10 Questions with ... The Peach Pickers
May 3, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- Ben Hayslip
- Dallas Davidson
- Rhett Akins
The Country Music Songwriting trio comprised of Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, and Ben Hayslip - collectively known as 'The Peach Pickers' have penned a long list of hits and been honored with awards such as 2011 ASCAP and BMI songwriters Of The Year and Billboard Top 5 Country Songwriters.
Their hits include Frankie Ballard's "A Buncha Girls", Blake Shelton's "All About Tonight", Josh Turner's "All Over Me", Joe Nichols, "Gimmie that Girl" and "The Shape I'm In", Luke Bryan's "I Don't Want This Night To End", Craig Morgan's, "This Old Boy", Jack Ingram's "Barefoot and Crazy", and many, many more.
Though not really a touring group, the Peach pickers will be playing Nashville's Ryman Auditorium on Tuesday, May 12th, for "Jameson Irish Whiskey Presents Georgia On My Mind: Peach Pickers and Friends Host a Night of Georgia Music," a show that benefits the Georgia-based Georgia Music Foundation.
1. Let's start by how you teamed up, and talk a little bit about the origin of The Peach Pickers. I know you're all Georgia guys, but is there another story behind that handle?
Ben: Rhett and I grew up together in Valdosta, Georgia and started writing songs together at 14 years old. That's when we wrote our first song together. Rhett moved here in 1992; I moved in 1994. So, we get to Nashville and continue writing, and then somehow, Dallas and Rhett met and wrote "Kiss My Country Ass" together before I came along. I met Dallas, and we wrote a couple songs. But we had all never written together. So our publisher put us together in a room on a Wednesday; we were all from Georgia and from the same kind of background and we all speak the same language. It just kind of worked that first time we ever got together. So we did it again the next Wednesday, and we kept doing it, and we started having success. And now here we are on a Wednesday again!
AA: So, did you feel it right away?
Dallas: It was love at first sight.
AA: I know sometimes in the songwriting world, you can hook up with somebody and be in a room, and there's just nothing.
Dallas: It doesn't happen much to us anymore - I mean, I can't speak for those guys, but I just don't do it - I've got my guy (points to Rhett and Ben) and that's all I'm writing with. That includes most artists. But I'll tell you a quick story about Rhett. When I met him, it was about 1998 at Georgia Southern Statesboro. He played, and then there was a private keg party for Rhett, and Ace Ammerson, who was on "The Real World: Paris," the MTV thing. And I got to go, because Rhett was there. He doesn't remember this, but I got to meet him because I was a big fan of Rhett- I used to ride around listening to "A Thousand Memories" like all the time - and then, again I saw him when he played at the K House at Georgia a couple years later for a football game. Then I ran into him again later. I told him I was going to give him some competition for the ladies here in town. That is what I said. I said it a lot differently, but that's what I said!
Rhett: Yeah, that's how I met Dallas! And then, me and he and Randy Houser and John Stone went out one night, and about three o'clock in the morning, me and Dallas and John Stone wrote "Kiss My Country Ass."
Dallas: And that was the first song I had recorded. There's a lot of history!
2. You guys [Ben and Rhett] said you started writing songs at 14. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote together?
Rhett: Yeah, it's called "Andrea."
Ben: It's about a girl named Andrea.
Rhett: This is weird how this just happened. Me and Ben, we love everything! From Hank Jr. to Van Halen, to Run DMC. We love everything!
Ben: To New Kids On The Block.
