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rodney fitzhugh


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"American Songwriter Lyric Contest Winner January 2011r"

Lyric Spotlight Q&A: January/February 2011
By Jamie Younger December 15th, 2010 at 7:42 am

Rodney Fitzhugh
Ridgway, Colorado
“Café Los Reyes”

What is Café Los Reyes about?

I do a lot of bicycle racing which gives you these great endorphin rushes. I was thinking of a particular bike ride I did, and for some reason I just thought about Los Reyes, where I had eaten hot pork chili many times. Now that’s a real endorphin rush. I just sort of switched gears in the middle of the song and rewrote it. The image of the Mexican café – there’s a more accessible image there than in bicycle racing, more universally appealing.

You’re inspired by great songwriters, but you’re also inspired by poets like Edgar Allen Poe. How do songwriting and poetry fit together?

When I think of the kind of poetry that we generally read nowadays, from T.S. Eliot and roughly that time period on, it’s less lyrical, it’s less rhythmic. Modern poetry doesn’t follow the lyrical sort of pattern that would typically work well for pop melodies and pop chord progressions. But I do some things with old poetry. The old, more lyrical style of poetry, exemplified by Poe, provides a template for rhythm and meter for a songwriter. If you’ve studied that stuff, it’s all very structured, rhythmically and rhyme-wise. That kind of poetry, classical poetry, I think is a great way for a songwriter to familiarize himself with rhyme and rhythm and how they work together.

You’re a previous Grand Prize winner in our Lyric Contest. How did the trip to Nashville you won change the way you view your songwriting?

It made me a lot more serious about it, and made me focus more on it. I spent a lot more time on the music, but ironically, I spent a lot less time writing the music and more time playing the music, and performing and practicing. Before I won that first contest, I’d never picked up a guitar in my life, only piano. I strictly wrote songs, no performance of any kind, not even for myself to work through the songs.

After I won that guitar [a Martin DX1], I started playing the guitar and took lessons and became pretty passionate about the guitar. I’ve been playing my music around at open mics and cafes and a few bars and house parties around the area. I think I’ve become serious about trying to focus on commercial aspects of the craft and trying to make at least some of the songs have commercial appeal. I like to pursue my own sort of idiosyncratic impulses a lot of the time. Other times, I’ll think, “What will work for other people? What might appeal to people?” I didn’t write for anybody other than myself in the past.

You’ve since performed at open mics and house parties. How important is it for you to have that community around you, whether it’s your songwriting community or just friends and family?

It’s incredibly important to me to have my friends who are into music and my family, to have those people around to bounce ideas off of, share processes with, just to show up and listen to the music, or to have people to call me on the phone and ask to write a lyric for a tune that they’ve got. I’ve gotten to know a number of people that I co-write with, usually writing lyrics for their melodies or chord progressions. It’s really expanded my social sphere to get to know these people and to get involved with them. It’s helped a lot not only with my music and my writing, but it’s helped a lot with life in general, to expand my perspective and meet other people.

You didn’t concentrate on songwriting until later in life. What would you tell other people who find themselves drawn to songwriting later in their years?

I’d just say, if it really appeals to you, if you feel like you have a talent for it and you enjoy it, then do whatever it takes to make time for it. That’s the most important thing, make time for it and stick with it. - American Songwriter Magazine


I've yet to release a commercial recording. I hope to sometime soon. I continue writing and my songs continue to win critical recognition. In addition to the grand prize for "It Just Depends," American Songwriter just picked my lyric "cafe los reyes" as the winner for its Jan-Feb 2011 contest and has awarded honorable mention to two of my other lyrics: "San Miguel Dreams" and "The KIng of Siam." San Miguel Dreams also won a second place from the Ft. Bend Songwriters Association, and "The Farmers' Bank" got an honorable mention from the International Narrative Song Contest. That song also made it to the final round of judging in the Clonmel Song Contest.



I started writing songs 35 years ago, mainly to entertain myself. I have a talent for it and enjoy it, but I never saw it as anything but a hobby, until I had a medical scare in 2006. I decided then to focus more on my songs. I entered a couple of song contests, including American Song Writer Magazine's lyric contest, for which I won the 2006 Grand Prize with my song "It Just Depends." That got me a Martin DX1 and full production on a demo of my song by Emmy winning producer Brian Seiwart (Wynonna Judd, Rascal Flats) at Music City Music Productions in Nashville. We finished that project in April, 2007. I've since tried to market that song and others with various artists, with little success. I've also begun performing my own material for small audiences locally, around Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado. I like to play at small, intimate venues for generally mature audiences.

My lyrics come straight from experience, including a lifetime of association with a diverse array of characters: hard rock miners, mill hands, farmers, ranchers, lawyers, judges, writers, musicians, athletes, crazies, cops, criminals, dancers, dopers, drunks, drifters and derelicts. I've known and worked with or for or against all kinds of people and many of them have left their impressions somewhere in the memory banks. A lot of my good lyrics describe the fading glimmer of those impressions - the wraith of some erstwhile adversary, friend, or lover - and sometimes distill out their essence. The bad lyrics usually come from trying too hard to make something work.

I believe what Warren Zevon once said about songwriting: the lyric IS the song. So I almost always start with lyrics, then usually try to find a melody or a few chords that will reinforce the mood or idea expressed in the lyric. Sometimes i'll contrast a mean or cynical lyric with a happy melody, just to see how it plays. Once in a while i'll hit on a decent combination of words and music.

i take inspiration from anyone who writes clear, compelling, emotive lyrics: zevon, james mcmurtry, nick lowe, joni mitchel, steve earle, townes van zandt, steve goodman, carol king, elvis constello, elyza gilkyson to name a few. bob dylan, of course. i especially like edgar allen poe - i'll read his poems over and over. he had total command of the language and a penetrating awareness of his own fears.