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Don Schlitz ‘Holds ‘Em’ at Americana Music Festival

Beth Gwinn,

Acclaimed songwriter Don Schlitz knows how to make an audience feel like the ultimate music insider gossiping with their lifelong buddy.

Take his show September 9 at the Station Inn in Nashville when many show-goers seemed to have a vague idea that this was the guy who wrote or co-wrote so many hits they know and love — ‘The Gambler,’ made famous by Kenny Rogers, ‘He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,’ recorded by Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘My Arms Stay Open All Night,’ a hit for Tanya Tucker, ‘One Promise Too Late,’ popularized by Reba McEntire, ‘Forever and Ever, Amen,’ a chart-topper for Randy Travis — the list goes on and on. By the end of his set, attendees were so glued to their seats they seemed not to want to let Don leave the stage, although other musicians were scheduled to perform at the showcase, part of the week’s Americana Music Festival.

So is Chapin here tonight?’ Don asked before playing the Mary Chapin Carpenter hit, ‘I Take My Chances,’ which he co-wrote with the singer. When it was clear his co-writer was not in attendance he quipped, “OK, I wrote this myself,” drawing laughter from the crowd. During the song, he changed the lyrics a bit. While Mary Chapin sings “these tears are mine to keep,” Don sings the line “these scars are mine to keep” — he doesn’t recall which lyric was the original.

Don also humorously revealed to the audience that he has poor self-esteem which developed when he was a child, recalling that his father would throw him in the air … and then go answer the telephone.

The CMA-Award-winning songwriter explained that ‘The Gambler’ was not written while Don was on train. He began writing the song at home and it originated as a song about playing cards. When he got together with a friend and mentor, he played him a few songs he’d been working on and a partial song that would later become ‘The Gambler.’ His friend told him he should finish the song. He did so while working a night job at Vanderbilt University. Although Bobby Bare recorded it, his label wouldn’t release it as a single. The song had also been pitched to Johnny Cash. It went straight to No. 1 in December 1978 when Kenny Rogers recorded it, becoming a pop-crossover smash as well.

Don’s next concert is September 18 in Franklin, Tenn. For more concert dates, check Don’s website.

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