Former CASC Winner Contributes to Ricky Skaggs' Latest Album
CASC winner Becky Buller has another feather in her hat.
"I'm very excited to say that 'Music To My Ears,' co-written by Lisa Aschmann, Mark Simos and me, is the title cut of Ricky Skaggs' latest album, to be released September 25," says Buller.
Earlier "feathers" she may tout are songs she has written that have been recorded by Rhonda Vincent ("Fishers of Me"), Bearfoot ("Little Bird"), Special Consensus ("Scratch Gravel Road"), Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver ("Be Living"), Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out ("Rest My Weary Feet" and "My Angeline"), Kenny and Amanda Smith ("Why Do You Do What You Do" and "Why Don't You Just Say Good-bye"), and Valerie Smith ("Blame It on the Bluegrass" and "In Those Mines").
That's a lot of feathers in Buller's hat! But it gets even better. Several of her songs have made it to the bluegrass charts over the years. Valerie Smith's cut of "Blame It on the Bluegrass" made it all the way to No. 2 on Bluegrass Unlimited's "National Survey" chart.
So, how did Buller get started? She recalls:
"The first of my compositions I recall playing in public was a piano piece for Mrs. Monson's 5th grade music class. When I was finished, she called it a "Magical Musical Moment" and gave me a Charm's Blow Pop. I don't remember the name of the tune now or even how it went. The first song I remember writing sounded melodically a lot like "Rock, Salt, & Nails." It was called "It Could've Been Raining," and I remember writing it while mowing the lawn when I was about 13. It went 'It could've been rainin', there could have been snow, when I left my home a ramblin' to go...' (Deep!) I got encouraging reviews from our family band, Prairie Grass, although I don't recall if we ever performed it. It may be on an ancient demo somewhere at my parents' house, but it didn't get any further than that. From then on, I was always scribbling down songs, especially when I was supposed to be doing something else, like working at my parents' dry cleaner shop or studying trigonometry. Writing is just something that I've always HAD to do. It's so satisfying to finish up a new song that I really like and even better when other folks like it too. I never set out to make songwriting a career, but in the last few years, I've gotten more deliberate about it, doing lots more co-writing and pitching."
Buller entered "How I Love You" in the 2001 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass category) and won first place. She included this song on her album "Rest My Weary Feet."
"Winning the CASC in 2001 certainly gave me the confidence to work harder as a writer," says Buller. "It's also a very prestigious credential to have, and I'm very grateful for it!"
In fact, Buller says that another CASC winner has served as a role model and inspiration to her.
"When I graduated from high school, my violin teacher gave me a cassette of Gillian Welch's Revival. She said, 'I think you might enjoy this.' The cassette changed my life,'" explains Buller. "I got to meet Gillian (a 1993 CASC winner) in 1999 at Wayne Henderson's house during the after party for his festival. We swapped a couple songs. She sang one I've never heard again about Apalachicola rain. I was so excited and nervous, but completely inspired."
It's tough to break into the songwriting business. Organizers of the CASC hear this repeatedly from contest participants. So, Buller offered her own advice to aspiring songwriters hoping to make their craft into a career:
"Don't give up and don't sell your soul. Write music you're proud of, whether it's commercial or not. You can't sell it if you don't believe in it. Keep pitching and singing and playing and work whatever side job you have to in order to keep creating your music. Hold onto the encouraging moments and fight to not let the discouraging ones get you down. Keep in mind that it sometimes takes years for a song to find its singer. Always keep a portion of your publishing. Always write everything down and never throw any of it away...you never know when you might come back to an idea from a new angle."
One of the perks for CASC finalists is having backstage access at the festival. Buller said that perk "made things ten times cooler" for her at MerleFest. One of her favorite memories of the festival that year is seeing Dolly Parton perform.
Buller says, "It was the first and only time I've gotten to see her live. Because the show was being filmed, Dolly asked the audience if it was all right if she redid one of the songs. Of course we didn't mind! Only Dolly could get away with that!"
Her musical talents have taken Buller all over the world. From 2001 to 2011 she traveled the globe with Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike, playing fiddle, singing, producing, and writing for the band.
"After that whirlwind tour, this past year I have taken a bit of a break," says Buller. "I am doing a lot of recording, songwriting, teaching, and fill-in work with other bands. I have spent some time on the road this summer touring with The Kickin' Grass Band of Raleigh, N.C. And, I have been filling in with four-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Dale Ann Bradley."
A native of St. James, Minn., Buller studied public relations and bluegrass music at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn. She now lives with her husband, Jeff, and their kitty cat, Curly Ray, in Manchester, Tenn., about an hour south of Nashville.
MerleFest, presented by Lowe's, is proud once again to host the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Aspiring songwriters may submit entries to the contest now through Sonicbids: http://www.sonicbids.com/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest. Mail-in entries for CASC will be accepted beginning November 1, 2012, and will close on February 19, 2013.