Rhett: We have all different genres of music on video. We loved New Edition! And there's a video of me singing "Mr. Telephone Man" that Bobby Brown sang with New Edition on video from 1984. Last week in Dallas at the ACM Awards, we're all at the bar at the Hilton, and somebody said Bobby Brown was there! So I immediately dropped every person, every drink, everything and attacked Bobby Brown! And I sang him every New Edition song, every Bobby Brown song. He was so flipped out, he got me and Ashley Gorley's phone numbers. I've still got my ticket stubs where I saw New Edition in concert and Bobby Brown in concert. So the first song we wrote - 'Andrea' - was basically a rip off of a New Edition song! It was half rap, half singing. It was like 'Candy Girl!' It was like when they - "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, and Mike followed the girl, who cares who you like." It was like half of it was rap and half of it was singing. And Bobby Brown just could not believe it; he said, "Man, I'll give y'all my phone number! Iâ€™m coming to Nashville!â€
3. So, what is it about Georgia that gives Country music so many talented artists and songwriters? Luke [Bryan] and Jason [Aldean] are sort of the new breed, but if you go back there's Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt. It's been that way for a long time.
Ben: Whisperin' Bill Anderson! It goes way back!
Dallas: Ray Charles. Yeah, I think it's the culture of Georgia. I think it's the charm of the state.
Ben: I think it's a lot to do with the language. People understand it no matter where you go.
Dallas: It's a universal way of - anybody can latch on to somebody from Georgia. It goes back with the songwriters, too, not just the artists. Especially in today's market, the songwriters are kicking everyone's butt, entirely, the ones from Georgia are. At one point, over 50% of the chart, I remember - was either written or sung by a Georgia person. So I think it's just the whole way of life. And Ben's exactly right with the language. A guy from Illinois is going to understand the way we word something and like it, the way we phrase something and like it. I think it's just a really beautiful language down there, and our job as writers is to tap in to that and figure out what works, and when we put it in a song how somebody from Iowa or New York state can feel like they've either done that - even though they may not have been up under a Cypress tree, and I'd say it's doubtful - but they can see it, and we paint that picture for them. And then you throw a woman in there, and that's the closer.
4. Obviously you guys are all doing well now and you're very successful, but let's think about when you were struggling. I just wonder if each of you had like an "Ah-ha!" moment when you found your songwriting voice, your groove, and things just clicked. Was it a specific song?
Ben: For me, it was when I got with these two guys. That's when I was like, "Okay!"
Rhett: We're better together. And with Dallas.
Ben: I'd had hits, they'd had hits.
Dallas: When we got together, you'd had "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." And I'd had a hit with Jeff Bates.
Rhett: I had never written a song for anybody else. I had only written my own songs.
Ben: So, we were basically three guys who had a little bit going on, but we still had a long way to go to get where we are now.
Rhett: I remember when we hit "Give Me That Girl" and before it even got recorded. I remember thinking, "Hell yeah. Here we go!" And we did.
5. What's the easiest song you ever wrote together that went on to become a hit?
Dallas: Probably "Give Me That Girl."
Rhett: Or "All About Tonight." They were pretty easy. "Put A Girl In It" was about an hour-long song.
Dallas: That was our first hit.
Rhett: None of us were meant to write with each other that day. I got canceled on, Ben got canceled on.
Dallas: I was in Atlanta.
Rhett: Yeah, Dallas was in Atlanta, stuck in traffic.
Dallas: I was eating lunch with my daddy first.
Rhett: So I called Ben and said, "Hey, man. I got canceled on today. What are you doing today?" And he said, "I got canceled on, too. Why don't we try to get together and write?" So Ben and I started writing the song "Country Strong" that Blake Shelton cut on one of his Six Pack albums. And Ben kept saying, "Man, I think we really need to put a girl in this song. It's got both verses about a cowboy and a farmer. I think we need to put a girl in it." And after he said that about two times, I said, "Well, we need to write that." And right about that time, we called Dallas, and said, "Where are you, man?" And Dallas said, "I'm about 30 minutes away." So Dallas finally jumped in there, and he just grabbed a guitar, and played a lick. And we wrote it pretty quick. And that was the first song that - now, back then, and I still do but I've learned some from Dallas to quit worrying so much - I'm the kind of person who is like, "Hold on, hold on, hold on! Wait, wait, wait! Is it right?"
Ben: We call him The Rhett-itor!
Dallas: Like The Editor. The Rhettitor!
