Hitmaker Hayslip; Mt. Juliet two-time 'Songwriter of the Year' also snags 'Song of the Year' single with Shelton's 'Honeybee'
Though he had a guaranteed gig as a weekend sportscaster in Augusta, Ga. and head football coach offers at private schools and "guaranteed money," Ben Hayslip knew deep in his soul writing songs was his passion and future.
So, he ditched the offers, packed up a moving truck and headed to Nashville, Tenn.
It was 1994 and he just graduated from Georgia Southern University with a degree in communications. However, the diploma served only as a backup plan with Hayslip's penchant for writing lyrics motivation enough to brave the country music business in Nashville; a mecca for country singers and some of the world's best songwriters.
Even before he unpacked his belongings, he picked up a magazine and scanned an article.
"The first article I ever read after arriving in Nashville said that only one percent of country songwriters ever make it," he said. "It hit me between the eyes. I had left everything I ever knew. I was 450 miles away from home. I was scared. Everyone knew I made this leap, and I knew I was not going back home."
Turns out Hayslip defied those terrifying odds. Big time.
So big that for the second year in a row Hayslip has been named ASCAP's "Songwriter of the Year," and also won top honors for "Song of the Year," Blake Shelton's "Honeybee."
Hayslip said he's incredibly competitive.
"But with myself," he noted.
That competition with himself has propelled Haylsip into the echelon of country songwriters. He was showcased on Oct. 29 at the Country Music Awards show with his double wins. The honor of "Songwriter of the Year" came from a quadruple series of hits this past year. Along with "Honeybee," there's Martina McBride's "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," "I Don't Want this Night to End," by Luke Bryan and Craig Morgan's "This Ole Boy."
Suffice it say it's "been a great year," for this songwriter who penned his first lyric when he was just 14 years old. He just happened to write that song with Rhett Akins, who has co-written with Hayslip on many of his hit songs.
"Rhett and I grew up in the same town," said Hayslip. "We are best friends."
And while Hayslip was a natural athlete in high school; the school's quarterback and top notch first baseman - he was All-State and helped lead Evans High School to the Georgia State Championship in 1988 - he could not stop scratching out songs.
"Rhett and I had a lot in common," said Hayslip. "I found one guy who loved music like I did."
They wore out cassette tapes of Hank Williams, Jr. and George Straight.
"Rhett played guitar so I didn't have to back then," he recalled. "Some of those first songs were pretty bad I'm sure!"
This pair wrote songs from all genres back then but eventually settled on country.
"You name it, we wrote it," he said. "Rap, country, rock n roll. Our biggest hero was Hank Williams, Jr."
After graduating high school, Hayslip went on to college where he was a member of Georgia Southern University's baseball team that participated in the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
After his big move to Nashville, he got a job at America's Choice as a salesperson.
Later he married the love of his life Melissa, and now they have three boys; Tarver, 12; Camden, 10 and Knox, 6.
Hayslip's big break in the songwriting industry was in 1996.
"Dan Dailey gave me my first writing deal," said Hayslip. "I had had some minor successes along the way, but I credit him for giving me a chance."
His first hit song was "Long Slow Kisses" by Jeff Bates.
"It made it to the Top 10," he said.
There's been no looking back. His success has been phenomenal.
He co-writes not only with Akins but also Dallus Davidson.
"We are called the "Peach Pickers," said Hayslip. "We all are from Georgia and we pick guitars."
Some of the hit songs Hayslip has co-written are "Put a Girl in It," by Brooks & Dunn, "Barefoot and Crazy" by Jack Ingram, "Gimmie that Girl" and "The Shape I'm In" by Joe Nichols. Shelton's also recorded his "I'll Just Hold On" and "All About Tonight." Josh Turner's "All Over Me" was also one of the hits he penned.
In April 2010 "Gimmie that Girl" went to No. 1 on the country music singles charts. In this same year Hayslip received the CMA Triple Play Award for having three No. 1 songs in a 12 month period.
And the list goes on. He has an office on Music Row in Nashville and he treats songwriting as a full time job.
His philosophy about songwriting is simple.
"You show up everyday," he said. "You can write songs on inspiration, which is good, or you can write songs with perspiration. If I wrote purely on inspiration, I'd just have a handful a year. It's hard to wait to be inspired when you have three kids. And, I coach full time."
The coaching gig is for his three sons.
"My kids came up through the Mt. Juliet Little League," he said.
The youngest is still in the league, but Hayslip and his assistants travel with Tarver's team the "Thunder Stix," and Camden's "Prospects," which "are number ones in the state."
He said he writes when he gets home from coaching. One song Hayslip was inspired to write was "I"m Gonna Love You Through It."
It's about a woman battling breast cancer.
He was with co-writer Sonja Issac's one day.
"I'm usually a writer of feel good music," he said. "The kind that makes people happy. The way the country has been going I felt that was important. So when she told me this idea my first instinct was 'oh my goodness.'"
She then told him about her mother's battle and recovery from cancer.
"I had just had an uncle die of cancer as well," he recalled. "She put her mother on the speaker phone and after hearing he story I knew it was a song I needed to write. I had made notes while she spoke to us. I knew it was meant to be."
They sent the song to Reba McIntyre.
"She loved it," he said. "But, she said she was so emotional she could not record it."
McBride put it on the charts.
"Honeybee" came from out of nowhere, he said.
"When we finished we knew that Blake Shelton was the only person crazy enough to pull it off," said Hayslip.
Hayslip said he's never really thought of recording his own songs and turning into a singing artist.
"I've turned down record deals," he said. "It's just not something I want to be. I don't want to be on the road all the time. I want to be with my kids."
And, he does note that he has to write a lot of songs to come up with a hit. He's prolific with words.
Advice to aspiring song writers is in a word, "work."
"What kind of songwriter do you want to be," he said. "You will never make it if you treat it as a hobby. I love it, so it doesnt feel like a job. You have to write everyday whether you are inspired or brain dead."
He's great friends with some of Music City's top recording artists.
"They are friendly and just good people," he said. "We respect each other and I've formed meaningful relationships. I'm very proud to be part of the country music industry. The fact that some of our songs are part of history is humbling."
Hayslip loves living in Mt. Juliet and recently bought some land in Lebanon, closer to where his kids go to Friendship Christian School.
While it seems things couldn't get better, Hayslip's dream was to have Jason Aldean record a song he wrote. That goal was met with Aldean recording "The Only Way I Know."
It hit No. 2 last week.
Hayslip just grinned.
Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 754-6397 or by email at email@example.com
Ben Hayslip gives his acceptance speech at the Oct. 29 Country Music Awards.
Award winning country music songwriter Ben Hayslip with his wife Melissa and sons Knox, Tarver and Camden.