– music journalist Beverly Keel
Over the course of his career, a whole cast of like-minded characters have been drawn to Tom Douglas’ writing and have breathed—or belted— his discography to life. Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Collin Raye, George Strait, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, Trisha Yearwood … and the list goes on. Each in their own way, these artists have illuminated not only Tom’s work, but the man behind the music. Womack, for whom Douglas and Brett Beavers’ tune “Something Worth Leaving Behind” was a hit single, album, and book title, sums it up: “Tom’s great at taking a snapshot of real life and putting it in a song. He’s not afraid of writing about the hardships or the beauty of the world; in my opinion, that’s what makes a true artist.”
A true artist, indeed—and one who almost missed his calling. Twice. He was born in Atlanta, where his father spent his days selling steel but his nights playing the piano and ukulele. “He was an artist at heart,” says the son. “There was always music in the house.” Tom took piano lessons in second grade, but it didn’t stick. It wasn’t until he heard “Your Song” by Elton John that he decided to give the piano another try, eventually moving on to performing Glen Campbell hits, especially those written by Jimmy Webb, who remains Douglas’ idol today.
But he put his musical ambitions aside for a while and graduated from Oglethorpe University in 1975 and from Georgia State University in 1977 with an MBA. He sold advertising in Atlanta, but increasingly felt like he was missing his calling. “I had this gnawing feeling inside me all the time, so at 27, I quit my job and started a little publishing company with two friends.” Nearly two years later, he moved to Nashville where he spent four years writing, plugging songs, and traveling the coffee house circuit. “I never got anywhere because my songs weren’t very good,” he admits. Tom met his wife, Katie, and together they decided to move to Dallas, where Tom became a father of three and embarked upon a successful career in commercial real estate. “I enjoyed that for 13 years,” he says. “About seven years into it, I started picking songwriting back up. I read books on songwriting, joined the Dallas Songwriters’ Association and played at local clubs occasionally.” This time in, Douglas felt that his songs were reaching the people.
“I never thought that I’d ever come back to Nashville,” he says. “But without the pressure of having to succeed at it, I was enjoying songwriting more than ever…just for the love of it. For years, I had been so hung up on trying to be a commercial songwriter and finally I said ‘Forget it. I’ve got a job and family; I’ll never be a commercial songwriter.’ A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Ironically, as soon as I did that, I wrote “Little Rock.”
In 1993, Douglas attended a songwriters’ seminar in Austin and he played “Little Rock” for producer/publisher Paul Worley. “Paul thought that I had turned a corner as a songwriter and took some of my songs back to Nashville with him.” Sony/ATV/Tree signed Douglas as a staff writer and in June 1994, “Little Rock,” as sung by Collin Raye, became his first number one hit and was nominated for CMA Song of the Year in 1994. He moved back to Nashville with his family three years later.
He earned his second number-one hit on the pop charts in 1998 with “The Gift” as recorded by and co-written with Jim Brickman. In 2001, Tim McGraw took “Grown Men Don’t Cry” to number one, and subsequently collaborated with Tom on the top three-country hit, “My Little Girl,” which also became the end title for the Fox film, “Flicka”, in 2006. “Love’s the Only House” recorded by Martina McBride reached the top-five on the Country charts followed by another hit, “God’s Will.” From the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010, Tom achieved a rare Triple Play Award in which he had three number one hits in a year: Lady Antebellum’s (co-written with the group) “I Run To You” followed by Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice” (with Bob DiPiero) and concluding with Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” (with Allen Shamblin). In 2010, he also had a single with Lady Antebellum’s “Hello World” (with Tony Lane and David Lee). Tom’s song (cowriter with Jaren Johnston/Jeffrey Steele) “Raise ’em Up” was #1 for Keith Urban and Eric Church in the spring of 2015. Tom’ s song “The House That Built Me” was nominated for 2010 Grammy Song of The Year and Country Song of The Year and won CMA Song of the Year as well as ACM’s Song of The Year and Single Record of the Year. In that same year, Tom was also nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the song “Coming Home” featured in the film “Country Strong”. In 2014, Tom’s song “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” was nominated for the Grammy’s Country Song of the year. In 2014, Tom was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame.