“I have to have faith and believe that, ultimately, the songs I write will touch the world somehow, some way, someday. If I didn’t believe it was possible, I would’ve given up a long time ago.”
The song “The House That Built Me,” co-written by Tom Douglas and Shamblin, has already won the Country Music Association’s “Song of the Year” honors and next month may win a Grammy, a top music award. The purpose of the Grammy event, which will be held Feb. 13 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, is to “highlight the year’s best and brightest in music,” as noted on a Grammy website. Winners are selected by The Recording Academy’s membership of music professionals. The music award show is scheduled to be aired on CBS television 8 to 11:30 p.m. on the 13th, a Sunday.
The Douglas-Shamblin song that’s up for a Grammy has been nominated in two categories — Song of the Year and Best Country Song of the Year. The song was originally recorded and turned into a Country Music Association Song of the Year hit by singer Miranda Lambert.
Shamblin has written and co-written countless songs that have made it to the top of the music industry charts. They’ve been performed by top entertainers in the music business, including Wynonna Judd, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Roy Clark, Brooks & Dunn and LeAnn Rimes. Shamblin songs have crossed genre boundaries. Performers who’ve sung his songs also include Bette Midler, George Michael, Prince, Patti LaBelle and Ci Ci Winan. To these lists, add performers Peter, Paul & Mary, jazz artists Nancy Wilson and Kirk Whalum. He also won a Dove award for “It’s in God’s Hands Now” performed by Anointed.
More specifically, Shamblin wrote “story songs” like “He Walked on Water,” which singer Randy Travis took to the top of the charts; “Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball; “Life’s a Dance” by John Michael Montgomery; “Where the Blacktop Ends” by Keith Urban and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, voted the Number 8 song of “The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time” in the August 2000 issue of Mojo magazine.
Besides writing songs, Shamblin has co-authored, with fellow songwriter Steve Seskin, children’s books like “Don’t Laugh at Me” and “A Chance to Shine.” “Don’t Laugh At Me” has been translated into several languages and is being used by teachers throughout the United States and other parts of the world as an aid against bullying, Shamblin’s website points out.
Shamblin currently resides in Franklin with his wife, Lori, and their three children on a small farm with horses, burros, goats, a rooster and “too many dogs and cats.”
Years ago, however, Shamblin was born in Cleveland before spending years in Calhoun. As he spoke of relatives in Calhoun, Shamblin stated: “Those people shaped my life as much or more than anybody in my entire life.” He still has people he’s close to in the Calhoun area.
Before his talent caused his name to be well-known in music circles, Shamblin worked in real estate and spent many years in Huffman, Texas, about 30 miles outside Houston. Although he graduated from Sam Houston State University with a degree in marketing, the work he really loved was always music. He crafted 14 songs before trying his luck in Nashville, where the “honest, earthy” lyrics grabbed the attention of the Nashville music establishment. The home where he spent his growing-up years, about which the award-winning song speaks, is in Huffman.
The Grammy-nominated piece started at a songwriters’ event in Sundance, Utah. The co-writer, Tom Douglas, also attended the gathering. “We started in Sundance,” Shamblin recalled, “but [the song] didn’t get the response we thought it would. We re-wrote it three years ago ... the original version wasn’t quite clear [about] why the person was knocking on the door of the house.” That purpose, the lyrics cry out, was to try to mend a broken heart by returning to a childhood home.
As the song says, “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healing ... won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me.”
Shamblin believes goodness can grow from a heart broken open. “The most humble, soulful, godly people I know are broken,” he commented.
When describing the songwriting process, Shamblin simply said, “It usually happens on a legal pad. It’s what I love to do. It’s my passion.”
Once in a while, Shamblin says he writes a song with a particular performer in mind. However, that’s not usually the case. After the melody and lyrics are written or co-written, Shamblin says the work is turned over to “song pluggers” who try to market the music. “Hopefully, they know someone who can do it. Sometimes, I take it.”
Once the song is out of his hands, it’s out of his control— but Shamblin notes that performers can’t change the melody or lyrics. They must stay true to the song.
“I try to write,” Shamblin went on, “from my deepest joys and sorrows.”
So far, writing from the heart has taken Shamblin to the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year for 2010 and hopefully, in February, all the way to a Grammy.
While traveling such a high road, Shamblin’s faith keeps him grounded. “I believe it’s my calling,” he said. “It’s bigger than me ... it’s my ministry.”
For aspiring artists who may feel they’ve worked and worked without adequate results, Shamblin offered this encouragement: “The first thing they must ask themselves is why they do it. If you can answer why you do it, then when times get hard, you can keep doing it.”