Sportin’ a ball cap, slightly weathered jeans, and a smile, singer/songwriter Ben Hayslip’s humble demeanor is bound to woo any crowd of country music fans. His mile long resume of hit songs will without a doubt impress each and everyone of them too! The Georgia native is putting pen to paper and churning out songs like a mad man. “Put a Girl In It” by Brooks & Dunn, “Gimme that Girl” and “The Shape I’m In” by Joe Nichols, “All About Tonight” by Blake Shelton, “Farmers Daughter” by Rodney Atkins are his latest works of lyrical art. While writing songs has always been his passion, in college Hayslip studied to be a sports reporter and planned to embark into a broadcast journalism career. In 1994, Hayslip opted for a road trip to Music City instead; and that was the just the beginning of his wild and successful journey into songwriting.
I caught up with Hayslip in Nashville at Tin Pan South during a singer/songwriter night.
CMP: Interesting how life turns out, huh? You studied communications in college with the dream to be a sports anchor and now you’re the one being interviewed.
BH: I started writing songs at an early age. The first real song I wrote, which happened to be a rap song, was with my best friend and current cowriting buddy Rhett Akins. We both loved sports like most of our buddies, but we were the only ones who also loved writing songs. I continued writing all through middle school, high school and college but most of the time it took a back seat to whatever sport I was playing. In the back of my mind a part of me knew that I would hopefully give Nashville a shot. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough but I knew I’d regret not finding out. So, I struck out to Nashville at the age of 24.
CMP: If you could have a writing session with any country music entertainer that’s passed away who would it be and why?
BH: I’d love to sit down in a room with Hank Williams Sr. He just had a way of painting pictures through simplicity. Jeff Bates calls me the “Common Mans Poet”. That’s a huge compliment to me because that’s what I think about Hank Sr.
CMP: Where’s the most bizarre place you’ve found inspiration for a song?
BH: I find most of my best ideas just sitting around my house in my recliner and watching TV or reading. My best ideas come when I least expect to find one.
CMP: Can you recall a song where the words just flowed and do you recall why it was so easy to write down the lyrics?
BH: I have a song that hasn’t been recorded yet called “Simple People.” The lyrics to that song came so fast and so easy that it was almost scary. It’s a song about where I come from and there are real life characters in it. I love writing what I call “dirt songs”. Those are the ones that put the listener right there. I get into such a zone when I write those.
CMP: How do you keep track of your ideas for songs when they pop in your mind?
BH: I keep my ideas on my mac computer. If I’m driving, I usually have a little hand held digital recorder with me that I can throw down melody ideas or a lyric on. My ideas don’t always make it to the mac or the recorder though. I’ll think to myself there’s no way I can forget this and then I do! (laughs)
CMP: Bring me back to the time when you got the news that one of your songs was going to be cut and put on a record?
BH: I got my first publishing deal about a year after moving to Nashville. About a year after, I had a song recorded by Black Hawk called “Walking On Water”. Man, getting that cut and being able to call my family and tell them and then going to Walmart to buy that CD was crazy. I actually told the girl checking me out that I wrote a song on that CD, but I don’t think she believed me.
CMP: What inspired “Farmer’s Daughter?”
BH: “Farmers Daughter” was an idea that one of my co-writers Marv Green brought in to me and Rhett Akins. Rhett and I grew up in the country so this idea was right up our alley. My mom is a farmer’s daughter so that song fell out pretty quickly. The lyric was one of the funniest ones I’ve ever written because we were able to create such a great story with such a happy and honest ending.
CMP: You mentioned during Tin Pan South that it was your first ever live performance! Stage fright or what? (laughs)
BH: You know, I wasn’t really nervous at all leading up to my first writers night, but it hit me when it was my time to play and sing. I forgot about half the words to “Farmers Daughter”. I remember saying to myself ‘you’re such a idiot for getting yourself into this,’ but after that first song it got a lot easier. I might even start doing more live things now. I’ve kinda got the bug now. (laughs)
CMP: So, I certainly feel honored since the talk around town is you’re the hottest songwriter in Music City! You’re cranking out hit after hit, what helped you get to this place in your life?
BH: I have to give credit to my parents for helping me financially for a little while until I could find a job to pay the bills. My wife Melissa, I’m sure at some point it crossed her that I should maybe think about another career but she never once said that. Coming home to young kids depending on me made me work that much harder. It’s definitely work ethic. I decided a long time ago that someone may out write me but they’re not going to out work me. I just kept showing up day after day and year after year.