In the 1980s, country A&R people, in imitation of the pop culture, began to make songwriters of all their newly signed artists by booking them into writing sessions with veteran hit songwriters, and the era of the great nonperforming songwriter began to fade away. One of the greatest songwriters from that bygone era was Curly Putman, writer or co-writer of country classics that include “The Green Green Grass of Home,” “My Elusive Dreams,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “Blood Red and Goin’ Down,” “It’s a Cheating Situation,” and many more.
Putman wrote what he knew. He came down from his native Putman Mountain to develop his talents at Nashville’s real-time university, Music Row. His father was a sawmill man and Putman was a steel guitar player. He grew up in the country culture and passed it on in his music, always staying true to the art form.
Most country songwriters, when they’re stuck for a line, find their mind reaching for just the right word or the right musical phrase. Not Putman. When he fights for the next line, his eyes close tight as if in pain, as he searches not for the next word, but the next feeling. You can hear it in his voice as the line comes; the sad, lonesome phrase that was his signature for so many years, and which long ago almost brought him success.
“George Jones once said, ‘I’m glad you stuck to writing. Tammy and I used to just love your demos.’ They could feel the feeling I put into a song. I guess I still do, I put all my heart [into singing a song] and it’s almost embarrassing, and people kind of look at you like, ‘that’s pitiful,’ because it’s so sad, and everything I write is pretty sad. I believe that touches people of all kinds. ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ were people-type songs, not just something that’s gonna be out there one day and gone the next.”
But it’s been many years since Putman’s last hits. For him to have hits today, “I think I’d have to have a co-writer that understands what’s happening on the writing end of it. I don’t think younger people are basically interested in songs, and what they’re saying. Nearly all the songs you hear have pretty much the same uptempo sound, pretty much all in the same beat, and I don’t think they even care about that. They like to feel they’re a part of the concert event. You can see them waving their hands and screamin’, all that, and these artists could sing anything and [the audiences] would love it.”
Putman says the contempo country scene will change. Country has traditionally been built around the emotions of love, he says. “Found and lost love. Just about everything I wrote was that. That’s what I felt more than anything. Then they [producers] got to saying, ‘well, I don’t want no drinkin’ songs,’ trying to please the record labels, that are trying to please radio. Now, if I had a hit song, I don’t know if it could be played on the radio.”