The Oak Ridge Boys, ‘American Made’ — Story Behind the Song
Veteran music journalist Jake Brown spoke to a wide variety of the top songwriters in Nashville for his new book, 'Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music's Greatest Hits.'
Brown got the scoop from Craig Wiseman, Bob DiPiero, Bill Anderson, Tom Shapiro, Kelley Lovelace, Rivers Rutherford, Tom T. Hall, Chris Dubois, Dallas Davidson, David Lee Murphy, Brett James, Ashley Gorley and Neil Thrasher, among others, taking a look at the writing process behind some of the most popular songs in classic and contemporary country. The book is available here.
In this exclusive excerpt, Bob DiPiero talks about writing 'American Made,' which the Oak Ridge Boys took to No. 1 in 1983. The classic track is still a fan favorite in the group's live shows.
This was during the recording of her first album, back when nobody knew who Reba was yet. I had written this song by myself, called 'I Can See Forever in Your Eyes,' and had started working at this publishing company called Combine Music, which is now part of EMI, and Reba heard the song and wanted to record it. And at first, I thought, “Boy, this is going to be easy,” until a few more years went by before I got another cut [laughs], which happened to be 'American Made' by the Oak Ridge Boys.
Those first two cuts kind of tie together, in that at the time that I wrote 'Forever in Your Eyes,' I was making my living teaching guitar at a guitar store, like half-hour lessons to kids after school, or whoever wanted to learn. That was how I was paying the bills at the time, and I remember being in that little cubicle that I taught in, just kind of playing through some chord changes that I really liked, and those chord changes just kind of led me to this melody, which in turn just kind of led me to the title.
So the song ['I Can See Forever in Your Eyes'] went on to be a Top 20 record, I think it went to [No.] 18, and for me, it generated a lot of money, because I had never seen anything beyond a three-figure check or four-figure check max, so all of a sudden, I got this royalty check, and it was the biggest I’d ever seen, so I just went out and spent it all, which is how 'American Made' sort of came about. Because I bought a Sony color TV, I bought a Nikon camera, a video game, and then realized I hadn’t paid my taxes, so [I] thought, “I need to write another song.”
I guess my process then [was] pretty much the same process [as it is] now, which is: I was and always have tried to be open to any kind of musical stimulus, whether it’s a chord change, a guitar riff, a title, or whether it’s just a concept -- an idea for writing the song. There’s no one way for me, there are many different ways, and I think that’s part of why I’ve had this long career, is I’m just always open to picking up whatever’s out there. It’s kind of like what Keith Richards said in his autobiography, that sometimes you just feel like an antenna, and you’re just trying to dial in that thing that’s kind of floating out there. And sometimes it’s just cold-blooded -- we need to write a song, so let’s write a song. But it’s always different, is, I guess, the final answer, but 'American Made' was one of those that was kind of born out of necessity.