Country music artist/songwriter James Dean Hicks is by anyone’s definition a success. Make that a huge success. He’s written over 3,000 songs, had more than 200 released, and seven have reached No. 1 on music charts. His chart-topping songs have been sung by such artists as the Oak Ridge Boys, Confederate Railroad, Sammy Kershaw, Kenny Chesney, Randy Travis, Bryan White, Jessica Simpson, Aaron Carter and Blake Shelton. His song “Goodbye Time” was a No. 1 hit for both Twitty and Shelton. While most of his songs are full of life and good feelings, some have a painful undertone to them. The 40-ish songwriter says that’s not an accident.
“Show me a writer who hasn’t gone through a lot of pain and I’ll show you a poor writer,” Hicks said with a laugh before performing at a small, private gathering at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Nov. 4, just across the street from the annual Country Music Awards gala.
The gathering was made up of about 60 clients of SilverEdge Systems Software, a Schaumburg, Ill.-based professional services firm dedicated to providing consulting services and software solutions to project-based organizations. SilverEdge President Maria Vedral, her employees, and clients had attended the Deltek Insight 2015 Convention earlier in the day at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Vedral, who entertains a number of her clients each year at the Deltek Insight Convention, invited some of her clients this year to join her on the fourth floor of the Country Music Hall of Fame for an evening of drinks, dinner, and songwriting with Hicks.
It turned out to be a most memorable evening. Hicks began the evening by telling his audience that his name — James Dean Hicks — wasn’t unique in his family of seven children, who grew up on a farm in Bardstown, Kentucky. He said he had a brother named John Wayne Hicks.
“It’s an old family tradition,” Hicks said. “In the past, I think, we had a George Washington Hicks.”
When the laughter died down, Hicks talked about sitting on a swing in his backyard on the farm, making up songs, and playing them on the guitar his father gave him. He got so good at it that by the time he was 10, he was making regular trips to Nashville where he appeared on the WSM Midnight Jamboree with such Grand Ole Opry greats as Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow. By the time he was 13, he had opened concerts for Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
Hicks said he later went to Western Kentucky University where he got a degree in classical guitar. If anyone doubted his guitar playing or songwriting ability, that was quickly put to rest as Hicks played and sang “Grandpa Told Me So,” a song that has been recorded by Kenny Chesney. When the applause finally ended after he was done, Hicks informed the audience that he was now going to help them compose a country song.
He explained that the song needed a chorus and 2 or 3 verses. However, he pointed out that the song couldn’t be done without a lot of audience participation. And, participate they did.
The chorus, which took about 15-20 minutes to hash out, ended up like this:
We’re rockin’ Nashville
Above the CMAs.
We’re rockin’ Nashville
Maria brought us here to play.
Next came the first verse. That proved to be fairly easy despite a lot of loud suggestions. It finally came together as:
We come from all over the country
Deltek is what we use.
It gives us perfect … Vision
We never have to sing the blues.
The second verse:
We two-stepped over to the Wild Horse
And wrote a song at the Hall of Fame.
By the time we rolled into the Gaylord
Everybody knew our name.
The third verse proved to be a toughie as the roomful of novice songwriters struggled to find something that rhymed with “a dog and a truck.” After many attempts and some colorful (but not appropriate) rhymes, Hicks suggested “a million bucks.” And, the final verse ended up like this:
When we get home from Music City
We’re gonna buy a dog and a truck.
We’ll even buy our own piece of country
When this song makes a million bucks.
SilverEdge is here to stay!
Next came a trial run. The entire room sang the song — to the melody of Johnny Cash’s hit song “Going to Memphis” — while Hicks played guitar. Once the audience got familiar with how to do the song, Hicks had the audience’s second effort recorded to end the evening’s festivities. Following the songwriting venture, several people walked up to Hicks to tell him what a fabulous songwriter he is.
“I’ve just taken what God gave me and doing it the best I can,” he said.
The clients, who stood in line to buy some of Hicks’ CDs and thank him, couldn’t say enough about the experience.
“This was my first time (going to a SilverEdge event) and it was outstanding,” said Zach Bishton, Business Operations Manager for Christopher B. Burke Engineering in Indianapolis. “This was a very special evening in Nashville with a famous writer.”
“This is a a great, one-of-a-kind experience,” said Rob Stawik, Chief Financial Officer for SPACECO in Rosemont, IL, “to be able to write a song with someone who has seven No. 1 hits. She (Vedral) puts on the greatest events.”
“This was a blast, way more fun than I thought it would be,” said Matt Hall, Chief Financial Officer for Eppstein Uhen Architects in Milwaukee. “She (Vedral) really goes out of her way to show her clients a good time.”
“This was awesome. I will be rockin’ this tomorrow,” said Jill Berenz, Corporate Accounting Manager for Pierce Engineers in Milwaukee. “She (Vedral) is the best hands down. She knows how to take care of people.”
“She (Vedral) is very hospitality focused,” said Brad Gookins, Chief Financial Officer for The Gettys Group in Chicago. “She cares about her clients and makes it an intimate experience. James Dean Hicks was fantastic.”
“Oh my gosh, what talent he (Hicks) has to bring a roomful of people together to do this,” said Edie Moore, Director of Contract Administration for McKissack & McKissack in Washington, D.C. “I look forward to Maria’s event each year. She is a very positive spirit with lots of positive energy.”
Vedral was thrilled with the comments of her clients about their songwriting experience.
“I believe we should have more music in business,” Vedral said. “I would like to encourage all of us to think creatively on ways we can continue to hire musicians like James Dean Hicks to enhance our work experiences with our team and our clients.”
David Persons is a freelance journalist who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado