The song “Ghost in this House” by Shenandoah was written by Hugh Prestwood. Although he never really lived in Nashville, he spent quite a bit of a time in there. He thought that moving in the music city was not necessary. He didn’t want the music business right in his face all the time. He also felt that would have been the case had he relocated there.
Prestwood describes himself as a slow, methodical writer and preferred writing alone. During his most prolific period, he would intentionally stick to a leisurely pace of composing just one song per month. Not only that, he would only create one tune at a time. A melody would usually come pretty fast and then Hugh would slow the procedure down to a crawl. It took days and sometimes weeks to slowly contemplate the lyrics. Then when he had them, more often than not he would go back and re-write certain lines. He would also try to find the last couple of pieces of the puzzle.
“Ghost In This House” was composed in that style. Prestwood first got the idea for the song while watching the old classic movie “The Grapes Of Wrath.” The movie was starring Henry Fonda. There’s a scene where a character named Muley has just lost everything he owned. Broken and despondent, Muley tells the character, Fonda, that he’s
“Just an old graveyard ghost. That’s all in the world I am.”
Hugh thought that might make an interesting idea for a song, and wrote it down in his “song ideas” journal.
About a year later, during the dead of winter, Prestwood’s wife had been in a minor car wreck and was in a lot of pain for a month or two. Not that big of a deal, but it got Hugh to thinking, “What if this had been a really serious accident and I had lost her?” It was a really dreary night and he started writing. Prestwood liked to visualize a lot when composing lyrics and he started imagining this big house with only one light on upstairs. It was with this great sense of emptiness and quiet. Without regard as to whether the song would be commercial or not, “Ghost In This House” was born out of Hugh’s purely emotional line of thought about something that might have happened if the circumstances had been different.
Prestwood had Michael Johnson in mind for “Ghost In This House.” Johnson had already taken two of Hugh’s songs into Billboard’s country Top Ten. However, he was between record deals and not in a position to record “Ghost In This House.” Producer Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals, Alabama acquired the tune. Hall was co-producing Shenandoah down there with Robert Byrne and they ended up doing it. Hugh was more than happy because he liked Marty Raybon’s voice a lot. Raybon was Shenandoah’s lead singer at the time and he knew that Marty would be able to deliver the goods to country radio.
Although pleased with Shenandoah’s cut of “Ghost In This House,” Prestwood actually had envisioned a version that was somewhat darker than the way they did it – much slower and heavier. Then when Alison Krauss recorded it, she took the song to where Hugh initially thought he wanted it to go, although he conceded that Marty’s rendition was exactly right for radio airplay and agreed that Alison’s track was a bit more artistic, but wouldn’t make it as a single release. Several years later, Krauss performed at a White House event along with Brad Paisley and one of the tunes she did was “Ghost In This House.” The favorable reviews by The New York Times and The Washington Post mentioned the song by name, which writer Prestwood thought was “kind of cool.”