Rhett: Dallas is 100 miles an hour, and I'm kinda hitting the breaks a little bit. So, Dallas said, "We're gonna demo 'Put A Girl In It' tomorrow." And I took Thomas Rhett to Panama City for Spring Break, because he had torn his ACL and couldn't drive. I said, "DO NOT DEMO 'Put A Girl In It.' It is NOT finished!" The second verse wasn't right or something.
Ben: Well, we wrote the bridge on the phone that night.
Rhett: Yeah, and I said, "Something about this song is not right. Do NOT demo this song!" Next day, Dallas called me and said, "Well, that song you told me not to demo? It's on hold by Brooks & Dunn."
AA: So this is all in 48 hours?
Rhett: Yes, exactly.
Ben: And it was cut within a week, right? They cut it the next week.
Rhett: Yeah. That was a real learning lesson for me, that I was just real methodical, and Dallas was just like "Throw it against the wall." I've learned from Dallas a lot to let it go.
6. On the flipside of that, have either one of you [Dallas and Ben] learned to stop and analyze?
Dallas: I think, for me, I always have to get these two guys' approval before I can move on mentally. Now, I'll sit here and try to talk everybody into something, but if they don't go for it or like it.
Rhett: Dallas is pretty much the instigator. We're the friends who get in trouble because we went along with it.
Dallas: But in this case, we get paid.
Ben: And Dallas writes all the cuss words.
7. Now, tell me one you thought was a sure-fire smash when you put the pen down, and then it wasn't.
Ben: Yeah, a bunch.
Rhett: That's a good question.
Dallas: I mean, this is not to brag, but when we finish a song and we're done with it - I mean, very rarely, we'll put it down and be like, "I don't know about that song, man."
Rhett: Usually in those, we just won't finish it.
Dallas: If we finish one and leave here, we always feel like, "Man, that's a hit." And we cannot believe it when other people don't cut it.
Ben: What's a good one?
Rhett: Well, "The Shape I'm In," which was the follow up to "Gimmie That Girl" with Joe Nichols. We thought that was a great song. It went to about #13.
Dallas: Well, it won a BMI Award! What about maybe, "Friends With Tractors," "Country Strong," "Party At My House."
Rhett: "This Ol' Boy" with Craig Morgan only went to about #14. We thought that was something good.
Dallas: No, that wen to #7!
Rhett: Well, there ya go. See, there's a perfect example. I'm holding back here at 14, and Dallas is racing on up to 7.
Dallas: "A Bunch Of Girls" is one I thought would be a hit.
Ben: "A Place To Lay Your Head." I still think that one is great.
8. I have a question motivated by a bit of a sidebar conversation Rhett and I had at Thomas Rhett's #1 party for "Make Me Wanna." This is about the recent ruling in favor of Marvin Gaye's family in the lawsuit with "Blurred Lines," written by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams that has literally blurred the lines between emulating a sound or style and outright copying a melody. Does this now give songwriters pause when working on new music?
Ben: I just think it sucks.
Rhett: I just upped my insurance. I have songwriters' insurance. I upped it to half a million dollars.
Dallas: The problem with that is, they didn't rip the melody off, they didn't use the idea, it's just kind of a groove. I mean, how many grooves are there? So, you turn on the radio, and every song you hear is a groove that has been done before. So that was a terrible ruling for songwriters.
Rhett: Robert Johnson's great-great-great-great grandkids need to sue every single blues song, because they all sound exactly the same with the same groove.
9. Separately from any legal ramifications, are there any external forces that influence the songs you write? An example would be, what radio is or isn't playing, is it or isn't it too slow, too "Bro," or anything?
Ben: Well, we keep it directional. We know what's on the radio. But when we're together, we try to write feel good songs. Something we like, something to make you feel good. We don't write a lot of sad stuff. We just call it feel good music, something you can roll your windows down to, whether you call it "bro music" or whatever it is.
