DIARY - 16 NOVEMBER 2011 - FRANK DYCUS INTERVIEW
EXPOSES STRAIT SONG SOURCES
a rockslide on the highway, you're a mud hole in the yard/ you ain't playing
with a full deck/ somewhere you lost a card/ now there ain't use pretending,
honey, you ain't got no class/ I'll tell you it is, you're a pain in the
ass/ you're a thorn in my side/ I could give you California but you wouldn't
be satisfied." - Pain In The Ass - Frank Dycus
was destined to be a honky tonk songwriter.
Dycus, now 71 and one of 13 children, was born dirt poor in aptly named
But the twice-wed prolific writer with more than 500 published tunes has
been rolling in mailbox money for most of his career.
I interviewed Frank, born Marion Franklin Dycus, twice - once solo in
Nashville in 1983 - and a second time with partner in rhyme Dean Dillon
The iconic honky tonker released two albums on Swedish label Sonnet in
the seventies and Horny Frank & The Tennessee Shitkickers in
2003 on Banana Shack Records.
The latter included Pain In The Ass - original version of a song
that was a hit for Canadian band The Rovers, nee Irish Rovers, as Pain
In My Past.
Then in 2008 he released another 15-track album Ghost Train on
We'll start with some of the songs he wrote with Dillon for Strait and
the late Gary Stewart before 1983.
For those with a hankering for the colourful embryo of the Dycus career
hang in here.
It was East Tennessee native Dillon who helped revive Dycus from a fallow
"I met up with old Dean Dillon in this honky tonk one night,"
"Dean is a great writer. I hadn't seen him for five years. I was
one of his fans when he was a teenager. I had been drunk for a week and
he had been drunk for a week and we sat down. He said I want to write
a song with you. I've got a hit idea. I said what is it? He said Unwound
- I've been wrapped around her finger but tonight I'm gonna get unwound.
I said to Dean 'that's not the hit idea.' I said 'the hit idea is she
took off - the woman I had wrapped around my finger just come unwound.'
He said 'right.' We just sat there and wrote it in about 20 minutes. Started
writing together. It was noontime at a rock 'n roll hotel called the Close
Quarters. It was the hotel in Nashville where all the rock'n rollers hung
They had a Jacuzzi, everyone walking around like zombies. Me and Dillon
wrote that song while everyone was eating."
GOODBYE HIT ME IN THE HEART
never been a man who could bring me down/ I've walked away from the toughest
of towns/ but her last words tore me apart/ her good bye hit me in the
heart." - Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart - Dean Dillon-Frank
how did they get the songs to Strait?
"Dean wrote for Pi-Gems Music and Blake Mevis was on staff,"
"He had this project going for a friend of his - George Strait.
They were going into studio.
I looked at the tape box. I had four tunes and Dean had five. When
I met George he said 'that's a hit song - you'd probably get that
cut by Paycheck, David Allan Coe.' Well, I probably could but I told
him the Johnny Bush story, how when he first came to town in 1968
and he had a hit with a song I wrote. Then he recorded more of my
< Dean Dillon
I said 'I'll
give you the song - if it's a hit I want you to cut more of my songs.
I want to be able to pick up that phone and call you at home.' It was
ironic. He said come on down to Texas."
were fruitful but let's backtrack for source of Her Goodbye Hit Me
In The Heart - final track on 1981 album Strait Country.
"Dean Dillon is a walking song title index, he'll open his mouth
and a song title will come out without him even knowing it," Dycus
"He came in one morning, he had been into the Jack Daniels all night
long, staggering in. He said he 'I can't make it' he said 'her goodbye
hit me in the heart.' I grabbed a pencil and we started writing. I wanted
Dean to cut it but Jerry Bradley turned it down for Dean on RCA.
As a matter of fact Jerry Bradley turned down Marina Del Rey, Down
And Out and Unwound - he turned them all down. George came
on and cut them all."
I'm down to my last dollar, but I don't really care/ My friends have all
got whiskey, and they don't mind if I share/ they know how it feels to
have your heart torn inside out/ since my woman left, I'm down and out."
- Down And Out - Dean Dillon-Frank Dycus.
So what about
Down And Out?
