed with SESAC as opposed to ASCAP or BMI. I know that this was not a hasty decision, that you gave it a good deal of consideration. What was your reasoning and how do you advise others in evaluating Performance Rights Organizations and their role in a songwriter's career?
JM: I recently switched to SESAC. It was the lovely New York SESAC V.P. Linda Lorence (whom I met in Durango by the way) who finally convinced me to make the switch to them. They are the smallest of the big three and at this point in my career I felt I needed the personal attention I knew they could give me. I had a good relationship with Roger Sovine for several years at BMI but when he retired I kind of got lost in the shuffle. From the moment Linda heard my material she was very positive and very emotional about it. I remember the first time she heard my song "That Wall's Too High To Climb" (co-written with Julie Zeitlin). She was in the lounge in Durango and I walked over to her and said, "Can I have 3 minutes and 42 seconds of your time?" Then I proceeded to slip a pair of headphones on her, turn on my portable CD player and walked away. I watched her from a distance as she listened with her eyes closed the whole time. When she was done I could see she was visibly moved. She has been a great friend and help to me ever since. Now I am talking with Pat Rodgers to help organize a SESAC songwriter's night in L.A.
JH: Well Muff, I know you and Amy are off to New York to visit family. Thanks for the chat and I'll be seeing you real soon...and as always, GOOD LUCK! (And GO RED SOX!)
Jimmy Muffin's song "Stand Tall America" dedicated to the 9/11 tragedy and co-written with Gary Baker ("I Swear," "I'm Already There") and Jerry Williams is featured in the new documentary short film "One Voice / The Healing Pole" airing nationally on PBS television stations.
His song "Sex In The City" (co-written with Rebekah Del Rio and Janie Streeet) was recently featured on the daytime TV Drama "Passions."
A proflific songwriter and popular performer, Muffin
has shared the spotlight with top songwriters
including Kostas, Billy Dean, Chuck Cannon, Chuck
Jones, Gretchen Peters, Tia Sillers, Mark D. Sanders,
Gary Baker, Walt Aldridge, Al Anderson, Jeffrey
Steele, Roxie Dean, Bonnie Baker...and many, many
Oh, if you're looking for the words to the nursery rhyme, "The Muffin Man," here they are:
The Muffin Man
Do you know the Muffin Man,
Yes, I know the Muffin Man,
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"Amy and I first climbed the bluffs above Zuma beach after moving from New York to California some years ago in mid November. Amy said it was the most beautiful spot she’d ever been to. As we sat there, eyes wide open taking in the amazing sights, smells, and sounds from the majestic bluffs, a school of dolphins suddenly appeared playing in the white foam waters below us. Amy smiled with a wall of teeth like a little child who had just opened the very Christmas gift she had been wishing for but didn’t think she’d get. We watched the dolphins swimming, appearing and disappearing in the yankee blue waters. We both laughed with joy as I held her in my arms. All that day she could not stop talking about seeing dolphins in the wild, playing right beneath us.
On November 2nd 2009 at 9:40am, exactly three years to the minute when I lost her to cancer, I returned to those bluffs and freed Amy's ashes back to the sand and sea she loved so much. First I put my handprint in the wet sand, then placed her ashes in my palm print and watched as the waves rushed over us. I moved up and down the beach repeating this many times. It felt as though Amy and I were together playing in the sand without a care in the world. I then climbed to the top of the bluffs and buried some of her ashes in a deep hole I’d dug in the sand, along with one of the small Polar Bear figures she had given me and a favorite picture of the two of us. I took the rest of her ashes and let them fly off the bluffs, sailing into the beautiful calling waters. I felt at that moment Amy was finally free and would get to spend eternity in a place she loved.
As I walked back to our '94 Explorer, head down hiding silent tears, a young lady called out and said "Are you watching this"? I said “What"? She pointed below the bluffs where I'd just been. I looked up to see a school of dolphins swimming and playing right where, just minutes before, I'd set Amy free. Her dolphins had returned to escort her on her journey home...."
"I eased my hand into wet sand
My love for you will never die, Jimmy