Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: My favorite pastime lately is writing country-flavored songs.

Friends think my tunes are good enough to become hits, though I realize they may just be being polite.

How difficult is it to make a living writing songs, especially since I don't live near Nashville?
—Rollie Staff, Yuma, Ariz.

DEAR ROLLIE: Being named Staff helps qualify you as a tunesmith; however, living 1,600 miles from Nashville could be a disadvantage.

As for earning a living, I have no idea as to your needs in that regard. Still, I called Jerry W. Bailey, BMI's Director of Media Relations, in their Nashville Licensing office.

Jerry hopes the following information will help enlighten you and others who share your passion:

“While some songwriters are also recording artists, most are not. Rollie does not say. If not, he would have to rely on others to perform the songs he creates, which means a smaller slice of the pie for the writer.

“Unfortunately, most songwriters do not earn a living wage at their chosen craft. They are fortunate to create one or two hits in a lifetime. Even if they do, the general public usually identifies their song with the recording artist who sings it.

“It may surprise you to learn the average songwriter earns less than $5,000 annually in public performing rights royalties.

“Songwriters usually earn most of their income from royalties collected from the use of the public performance of their songs, and not from the sale of records and compact discs.

“For example, if a song has only one writer and one publisher, the record company pays each of them about 4.5 cents in mechanical royalties for each copy sold.

“On a million-selling record, should you be so lucky, the writer's share is roughly $45,000.”

DEAR JERRY: The time you answered a question about Jay McShann's “Once Upon a Time” got me going on my own little music mission.

I have unfortunately failed, and now I require some help.

The song I seek is by Marty Robbins and is also titled “Once Upon a Time,” but a completely different composition than McShann's.

My quest is not helped by Marty himself apparently having two separate recordings of “Once Upon a Time.”

At least that seems to be the case.

The one I keep finding begins with “once upon a time life was lovely.”

The one I can't find goes like this: “once upon a time she was my girl.”

Oddly enough, the one eluding me was a hit single, so you'd think it would be the more common record. It was popular around the time of “Devil Woman.”

One more Marty question, this one about a word in “The Cowboy in the Continental Suit”:

What the heck is a “curley”? Obviously it's something a cowboy might hold.
—Paula Renko, Vincennes, Ind.

DEAR PAULA: The reason the only “Once Upon a Time” you find is the one you don't want is because the one you do want isn't “Once Upon a Time.”

It is “Not So Long Ago” (Columbia 42831), a Top 15 hit in September 1963, about a year after “Devil Woman.”

In fairness, you are not at fault as this is indeed confusing.

The lyrics to “Not So Long Ago” mention the title just once — the first words heard.

Meanwhile, “Once Upon a Time” is repeated throughout, an amazing total of nine times.

If ever a song seemed mistitled, this is it.

The real “Once Upon a Time” only contains its title four times.

A “quirley” is cowboy slang for a hand-made cigarette; specifically one crafted by pouring tobacco into a rolled cigarette paper, licking the paper's edge, then twisting or pinching both ends.

Though not spelled the same, quirley, or sometimes quirly, is pronounced just like Curly (Howard) of the Three Stooges.

IZ ZAT SO? Country & Western giant Marty Robbins made just two records for Columbia before scoring his first hit single, “I'll Be Gone,” in 1952.

From then until 1983, the year after Marty died, there is not a single year in which he did not appear in the nation's C&W Top 50.

That Top 50 streak of 32 consecutive years following the first chart hit is surpassed only by the 38 of George Jones (1955-1992).

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