Richard Fagan

August 24, 2011

Richard Fagan is an American songwriter and musician.[1] He has had six top ten singles and 18 charted singles on the Billboard Country charts. Fagan’s songs have been recorded by Neil DiamondGeorge StraitJohn Michael MontgomeryClay WalkerRicochet,Hank Williams, Jr.George JonesShania TwainPatty LovelessCollin RayeShenandoahThe CricketsJason & the ScorchersThe Blues Brothers Band and many others.




One of the most successful songwriters in Nashville says he is “just lucky.”But luck, alone, cannot account for the outstanding accomplishments of Richard Fagan. It takes more than luck to have six top-10 smash hits, 20 charted titles and more than 65 songs recorded. You don’t have stars like Shania Twain, Hank Williams Jr., George Jones, Neil Diamond, The Blues Brothers Band and George Strait singing your songs just by being lucky. It takes something much more — talent and dedication.

Fagan’s songs have appeared on the soundtracks of five Hollywood feature films. He has written a network television theme song, a Presidential campaign song, a national sports anthem, show tunes, gospel songs, comic numbers and a Billboard Country Single of the Year. Working with a variety of collaborators, he has been responsible for such unforgettable hits as “Sold,” “Only on Days That End in Y,” “I Miss You a Little,” “Overnight Male” and “Be My Baby Tonight.” Albums containing Fagan songs have sold more than 25 million copies.

“God has always given me a pot of gold,” says Richard Fagan. “I think there’s a reason for it all. And I guess my being naïve helped me to succeed in Nashville. I didn’t know it at the time, but my timing was great.”

Fagan came to Music City just as country music was about to explode in popularity. Within a week of him moving to Nashville in January 1986, Con Hunley had recorded his “Blue Suede Blues” and Moe Bandy had accepted his “Americana.” The latter became Fagan’s first top-10 hit as a songwriter and, later, President George H.W. Bush’s official campaign theme song. In 1988, Grand Ole Opry star Mel McDaniel released a number of Fagan songs, including the top-10 hit “Real Good Feel Good Song.” It was later adopted by the gospel group The Kingsmen.

“When I came here, I was pretty confident,” Fagan comments about his overnight success in a town that is famously difficult to crack for songwriters. “I had grown up playing early rock ‘n’ roll in South Philly. But by the 1980s, pop had changed so drastically. I was starting to get away from it when new-wave and punk came in. By the time rap came along, the whole landscape had changed. So when I came to Nashville, I thought, ‘Country music is closer to what I grew up with, early rock ‘n’ roll.’ So I think I had good reason to be confident: I knew how to do that.

“I also thought, ‘You know what? This is a small enough town for me to chip away at.’ If you’re broke, it’s a lot easier to be broke in Nashville than broke in L.A. Even before you get that first song recorded, you feel good about yourself. The songwriting community here does that for you.”

Fagan is well known in Nashville for his off-center sense of humor. He is one of the few tunesmiths who regularly writes for humorists such as Cledus T. Judd, Ethel & the Shameless Hussies, Kacey Jones and his band Phillybilly. The first evidence of this aspect of his talent came when the comic duo Pinkard & Bowden recorded his “Universal Adjective Song” in 1990.

“I think that I’m kind of high strung and buggy, and humor lets that come out in a good way. That’s what makes me be all right and not some nut. Besides, I like being irreverent.”

At the dawn of the 1990s, Fagan was poised to become one of the top tunesmiths of the decade. Collin Raye, B.B. Watson, Jason Ringenberg, Ray Kennedy, Chris LeDoux and others were snapping up his songs. “Overnight Male,” sung by George Strait, was included on the six-million-selling soundtrack to the movie Pure Country in 1992. Shania Twain’s version of Fagan’s “Crime of the Century,” was featured on the soundtrack of the Nicolas Cage thriller Red Rock West in 1993.

Fagan scored his first No. 1 hit in 1994 when John Michael Montgomery took his rollicking “Be My Baby Tonight” to the top of the charts. Montgomery repeated the feat a year later with Fagan’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” which became so successful it was named Billboard’s Country Single of the Year. In 1996 Clay Walker took “Only on Days That End in Y” into the top-10, and Patty Loveless’s rendition of “Where Are You Boy” was included on the soundtrack of the hit Kevin Costner movie Tin Cup. A year after that, Montgomery was back at the top with “I Miss You a Little.”

Yet another soundtrack success came in 2000 when r&b artist Tony Kurtis sang Fagan’s “Do I Love You Enough” on the soundtrack of the Wesley Snipes film Disappearing Acts. The song also charted as a country hit by Ricochet. Two years later, Jason Ringenberg sang “Honky Tonk Maniac from Mars” on the soundtrack of The Big Empty, a black comedy on Showtime with Jon Favreau, Kelsey Grammer and Daryl Hannah.

You have probably heard Richard Fagan singing his own songs, although you might not know it. As the lead vocalist of Superfan, Fagan was heard throughout NBC’s eight-month promotion of the 2002 Winter Olympics singing “My House,” the show’s theme song. The hard rocking “My House” has subsequently been broadcast regularly in more than 30 major-league sports facilities nationwide. Returning to life as a country songwriter, Fagan penned 2004’s “Why Can’t We All Just Get a Longneck” for Monday Night Football’s long-time vocalist Hank Williams Jr.