"Dean and I were writing that song and Blake Mevis came in,"
"I'm the catalyst. Younger writers don't argue. I'm the guy that
throws the line out, says that's commercial and that's not, where the
hook should be. My idea was negative - he turned it around and made a
love song out of it. They needed another uptempo song for his second single
- the second single is the most important. Anyone can get a good shot
on a first record. If you can hang in for three straight records that
establishes you as an artist.
I had been working on a song called Down & Out for months.
I had I was down at the tavern, out of my mind. He walked in and we wrote
it. Strait used that as his second single."
a hidden beach under a golden sun/ she spread a blanket that we laid down
on/ and loved the world away/ in Marina del Rey." - Marina Del
Rey - Dean Dillon-Frank Dycus.
about the magic of Marina Del Rey?
"Dean got in at four in the morning off a plane," Dycus revealed.
"He drove around in his car drinking whiskey instead of going to
bed. I came into my office at 9.30 or 10 am. He had been there all night
- there were cigarette butts in the ashtray.
He's one of these guys that falls in love. Every time a girl looked at
him he fell in love with her. He said 'I left my heart in Marina Del Rey.'
I said 'what do you mean?' He said 'she was just cruel. I fell in love
with her. All she said was I had a good time as she walked away.' I turned
to my wife and said 'Tammy bring me a pen.' This is my new wife by the
way. The previous one I was married to her for 19 years. Tammy helps me
- she works in publishing.
She brought a pen and I said 'tell me about it, son.' We sat down and
wrote Marina Del Rey. I took it immediately to Jerry Bradley who
was producing Dean at RCA. He stopped right in the middle of it and said
'where in the hell is Marina Del Rey?' I said Jerry 'it's the same place
Rocky Top was & Luckenbach before the songs come out. It don't make
no difference where Marina Del Rey is. It's a love song - it ain't about
Marina Del Rey. He passed on it and George cut it and had a big hit with
a hundred dollar bill on the table/ to get me through the night/ got a
tight blue jeaned honky tonk queen/ to hold me tight/ and the cowboy band's
rendition of a Texas waltz/ it's music to my ears that I need to hear/
to keep me from climbing the walls." - Honky Tonk Crazy - Dean
co-wrote hit was Honky Tonk Crazy, recorded by Dillon and Stewart
on their first duet disc Brotherly Love in 1982.
"Dean's the kind of guy who loves all the attention," Dycus
loves to have all the girls flocking around him - he tips the waitress
$10 bills. I'm the opposite - I don't want anyone to know who I am. I
was getting mad at him because he was introducing himself to all the ladies.
I wanted to leave but I was with him and couldn't leave. We were in this
rough section of town where you get your throat cut if you're not careful
after midnight. He said 'you can't leave because I got the car.' I said
'you watch my arse go out the door.' I walked 10 miles to a truck stop
cross the river and through the woods. I called my wife to come and get
me. It was about 3 o'clock in the morning. She said 'where's Dean?' And
I said 'he's Honky Tonk Crazy, he's rip roaring wild.' When I got home
I jotted it down. I didn't try to write it that night. Me and Dean got
together about three or four days later and wrote the song.
IN THE ROCKIES
go down, Hank Jr hits the stage/ everybody's up on their feet/ Haggard
and Jones out in San Antone/ got em sitting on the edge of their seat."
Smokin' In The Rockies - Dean Dillon-Frank Dycus-Gary Stewart- Buddy
produced Smoking In The Rockies, also recorded by Sawyer Brown.
"We were over here in Spence Manor with Gary Stewart and Buddy Cannon,"
and I were there, we were right in middle of a song getting nowhere.
We had been on it an hour and half. I said 'it ain't gonna be a hit.'
They said 'have you got an idea?' I said 'yeah I had it for a week
- Smokin' In The Rockies, Rockin' In The Smokies. We need to
write about country music people - what's happening in country music.
So we sat down and wrote it. We put Hank Jr in it and Waylon &
Willie. By then Dean and Gary were into the sauce pretty heavy and
they wanted to put Johnny Paycheck in it. At that time Paycheck was
in the headlines for having sex with a 12 or 13 year-old girl. I said
'boys we can't put Paycheck in that song because his career is over
as far as America is concerned.' I had to fight them all to keep him
out the song - they wanted to title it Smokin' In The Rockies With
HARDMONEY TO MAIL BOX MONEY
"I brought her here from Arkansas/ a simple country girl/ to try
a California way of life/ but it didn't take her long to learn/ the ways
of the modern world/ now she's California's fastest growing wife. - Fastest
Growing Heartache In The West - Frank Dycus-Larry Kingston.
