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Story Behind the Song: Kenny Chesney ‘Somewhere With You’

Songwriters JT Harding and Shane McAnally had never met before the day they sat down and penned the smash song “Somewhere With You.” Kenny Chesney released the tune in November of 2010, as the second single from his Hemingway’s Whiskey album, and the track spent three weeks at No. 1 in early 2011 and has been certified platinum.

While Harding and McAnally didn’t know each other, both had experienced their share of trouble and heartache when they collaborated on the song, and they channeled their frustration and grief into the tune. At the time, McAnally had gone through a breakup while living in Los Angeles and was moving back to Nashville to give Music City a second try after a failed record deal a decade earlier. Harding, meanwhile, was grieving the death of his father, a bad breakup, a lost publishing deal and the pending demolition of his apartment complex. Both writers sat down with The Boot to share the inspiring story.

Shane McAnally: It was literally two guys who had nothing, and I had just come back. I had no one to write with. I had started playing on the Sunset Strip in LA.

Before I left Nashville, I was just writing what was on the radio at the time, because it was all I knew. And going to LA, not having anything going on, not having anyone to write with because I didn’t have a deal, that holds you up. You’re gonna find a sound, you’re gonna find your true voice. When I came back, I was driving this ’95 Corolla I had borrowed from my sister’s boyfriend, and a bungee cord was holding up the passenger side window!

I ended up writing with JT that day because we have a mutual friend who’s a songwriter who pawned me off on JT, and what a blessing!

JT Harding: Shane and I both were in a tough spot, but we both showed up. And basically, right out of a movie script, neither of us had anything going on, and the day we met we wrote “Somewhere With You.”

McAnally: What’s funny is, the first name that came to mind when we wrote it was Kenny. It was so far-fetched, because everyone says that about every song they write, but it was so different than anything he had done, and he always has this side that’s this lost love, the-one-that-got-away thing.

Harding: Shane did a whole tour with Kenny years ago, when Shane’s record was out, so he knows about Kenny a little.

One interesting thing about “Somewhere With You” is, it’s the same four chords all the way through the song. I really have to credit Shane, because the fast kind of rap-ish part, I had tried that with some other songwriters, and they all said, “Well, that’s too different; that doesn’t sound country.” And when I sang that melody for Shane, he jumped on it and kept saying, “That’s so different; that’s exactly what we need to do!” And it sure feels good that the biggest artist in country thought it was good for him.

McAnally: Kenny just took a chance, and we knew the song was good, but I think other people’s reaction is what started us realizing what was happening with that song.

Harding: I don’t know if we knew it was special, but I had recently met Uncle Kracker and his brother, Mike Shaffer, who was managing him. Uncle Kracker and Mike started calling us saying, “This “Somewhere With You” song is really special; we gotta start playing it for everybody!” And with everything else I was going through, it really made me feel good.

And Shane, to his credit, made the demo for it, and so much credit goes to him. Also, Shane was really excited that I wasn’t a country writer, that I was more of a pop-rock guy, just as I was excited that he was a country writer.

I honestly write songs the only way I know how: to say something I’m feeling. So whether it’s for myself or someone else, it’s usually the same.

McAnally: The reason it works for us as a writing combo is, I can get very bogged down in the technical side of a song. The number of words in a line, matching up the rhymes, and JT is raw instinct. He stands up off a chair and says, “Right here, it has to lift,” and then he’ll sit back down and say, “And here, I need to just feel it!” I think he’s more comfortable with me now — he’s climbing the walls now, he’s standing on the edge of chairs and hanging upside down … What’s my great quote?

Harding: He always says, “You’re scaring people with your enthusiasm!” [Laughs]

I have to be careful, because Shane has such a great voice that when we’re writing even the most basic idea, it sounds so great when we’re singing it. So I don’t know if it’s good or not.

While “Somewhere With You” was sitting on a shelf somewhere, a song I co-wrote for Kracker, “Smile,” came out — I got real lucky with that one — and also the Jonas Brothers’ single, “Feelin’ Alive.” And Shane had “Last Call” for Lee Ann Womack come out, and some Reba [McEntire] and Luke Bryan cuts, so we both had things happening, and we love those things, and they’re great, and then out of the blue, “Somewhere With You” comes out — the cherry on top.

And I personally am a huge country fan, but I would not want anyone other than Kenny Chesney to do this song.

This story was originally written by Lorie Hollabaugh, and revised by Angela Stefano.

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