16th Avenue’s Beginning
It was late one Friday night and Thom was just picking around at home. He didn’t have any song ideas on his mind. This was not an instance where he thought,
“Hey, I’ve just come up with a great idea. I can’t wait to start writing!”
Nonetheless, some lyrics came to him and he jotted them down. In short order, Schuyler had worked up three verses, then he decided to stand back and take a look at what he had so far.
Not containing a chorus, the tune didn’t even have the structure of a commercial song. So Thom just threw it in a desk drawer. He did give it a title: “16th Avenue.” He assessed that the new piece was too much of an “industry” song, which would mean very little to the general public as a whole.
Once Schuyler had finished “16th Avenue” (still without a chorus), he did a little demo of the tune and it got into the hands of Jerry Smith, who had worked with a lot of new artists over the years to help them get their start. He was plugging some songs for Even Stevens and Eddie Rabbitt, and Smith took “16th Avenue” and another song Thom had written, “My Old Yellow Car” over to Billy Sherrill’s office at Columbia. Jerry came back to report that Billy liked both tunes, but “My Old Yellow Car” was his favorite.
He admitted that he is an “absurdly practical guy,” and as Schuyler was preparing to come to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter, he had saved up enough money so he wouldn’t have to stay in the boarding houses along Music Row, or live in his car, or do any of the other desperate things mentioned in the song, but Thom observed other people who did and he listened to their stories.
A couple of days later, Sherrill called Thom at the publishing house to set up a meeting. A chat with the legendary producer was quite a thrill for the young songwriter. Billy was very generous with his time, and he ended up recording both “16th Avenue” and “My Old Yellow Car” with Lacy J. Dalton, a singer Sherrill was producing at the time. “My Old Yellow Car” was used only as an album filler for Dalton, but the song did become a Top Ten hit for Dan Seals three years later in 1985.
Columbia issued Lacy’s cut of “16th Avenue” as a single. It debuted on Billboard Magazine’s country playlist on September 11, 1982, and was progressing up the chart at a steady pace when the song was used to open the 1982 Country Music Association Awards telecast. As Dalton performed it live on the main stage, a montage of old and new clips of downtown Nashville, and photos of would-be stars walking the streets carrying their guitar cases were shown on the big screen behind her. Schuyler thought it was a great presentation.
From time to time, when Thom hears Lacy J. Dalton’s recording of “16th Avenue” from more than thirty years ago, he’s reminded what a fine record it was, how well Billy Sherrill produced it, and how great Lacy’s vocal was. Thom wrote songs that fared much better on the charts, some even reaching #1 (such as Kenny Rogers’ “Love Will Turn You Around,” Michael Martin Murphey’s “A Long Line Of Love,” and Earl Thomas Conley’s “Love Out Loud”). Many times the bigger hits aren’t always the ones remembered, but people remember “16th Avenue.” Some call it “the songwriter’s anthem,” and to Thom, that’s quite an honor.
lacy j. dalton
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