“I like a lot of different stuff,” Fagan says. “So I can write anything in any style. I’ve been through different phases. Like, we wrote a whole sports album for Superfan. I’ve written four new gospel songs. I co-wrote a ballad in the Celine Dion style. I’m working on show tunes for a musical. I’ve got some straight-ahead blues in my catalog.

“I only have one regret. And that is that I didn’t move to Nashville sooner.”

The fact that he arrived at all is a miracle. Richard Fagan’s life story is as colorful as the man, himself. His father died when he was 3, and he was raised in the housing projects of South Philadelphia. His mother cleaned homes and offices for a living while her boy ran wild in the streets. When he was 14, a cousin showed Fagan a few chords on the guitar. He led street-corner harmony groups and accompanied himself singing Dylan and Beatles tunes thereafter. But Fagan sang those songs in a Ray Charles-meets-Joe Cocker style. To this day, he’s a distinctive “blue-eyed soul” vocalist.

Fagan was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where he turned 21. He recalls singing war protest songs, going AWOL and being busted for having “subversive material and pornography” (because of owning a copy of Avant Garde magazine) as the highlights of his tour of duty.

Following his discharge in 1968, Fagan became a homeless vagabond. He married and had a son, but when the marriage failed in 1975 he sank again into drug and alcohol abuse, as well as homelessness. By this time, he had begun dabbling in songwriting. Philadelphia music entrepreneur Tom Oteri heard of Fagan’s talents and invited him to a recording-studio audition. Fagan arrived two hours late and drunk, toppling over three beer cans and a terrarium. Quipped Oteri, “I like the act so far. If he can sing, we’re taking him with us.”

Oteri, who is also the father of Saturday Night Live comic standout Cheri Oteri, urged Fagan to write more songs. In 1976, he recorded five of them and sent them around to various producers. Nothing happened. That might be because Fagan and Oteri had neglected to put an address or phone number on the tape.

“In late 1978, I did a club show that we videotaped,” Fagan recalls. “So this was very early in the video world. Anyway, we were editing it when we got word that the FBI was looking for me. It turned out that [producer/songwriter] Bob Gaudio liked one of the songs and had hired a private detective with FBI connections to track me down.”

Somehow, a copy of the tape had wound up in the hands of Gaudio’s daughter, Lisa. She liked it and asked her father to listen. Bob Gaudio has produced such greats as Diana Ross, The Four Seasons, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. At the time, he was looking for tunes for Neil Diamond, and Fagan’s “The Good Lord Loves You” fit the bill. As it turned out, so did its writer.

“The Good Lord Loves You” became a hit single for Diamond and was included on his Platinum-selling September Morn LP in 1980. In addition, Bob Gaudio got a Mercury Records contract for the songwriter and produced his disc debut, Richard Fagan.

“We moved to L.A. I taught myself to play piano. Bob asked me what I wanted to do. I said, ‘What’s commercial?’ He said, ‘Rock.’ So I went home that night and wrote ‘Sex and Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ which he changed to ‘Sexy Rock ‘n’ Roll.’ Right then, he started looking for a record deal for me, I think. My album came out on Dec. 28, 1979, and Neil Diamond ’s came out a couple of weeks later.”

“FBI Solves Diamond Caper, Song Gem Leads to Hunt,” read the humorous headline of his first story in the press. “Case of the Absent Artist,” headlined another account. Notoriety primed the pump for his disc debut, and the Richard Fagan LP received rave reviews. He and Gaudio recorded Jiver as his follow-up LP, but Mercury Records went through an executive shake-up, and Fagan lost his contract in 1982. The second record was never issued.

“Before you know it, I had a three-year slump,” Fagan remembers. “At the peak of my depression, I asked my doctor if he thought I could be bi-polar. He said, ‘No, you’re a songwriter. You’re just in a business that has a lot of ups and downs and rejections.’”

At the invitation of a fellow songwriter, Fagan began visiting Nashville in 1985. Up to this point, he had mainly written songs by himself. But Music City is a community of collaborators. So he tried it.

“I realized that I think I am a better co-writer than a writer. To get ideas, I read a lot of books about the greatest things anybody’s ever said or about famous phrases. I like it when I can come up with the ‘hook.’ Because then I know I’ve done my share of the work as a co-writer.”

Richard Fagan continues to perform, as well as write. This, he says, has been a key to his success. He tries out new songs on audiences to gauge reactions, notably with his group Phillbilly, which recorded a live CD in 1996.

“I was singing one night with some heavy writers. I was the last one in the line. When it was my turn, I introduced ‘Sold.’ When I got to the chorus, it was like air rushed out of the room. People at the bar stopped talking. The people playing pool stopped talking. When I hit, ‘Sold to the lady in the second row,’ I got an ovation in the middle of the song. That had never happened before. That’s how I knew it was hit.

“When I hear somebody is looking for songs, I usually just drop off a copy of one of mine that I think will fit. In some cases, I don’t even know if it gets heard. And I never knew my songs were being included in those movie soundtracks. That’s why I say I’m just lucky.”

That, and gifted.

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