In 1981, 26-year-old Paul Overstreet – a struggling, wanna-be country singer and songwriter – was on the verge of moving back to the place where he had lived when he arrived in Nashville as an 18-year-old with a guitar, a few songs and a laundry basket for a suitcase. That place? His car.
“I had gotten evicted from an apartment because my rent was late – that happened a couple of times,” Overstreet says with a sardonic chuckle, speaking by phone from his current home near Nashville as he gears up for his performance at the Palm Coast Songwriters Festival.
The festival, which runs April 29-May 2 at various area venues, will feature 30 songwriters who have penned hits, including more than 125 No. 1s, for such country stars as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and many others – including George Jones and Randy Travis in Overstreet’s case.
Growing up in tiny Vancleave, a bayou town near the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Overstreet dreamed of becoming the next Hank Williams after being star-struck as an 8-year-old by “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” a biopic of the country legend.
“I told my mom and stepfather ‘That’s what I want to do,’ ” he says. “When you’re 8 years old they just go ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ ”
His grandmother gave him a guitar and his brothers taught him chords, “and then later as I started writing songs, my stepfather would always say, ‘Well, that’s good but you can’t make a living at it — you gotta have something to fall back on,’ ” Overstreet says. “And I went, ‘Well, Hank did it.’ ”
Overstreet, who will headline a free concert from 5-10 p.m. Thursday April 29 in the courtyard of European Village, laughs and confesses he was “dumb as a rock” when he packed his ’68 Ford Fairlane and headed for Nashville.
“I was 18 and I didn’t know anything,” he says of his arrival in the burg that even non-country types call “Music City.” “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a greeeenhorn,” he adds, his Deep South baritone drawling extra molasses on the word even as a rooster can be heard crowing in the background at the Overstreet residence.
By 1981, Overstreet was becoming frustrated and antsy. Yes, that job at the water heater factory had brought in some cash, and yes, some of his songs had sold for $200 or so to music publishers – but none had caught the fancy of any country stars or their producers.
“That’s how I was staying alive,” he says. “But there were times where I thought I would find something else to do because a lot of my friends had families and cars and houses and mortgages and jobs that allowed you to get loans to do all that stuff. And I didn’t have any of that. I was still trying to get a hit song – just get a song recorded (laughs). It was a long road, and then ‘Same Ole Me’ came out with George Jones.”
Overstreet had written “Same Ole Me” during a return visit to see family in Mississippi.
As his brother was driving him to the airport in Jackson for his flight back to Nashville, “I read the lyrics to him and I said, ‘What do you think?’ ” Overstreet recalls. “He goes, ‘Eh, I don’t really hear anything.’ So I stuffed it back in the guitar case and I thought ‘I’ll never play this for anybody.’ ”
Overstreet had made one significant connection in Nashville by the early ’80s: He was writing songs with Tony Brown, a keyboardist who had backed Elvis Presley during his later years, as well as the Oak Ridge Boys. Overstreet halfheartedly played “Same Ole Me” for Brown, who years later would become a prominent producer and the president of MCA Nashville Records.
“Tony goes, ‘Man, that’s great!’ ” Overstreet says. He got word that the Oak Ridge Boys were similarly impressed.
Soon word came back that George Jones, one of the Mount Rushmore legends of country music, “is gonna cut your song,” Overstreet says. “I went, ‘Yeah right.’ ‘No really, he’s gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Yeah right.’ They said, ‘It’s going to be the title cut of his album and the Oak Ridge Boys are singing the background on it.’ I said, ‘Don’t build me up just to let me down.’ ”
“Same Ole Me” went to No. 2 on the country charts and became one of the signature hits of Jones’s early 1980s comeback. Though Overstreet sighs and notes it would be another four years before another major artist would record one of his songs, his car-living days were over for good.
As a songwriter, Overstreet went on to write or co-write 27 top-10 songs, including “Forever and Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” for Kenny Chesney and “Some Beach” for Blake Shelton, as well as songs for Tanya Tucker, Keith Whitley, Alison Kraus, The Judds, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and others.
As a country artist himself, Overstreet released his album “Sowin’ Love” in 1989 and “Heroes” in 1991, and the two records included the top-10 hits “All the Fun,” “Seein’ My Father in Me,” “Richest Man on Earth,” “Daddy’s Come Around” and others.
He’s won two Grammy Awards for Best Country Song: for “Love Can Build a Bridge” in 1992 and “Forever and Ever, Amen” in 1988.