But it wasn't
just beer and skittles for the seasoned songwriter whose hometown Hardmoney
had a population of five before the Dycus family head count lifted it
to double figures.
"I come from a poor family and a big family," Dycus recalled.
"We had no electricity and no plumbing. We lived off the land, hunting,
fishing, picking berries and wild things. I hitchhiked to Los Angeles
when I was about 15. I got into a little trouble as a wayward juvenile
so when I went back home to Paducah and realised I'd be in more trouble
if I stayed there. I joined the Air Force and spent the next seven years
I had been in the service about a year when I had a real bad car wreck.
I was in the hospital for about three years. There's not much you can
do in hospital except lay around in the hospital watch other people lay
around. I wasn't into crocheting, knitting and convalescence the service
provides for you doing crossword puzzles. After a year of staring out
the window the nurse saw I was completely insane and said 'why don't you
write a poem about that tree out there?' I did. I wrote a poem about how
the tree had changed while I sat there watching it, shedding its leaves
and all that. We started planning our Christmas party for the ward and
they asked me to write a Christmas song and put music to it. That was
my first hit. We played it for about 35 people that were broken up."
mama's hands they tremble when she prays/ but her voice is strong as she
thanks God for the bygone days/ she looks at me and then she smiles she
knows I understand/ that everything I am today I owe to mama's hands."
- Mama's Hands - Frank Dycus-Larry Kingston.
recovery was aided by another move.
"Eventually I went on to Spokane, Washington, and I was kind of an
introvert, stayed in my room writing poetry and staring at the walls.
There was a guy in the next room who also stayed there all the time beating
on a Fender guitar playing Duane Eddy and The Ventures and all that. We
got together and he taught me to play guitar. He was a Mexican and I was
a hillbilly and we formed a duet act and played around clubs in Spokane.
While I was there I went back stage at country music shows and met Jim
Reeves. That was my first contact in Nashville. They took some of my songs
with his Open Road Music and Tuckhole Music and I went from Spokane to
Wichita, Kansas. In Wichita I did the same thing, got a band together
and when country shows came to Wichita I would go backstage. Hal Peoples,
who was booking all these people, liked what I did and thought I had a
future in the music business. He introduced me to these people he thought
would be invaluable in my career.
Dusty Herring had a TV show in Wichita and dried me out and put me on
TV. The first time he put me on was 5 am and I showed up drunk. I was
afraid I wouldn't wake up for the show so I stayed up all night drinking
with buddies. In 1965 WDVI radio station sponsored a talent search - I
won it and part of the deal was a recording deal. I recorded a record
for a little old label in Wichita."
OR BUST - GEORGE MORGAN
rushes to met me/ with arm-stretched desire/ smelling like lilacs/ and
feeling like fire." - Lilacs And Fire - Frank Dycus.
many peers Dycus boomeranged from Music City a few times before
"I came here to Nashville the first time in 1962 and gave up
and went home," Dycus recalled.
"So in 1968 I decided to come here. I sold up everything I
owned and loaded up my wife and kids in the back of an old station
wagon like you read about with a guitar on his back and all his
problems. I had enough sense to get good job so I went to work immediately
as a welder building trailers for the U Haul Corporation."
Success was also immediate for Dycus - thanks to Lorrie Morgan's
singing sire George.
"I got here in 1968 and had my first hit in 1968," Dycus
was with George Morgan - Lilacs And Fire. I stayed on at
the trailer factory for three four years even after I had my first
hit. I had three or four hits when I was at the trailer factory.
In 1971 a trailer fell on my legs and re-injured the old injuries.
I couldn't work any more so I started writing full time. In the
late sixties and early seventies I had songs cut by The Kendalls,
Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. About that time Ringo Starr came
to America, made a country album and cut one of my songs.
That gave me a higher profile.
he did was Fastest Growing Heartache In The West. I was working
in the factory then and looked up at the counter and it said Tennessee
Steel - the fastest growing steel warehouse in the south. I looked at
it again and thought I got the fastest growing heartache in the south.
I got together with Larry Kingston and he said 'the fastest growing heartache
in the west - we came here from Arkansas for a better way of life and
she got into California booze and California men.' That's how the song
originated. It was actually about me but we moved it to a different setting.