Dallas: We don't try to copy anybody, we try to be the trendsetter, so to speak, by staying ahead of radio. But if you look at the facts, radio is going to play something mid-tempo or up-tempo. This is a job, this is fun, but I had to get up, kiss my baby goodbye, and come to work today. So why waste your time? We try to be as productive as possible. That may mean catering to what radio wants to play, but naturally, our thing is that anyway. We're very fortunate as the Peach Pickers that we wrote that already. We didn't stop writing sad songs. I never wrote sad songs. Sure, I've got a few, and I'm sure all of us do. But, I think naturally we were able to capitalize on that kind of movement with radio. We were just fortunate.
10. You just mentioned something about knowing what's ahead of the curve, and clearly you guys have been. So to that point, what is your sense of where Country music is headed right now? Because in the past few years, it's been infused with a lot of Pop, Rap, Hip-Hop, and Dance sounds...just a lot of stuff. Has the format gone too wide? Do you feel it returning to the middle with artists seeking more traditional sounding stuff?
Ben: I think it's in a pretty good place. It's a little bit of everything going on. I don't have any problem with that and never have. I love a great song, and that's the bottom line.
Rhett: I think Tyler Farr's newest song, "A Guy Walks Into A Bar" is about the Country-ist thing out there right now, and it's just about to go #1. But then "Sun Daze" goes #1, and maybe "Wanted" goes #1, and Sam Hunt goes #1. "Girl Crush" is in there. It's just every style, and it's everything.
Ben: And we're influenced by all that music. We're influenced by Run DMC, Rolling Stones, Hank Williams Jr., so that's the good thing for us - whatever we're feeling that day, we can write it and still have a chance.
Dallas: When we show up at the office, we are genuinely Country boys. Now, we write whatever we like and whatever we've been influenced by, but when we sing it, it's Country! To me, there shouldn't be any limits on that, and these "Traditional" people are just crying in their beers.
Rhett: But I do understand that people love Traditional sounds. I know that people don't like certain things to change, but there's not a genre - I mean, Rock and Roll went from Jerry Lee Lewis to Motown to turning in to beach music, it turned in to Disco, it turned in to Hard Rock, it turned in to Punk music, it turned in to New Wave, to Duran Duran to Tom Petty - it just keeps going. And I promise you Jimmie Rodgers probably wouldn't be a fan of Merle Haggard. Merle Haggard isn't a fan, probably, of Garth Brooks. It just keeps moving along. And whatever era you were in - whatever you were a part of - that's the era you always want to keep. My mom wishes Motown music would have never gone away.
Dallas: Mine, too. Well, and I kind of do, too.
Rhett: It's just that the music just keeps changing. But there is SiriusXM, and now we've got iTunes and we've got all that so that if you want to listen to traditional Country music fulltime, you do have the option to go and do that. Unfortunately, for that fan, you're not going to get it on modern Country radio, 'cause it just keeps moving along. But you can get it on XM and the internet and other places.
11. You guys do tour occasionally as the Peach Pickers. You'll be at The Ryman on May 12th, and we're looking forward to that. But, besides Rhett who went heavy into the artist career path back in the day, do you ever wish for that life instead of the so-called "mailbox money?"
Rhett: Well, we all still live it. We still go on the road. I go on the road with Thomas Rhett. We go on the road with Luke [Bryan], we go on the road with Brantley [Gilbert], and with Justin Moore and Lee Brice. Everybody we know asks us, "Hey, can y'all come on the road this weekend?" So, we still tour like a touring act, we're just not on the stage - even though they do pull us up sometimes on the stage to sing songs. But I was with Thomas Rhett this weekend, and it was all I could handle. I couldn't wait to come home. Just to watch him sit down every day and go, "Alright, Thomas Rhett, remember in five minutes you've gotta do that phoner, and after lunch you've gotta do that photo shoot. As soon as you get home tonight you have to shoot that video." He just left this morning and will be gone for two weeks. I did that for fifteen years! And I do like going out there and seeing the big shows, but as far as doing the whole grind - it's just like somebody asking a doctor to go back through medical school! There's no way I can go back and do ten years of that!
