Here in the undisputed songwriting capital of the world, people flock from all over hoping to get a cut. Songwriters toil away at their craft, many of them writing dozens of songs a year, just in the hopes of landing a track on a major record.
So when Nashvillian Karen Leipziger got a call in early 2000 from Chicago blues legend Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, telling her he wanted to record "Winds of Change," a song she co-wrote with Richard Fleming about the 1998 Nashville tornado, she thought he was just being nice — not least of all because it was her very first attempt at songwriting.
"I thought, 'Yeah right. He's just trying to make me feel good,' " Leipziger says.
Not only did "Winds of Change" become the lead track on Clearwater's 2000 Rounder/Bullseye Blues release Reservation Blues, it got nominated for a W.C. Handy Award for Song of the Year. (The awards, presented by the Blues Foundation, are now known as the Blues Music Awards.)
Though it may have been her first song, Leipziger was no stranger to the blues. She sang in bands in high school and performed in Boston clubs after college, and her late husband, saxophonist Dennis Taylor, had been a sought-after sideman for years. In fact, Taylor was on a Boston gig with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown when the couple met in the mid-'80s. (Taylor worked with many great blues and R&B artists, including Buckwheat Zydeco, Duke Robillard, Shelby Lynne and Delbert McClinton. He was on tour with McClinton when he died suddenly from an undetected heart ailment in October 2010.)
By day, Leipziger is a publicist, and has worked for many top blues, rock and roots music artists, including Aerosmith, Duke Robillard, Pete Anderson, Amy LaVere, Ronnie Baker Brooks, The Nighthawks, Ronnie Earl, Jimbo Mathus ... the list goes on and on. (Getting a cut by even the top blues artists won't lead to the kind of quit-your-day-job payday that, say, a Faith Hill cut might.)
Hearing Leipziger's story, you might chalk it up to beginner's luck, if not for the fact that she's had five additional cuts, including two more by Clearwater. On his most recent release, 2008's West Side Strut (Alligator Records), he recorded Leipziger's "Do Unto Others." Leipziger was ecstatic when she found out who played on the track: an all-star lineup that included Otis Clay, Lonnie Brooks, Jimmy Johnson and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Another Leipziger co-write, "Before This Song Is Over," was featured on Clearwater's Grammy-nominated collaboration with Los Straitjackets, Rock 'n' Roll City.
Despite the songwriting success, when Leipziger and her guitarist, Andy Ellis, take the stage Wednesday at The Bluebird (in a round with Peter Cooper, Phil Lee and Dave Duncan), it will be her first show since moving to Nashville in 1989. Is she nervous?
"Today if you ask me, I'd say no," she says. "The day of the show, I may have a different answer."
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