It doesn't take too many listens to "The Secret of Life" to hear how much Gretchen Peters enjoys her work. Whether she's luxuriating in the lush melody of "Looking for You," conveying the emotional tension of a foundering family in "This Uncivil War," or offering a merrily rocking character sketch with "A Room With a View," it's clear that she loves singing her own songs.
What she has trouble with is the idea of handing those songs over to someone else. For her, having another singer record one her songs is kind of like seeing one of her kids brought up by some other mother.
"They really are like your children," she says of her songs. "So I guess I look at the process as a sort of letting go. After all, an artist's job if they're cutting a song that they didn't write is to put themselves into it, and sometimes that doesn't jibe with what you [as the songwriter] were really intending.
"On the other hand, a lot of my songs have landed in the hands of artists that really got where they were coming from. Especially with the Patty Loveless version of 'You Don't Even Know Who I Am.' I felt like she read my mind when I heard her record of that. It was just so exactly right."
No doubt other songwriters feel the way Peters does. What sets her apart is that, despite that protectiveness about her material, Peters spent the past eight years making both her living and her reputation as a songwriter in Nashville.
"I feel like kind of an anomaly in Nashville, because I've really never sat down and written a song for somebody else," she says. "I just don't think that's my forte."
Maybe not, but she's done pretty well by it. In addition to Loveless, such singers as Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Shania Twain, Bryan Adams and Bonnie Raitt have all recorded Peters' songs. Moreover, "Independence Day," which was a hit for Martina McBride, was named the 1995 CMA Song of the Year.
Oddly enough, Peters doesn't have deep country roots. She grew up listening to mainstream pop and rock and didn't discover country music until she heard Gram Parsons' work with Emmylou Harris. "It totally captivated me," she says. "I was an avid album credit reader, so I saw the songwriters' names and discovered Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton and people like that."
Even so, she never expected to end up in Nashville herself, much less become a country songwriter. "Obviously, I was never going to be Loretta Lynn," she says. "That wasn't what I was musically or anything. But at the time I finally decided to move to Nashville, at that time, Steve Earle's first album had come out, and Nanci Griffith had been signed, and there was music coming out of Nashville that, it seemed to me, had some kind of adventurous thing going on. It seemed like the place to be.
"It seemed as good a fit as I was going to find, at any rate."
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.
Where: Borders Books, 9051 Snowden Square, Columbia
Call: (410) 290-0063
Sundial: To hear excerpts from Gretchen Peters' new release, "The Secret of Life," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the code 6121. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.
Pub Date: 7/11/96