Songwriter Profile: Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins



Two of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, Rodney Clawson (Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw and Luke Bryan) and Chris Tompkins (Kenny Chesney, the Band Perry, Carrie Underwood) were recently honored with CMA Triple Play Awards presented to songwriters who have penned three No. 1 songs within a 12-month period.

Signed to the joint venture Round Hill Music/Big Loud Shirt, the pair writes with a wide range of collaborators. They recently came together for one of the genre’s biggest hits, “Dirt,” recorded by Florida Georgia Line. Clawson credits Tompkins for the idea. “He said, ‘You’re going to think I’m stupid, but let’s write a song called ‘Dirt.’ When he said, ‘Plant your roots in it/Get your hands in it/Write her name on it,’ I was in.”

Both Clawson and Tompkins strive to write one song a day. Says Tompkins, “You go in five days a week to co-write with people. On weekends I try to do family things––but if I get a song idea, I work.”

Clawson concurs. “I have to write songs to get to the best songs. It’s a journey that you have to go through to get to the right day with the right people in the room with the right idea. And you end up with a song like ‘Dirt,’ or ‘I Saw God Today’ (written by Clawson with Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby, a No. 1 song for George Strait).

Big Loud Shirt was founded by hit songwriter Craig Wiseman. Both Clawson and Tompkins appreciate his sage advice. When he first affiliated, Clawson’s writing room was just down the hall from Wiseman’s. “I learned that I needed to work harder. I would show up in the morning at 10:30 or 11:00 and leave at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon whether I’d finished a song or not. Craig was still in there writing and it might be 8:00 p.m. at night. I’d had three No. 1 songs and Craig had had 20.”

Tompkins remembers, “When I had my first hit, I was checking the charts, seeing message boards that said, ‘This is the worst song of all time.’ Craig took me aside and said, ‘Anytime you go looking for news, you’re looking for bad news.’ If there is good news people will call and tell you. Songwriters are really bad with anxiety––it’s a big head game.”

Both Clawson and Tompkins are country born and raised. Clawson, from Gruver, TX, was a farmer for 20 years before his songwriting career caught fire. Tompkins was born in Florence, AL and moved to Greenhill, very close to the Southern studio capital of Muscle Shoals that he learned about second hand.

Clawson, who wrote “Bartender” with Lady Antebellum, says that going out on the tour bus with the band helps him to fill in the gaps and understand the impact of the repertoire in a concert setting. He says writing with the artists also makes the songwriter’s job simpler. “The artists could say, ‘We feel like we have these slots on the record filled, but we’re looking for this,’ so you have that goal in mind from the beginning. Here in Nashville we try to write a cool song that someone will like. Sometimes we completely miss and nobody likes it.”

Tompkins agrees. “I think a lot of times artists don’t know what they want until they hear it. You’ll see a pitch sheet that says, ‘We need songs like “Drops of Jupiter” mixed with Frank Sinatra.’ You do that, nothing really comes out of the song, then the artist’s next single comes out and it sounds like Hank Williams!”

Contact Anna Stodart, Golightly Media, golightlymedia.com