two name songwriters


My friend Tom says most, if not all, great writers are fractured individuals. I hope he’s wrong about that; I’ve always been a happy, well-adjusted guy. I plan to achieve Great Writer status one day and would hate to think lack of a tortured soul, along with precious little talent, will prevent such dreams. The only thing even remotely dark about me is my middle name.

If I had been a girl, none of this would have happened. I would have been Betty Louise. At least that’s what my mother said. The Mike part of my name originated with an old Army buddy of my dad’s from WWII. I have no idea where my middle name came from and there’s no one left to ask.

Underground newspapers in several places I’ve lived have all done articles, humorous stories, and updates about the link between the middle name Wayne and criminals, usually stupid criminals. The reference list is long, too long to be ignored as happenstance. As luck and my parents would have it, my middle name is Wayne. I guess I’m lucky. Jean and George might have insisted I go by both names.

Going by two names is as southern as sweet tea, Civil War pride, and Bless yore heart. I had cousins named Joe Tom, Cecil Clyde, and Collie Hill. I went to school with literally hundreds of guys who used both names. Every bad southern movie features a stupid character with two names. If that character is named Billy Bob stay away. Writer’s laziness in naming stereotypical characters is a sure sign of poor cinematic quality.

We take two name guys in stride down south. There is a lot of it going on and except for the Wayne thang, most are reputable people. Just consider the songwriters. Tony Joe White introduced the world to Cajun funk guitar and poke salett. I still can’t say those two words without a four note bass run in between. Billy Joe Royal is best known as the man who put the Boondocks on the map, and B. J. Thomas should be in the hall of fame for “Mama” alone.

But the true excellence of two name songwriters can be found in Texas. Start with Jerry Jeff Walker, that died-in-the-wool full-blooded Texan who was actually born in New York. Writing Mr. Bojangles allowed him to continue as a singer-songwriter forever and he repaid karma in full by exposing the music of Gary P. Nunn and Ray Wylie Hubbard to the world, or at least Texas. Nunn gave us “London Homesick Blues” and Hubbard the tender love song “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.”

David Alan Coe gained fame as a member of the Outlaw movement with Willie, Waylon and the Boys. Probably best known for “You Never Even Called me by My Name”, a song he didn’t write; he made most of his money for “Take This Job and Shove It”, a song he wrote but didn’t record.

Robert Earl Keen is a favorite of mine, and lots of others around the country. He went to college with Lyle Lovett and has written songs for everyone in the bidness. Famous for his holiday classic, “Christmas from the Family”, he has penned thousands of musical stories about the Texas experience.

Billy Joe Shaver is another songwriting giant few are aware of. Shaver has an odd quiver in his singing voice, almost an unintentional yodel. But his songwriting, especially about his native state, is incredible. I especially like the obscure songs Shaver and the aforementioned Ray Wylie Hubbard have created. If you aren’t already familiar with these guys, give ‘em a test drive. A lifetime’s worth of good music and not a Wayne in the bunch.

If you don’t believe me, call up Billy Ralph Sherman over in Tuscaloosa. He’d never lie about music.


Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.