Overstreet is grateful for both aspects of his music career: being in the spotlight as a performer and behind the scenes as a songwriter. But he never yearned for the road-warrior life that is a virtual requirement for being a star.
“I’m glad I got to do both,” he says. “When your songs are recorded by other artists, it kind of pays the bills and you don’t have to travel. When you do it on your own, you gotta be out there. You gotta be the guy who’s traveling, making all the phone calls and dealing with all the record company things and promotion people. Your life is your own, but there’s a certain amount of obligation that comes with that. Guys like Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels spent their life on the road – that’s what they did, they loved it.
“As a songwriter, you can wake up in your bed every day, sit on your front porch and have coffee. You don’t have to be running here and there. You don’t have to be getting on a plane, getting on a bus.
“I love being the songwriter, having people record my songs. I just think that’s the coolest thing. The artist gets his turn with that song. Once he gets a hold of it, they don’t own the copyright but it’s his for a little while. That’s why people think artists wrote the songs. But you can just sit back and enjoy it and you can hear it on the radio and you know someday you’re going to get out in front of a small crowd and sing this song that everybody loves, and that’s going to be great.”
Overstreet, who’s been married 36 years to his wife Julie, has been busy during his pandemic year. He’s about to release two albums: a second “beach” album that will follow up his 2018 release, “Somewhere in the Caribbean”; and a country album with new songs and some “re-records,” including “Forever and Ever, Amen.” A third country album is mostly in the can and will include all-new songs.
And, Overstreet adds, “I’m rebuilding an old ’76 truck. I haven’t finished it, but I would go out there (laughs) and put the brake drums on and I did all this stuff, just crazy.”
For his concert at the Palm Coast Songwriters Festival, Overstreet will “absolutely” talk more about his songs than he would during a regular performance.
“I’ll be playing a lot of the songs that I’ve had hits with as a writer,” he says. “I’ll be playing some stuff from the ‘Somewhere in the Caribbean’ album, and hits of my own like ‘Seein’ My Father in Me’ and ‘Daddy’s Come Around.’ Then I’ll sprinkle in some of the new songs.”
Overstreet is still jazzed when he recalls the end of his car-life days, when he met George Jones and heard the Possum singing “Same Ole Me” on the radio.
“I was like ‘Oh man!’ ” Overstreet recalls. “I didn’t even know how powerful that was, but man that’s something else when you get your first single out there and radio starts playing it, and you start hearing all the stories about all of the requests that they get, people wanting it played. And you go ‘Wow, that is so, so cool.’”
The Palm Coast Songwriters Festival will be held Thursday April 29 through Sunday May 2. For more information or to purchase tickets, go online at palmcoastsongwritersfestival.com. Masks are required at all performances. For general admission (lawn seating), patrons should bring chairs. Blankets for seating are not allowed. Here’s the schedule:
Thursday April 29: European Village courtyard, 101 Palm Harbor Parkway, Palm Coast. Admission free.
5 p.m. — J.R. Ward and Lauren Mascitti
6 p.m. — Jesse Rice and Jimmy Parrish
7:05 p.m. — Trent Tomlinson and Ira Dean
8:30 p.m. — Paul Overstreet
Friday April 30: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
6 p.m. — Casey Beathard and Brett Jones
7:25 p.m. — Yesterday’s Wine (Wyatt Durrette and Levi Lowrey) and Tyler Reeve
8:50 p.m. — Bobby Pinson and Kelley Lovelace
Saturday May 1: Bloody Mary Brunch Bash, Oceanside Bar and Grill, 1848 S. Ocean Shore Blvd., Flagler Beach. Admission free.
11 a.m.-1 p.m. — Thom Shepherd, Coley McCabe Shepherd and Wynn Varble
Saturday May 1: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
5 p.m. — Leslie Satcher and Kent Blazy
6:20 p.m. — Lee Thomas Miller, Tim Nichols
8:25 p.m. — Smith Steele (Anthony Smith and Jeffrey Steele)
Sunday May 2: Daytona State College Amphitheater, 3000 Palm Coast Parkway SE, Palm Coast. Single-day lawn general admission $20 (reserved seating sold out).
1 p.m. — Karen Staley and Chris Wallin
2:10 p.m. — Brock Berryhill and Taylor Phillips
3:20 p.m. — Bridgette Tatum and Steve Azar
4:30-5:15 p.m. — James Slater