Dallas: And I just never had the desire to.
Ben: I never have. Never.
Dallas: But we do love going out. Like, we loved the [Luke Bryan] "Farm Tour." You know, we'll go out there and open for Luke for about two weeks, and all of us play plenty of songwriters' nights and charity events. I'm going to Key West to play the songwriters festival.
Rhett: That's the songwriters' Spring Break.
Ben: Yeah, for sure!
Dallas: I played the Bluebird [Café] last night. I played one song, and the only reason I did it was because my momma came to town, and I surprised her. She was in town, and I figured out who was there - it was Rob Hatch - so I called and asked if I could come up and do a song to surprise my momma. So I walked up through the back door and got up there and played. And I was driving home and said to myself, "Well, that was fun. But I'm glad I'm headed home. They're still in there playing, and then they'll be hung over in the morning." So, no. I was pretty happy driving in my car going home.
12: Well, the Peach pickers do have a big charity show coming up at the Ryman on May 12th and we definitely want to talk about that. Besides you guys, who is playing it?
Rhett: "Who's not playing it?" is now the question.
Dallas: We had to turn away a lot of artists. We can't announce - whoever has been announced up to this time is who we can talk about - but we've got some special people who are coming on that we won't announce til right at the last. And again, the date is May 12th. I want to say that the Georgia Music Foundation is a foundation based in Georgia, and all the money we raise goes back to the state of Georgia. And one of the best examples of where our money goes is the JAMP Kids, which is - Deanna Brown, James Brown's daughter - does this special thing with kids, and they play and do a lot of James Brown music. And this year, we're having them come to The Ryman to play, and they are awesome. It's unreal, and it's going to blow some people. They'll have the chance to see the charity first-hand and what we're up to and why we do it and where the money is going. I'm excited for them to see that.
Rhett: We have Thomas Rhett, Lee Brice, Cole [Swindell], Tyler Farr.
Dallas: Last year when we did it, it was all Georgia acts. We had Jason [Aldean] and Luke [Bryan] come in. And this year, we branched out a little bit, and it's just our friends.
Rhett: I'm excited about Kevin Kenny from Driving and Crying. That'll be my favorite. They had that song, "I'm going straight to hell..."
Dallas: We've gotten so much out of the state of Georgia as far as just being blessed to be born there and raised there, that it only makes sense to give back to that state. That's where I focus all my attention. Plenty of stuff going on around here, and I can use the music gift I was given and give back to where I got it.
1. I don't sense any Georgia Tech sympathy from anybody here - unless I'm wrong - this is all a strictly Georgia Bulldog bunch, right?
Dallas: Georgia Tech: Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!
2. What is the greatest small town in Georgia?
Dallas: I'd say Albany, but they're gonna have a different one. OK, well, Leesburg is probably my favorite small town. It's right beside Albany. That's where Luke [Bryan] is from.
Ben: My favorite small town is called Wadley, Georgia. It's where all my family is from, and it's only about 1200 people.
Rhett: Valdosta, I mean - we'd say Valdosta, but it's probably over 100,000 people by now! So I guess we can't really call it a small town anymore. But I grew up about 10 miles outside of Valdosta in Quitman, Georgia. Brooks County. When I bought my first house, it wasn't in Albany, it was in Leesburg - Before I moved here. But I still go there a lot, and I love it.
3. Can you name the state fish for Georgia and the last time you caught one?
Rhett: The Live Oak is the tree. Cherokee Rose is the flower.
Ben: Is it a striper or something?
Dallas: Well, it's gotta be the largemouth bass, because George Perry caught the world record at 22 pounds back in 1960-something. It's been broken since, but it's gotta be that.
Rhett: The state bird is the Brown Thrasher - but it's also the Mosquito - or the Buzzard!
4. Okay, Atlanta, Savannah, or neither?
AA: I knew you guys would say that.