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August 30

‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ and its Surprising but Fun Backstory

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I’m sure ya’ll know this bouncy melody where a couple contemplates on a late-night fishing trip. Maybe you also had a plan to go some river out there on a night out with full moon and stars that fill the sky. The best thing it is set late spring to early summer. This is the story of the number one song in the U.S. and Canadian country charts released June 1987, Fishin’ in the Dark.

The song has been covered by other country stars including Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney. After it became available for download, it has sold over a million digital copies by 2015. It was certified Platinum by the RIAA on September 12, 2014.

Photoglo told the story behind “Fishin’ In The Dark” to Bart Herbison, Executive Director of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

I always find myself tapping (my foot to this song). It’s what my wife would call a “good-mooder.” Do you find that after all of these years?

Well, for me, just the fact that people are still listening to it after all these years. The stories I hear from the (Nitty Gritty) Dirt Band are how their audience react, and it’s like that. It’s a lot of foot-stomping.

But it’s an unlikely song from a California boy. You and Wendy Waldman write this giant country hit that still keeps on breathing. So you’re making one of your first visits to Nashville, and this is almost one of those dream kind of songs. How did this song evolve?

It was incredible. I made three trips to Nashville in 1984 at Wendy’s suggestion. Wendy’s also a California girl. She’s an extraordinary, talented woman, and second generation (songwriter). Her father wrote the theme to “Perry Mason” and “Bullwinkle.” We had met in L.A. and got to talking. She suggested that I come out to Nashville. She sort of sponsored me here and introduced me to a lot of people. I had some pop records out in L.A., and they had gotten played here. With a name like Photoglo, you don’t hear it all the time, so people remembered it. That opened a lot of doors for me. But I was writing primarily with her.

On this one particular visit, I was staying at Shoney’s (Inn) over on Demonbreun. I was experimenting with this one particular chording on the guitar that only played the first and fifth tones of the chord, so you could sing either a major or a minor over it. One morning I woke up and I turned on my tape recorder, sat up and played these two pieces of music. Both of them had that same chordal thing, but one of them had the minor mode and one had the major mode. I took both of them to Wendy, and we wrote the minor, bluesy one first, and it got cut by Terri Gibbs, Kathy Mattea, Patty Loveless and Lacy J. Dalton had the hit on it. It was a song called “You Can’t Run Away From Your Heart.” Then we got back together again, and she had just finished listening to “A Prairie Home Companion.” She said, “Let’s write a song about fishing.”

And again, you two, writing a fishing song. Who would have thunk it?

And the first thing I thought was, “I want to run away screaming, because I love my song.” But she said, “No, fishing in the dark.” We started messing around with it, and it just happened, you know? We did it for fun. We weren’t trying to be like any other song.

Did you know the Dirt Band in L.A.? How did they get the song?

They had actually cut a song of mine that Norbert Putnam produced on them, previously. But Josh Leo came from Los Angeles to Nashville at the same time Wendy and I did, and he had just gotten the job to produce the Dirt Band. He heard the song at a party one night. Back in the early days, we’d all get together, and Wendy and I would cook. We all had these tiny apartments. Actually, Josh and Wendy and I all lived in the same place over on 10th Avenue … he went, “Man, the Dirt Band, this is perfect for them.” I was standing in the right place when they captured lightning in a bottle. People talk about the song, but that record that the Dirt Band made, it so impressed so many people, including Garth Brooks, who has recorded and released it three times. It’s influenced all of these up and coming country acts or even people like Kenny Chesney. He used to play it in the clubs, and his live act after he became famous. There was just an article that came out in Billboard Magazine, about how 27 years later, this song is still getting so much radio play, that if it was considered a current single, it would be No. 57 on the charts. She listed all of these different country songs that reference “Fishing in the Dark” in the lyrics. So it’s been an enormous blessing.

Well, there you are. It seems like a good song will never go ever go wrong despite its beginning being “just for fun.” This just proves that music transcends through time and generations.

Don’t forget to share this with other country fans out there and leave your comments below.


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backstory, fishin in the dark, nitty gritty dirt band


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