A lot of times you take bits and pieces out of your life and you can't
write the truth when you're living with a woman that's causing you heartache.
We had to make it like we got this friend of mine. We got together and
wrote about 300 songs and had a hundred of them cut. Larry went on and
signed with Warner Bros and we cut a couple of records with him. Never
could get him to pop."
stackin' the chairs on the table again, they block down the Budweiser
sign/ soon they'll be callin' a taxi for me, it's only a matter of wine."
- Only A Matter of Wine - Larry Kingston-Frank Dycus
and Kingston helped fuel albums by Texan George Jones and late outlaw
Johnny Paycheck whose version of David Allan Coe song Take This
Job & Shove It inspired a movie featuring Coe and Lacy J
Paycheck's role as a waiter finished up on the cutting room floor.
"Larry had one of the first Johnny Paycheck hits The Loving
Machine and a thing by Kenny Price called Biloxi and
the Jim Ed Brown hit in the seventies called Bottle, Bottle."
"I guess his most famous song was Thank God And Greyhound
You're Gone by Roy Clark.
We got lucky
and George Jones cut Mama's Hands for his Gospel Way album.
Paycheck and Jones were real close then. He cut Only A Matter of Wine
in his Someone To Give My Love To album. He also did The Feminine
Touch as a single and put it on his 11 Months And 29 Days album.
We then had cuts by Carl Butler and Red Sovine. Then a kid came out of
Texas named Johnny Bush and recorded a whole slew of our songs and then
we got lucky and got a Don Williams cut on his first album for ABC. Jerry
Lee Lewis cut Mama's Hands and He's Walking In My Tracks
in 1973. A year later he put He Can't Fill My Shoes as a single."
Many of the Dycus song recipients are still alive.
"Johnny Bush started out as Willie Nelson's drummer years ago,"
"Willie gave him the money and they went in and recorded an album
that really established him as a Texas act. The next year we went in and
gave Marty Robbins This Time You Gave Me a Mountain and it went
Top 10. I was with Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner at the time they were
running their publishing company and Fireside Studios. They split up and
fired 14 of us in the one day - the week before Christmas and we all went
home and all of sudden my home wasn't a home to go home to any more. I
started going through a tough time for a few years there. I almost quit
writing for three or four years. I got into the bottle a little heavy.
The 19-year marriage fell apart and I started living more or less as a
hermit, a recluse out on my mountain out on Union Hill, Tennessee. I decided
there was no point in selling my songs to make a living as there was nothing
to make a living for. I was getting enough royalties and residuals in
to stay alive. I more or less quit trying the commercial aspect of songwriting."
you change your heart or change your mind/ you'll know where I'll be/
holed up in some honky tonk/ holding someone new." - Holed Up
In Some Honky Tonk - Frank Dycus-Dean Dillon.
It was then
Dycus hooked up with Joe Sun - one time Australian tourist and duet partner
with Leslie Avril and Lou Scholtz at the famed but long defunct Madigan's
Druids Lodge - and Ferndale houseguest.
Sun, real name James Paulsen, also recorded for Sonnet - the Swedish label
Dycus once called home.
"During my period of recovery when I was not writing and doing Music
Row politics I started painting houses and doing carpentry to occupy my
time," Dycus revealed.
"I was driving down Music Row in my pick-up truck and Joe Sun flagged
me down and said I'm getting ready to record. I want to record one of
your songs. I said Joe I don't care if you want to record one of my songs.
I'm out of there. I drove on - a week later he flagged me down again.
He said 'I'm serious - I want to record one of your songs.' I said 'Joe
I don't care if anyone cuts one of my songs, I'm not into that.' About
a week later he called me to his office and I went over. He had cut a
song called I want to go home while I still got a home to go home to.
That was a honky tonk song. As we were listening to it his publisher interjected
and said is the publishing open on that Frank. Joe got real hostile with
him - he said 'we don't listen to crap we just want to hear the music.'
I immediately fell in love with Joe Sun - my kind of man. Here we were
talking music and he was talking money. That was one of the reasons for
my comeback - people like Joe Sun and George Strait who were in it for
the music. Joe and I started hanging out together. We started writing
together. When he recorded his Elektra album he recorded Holed Up In
A Honky Tonk that me and Dean wrote and I Ain't Honky Tonkin No
More that me and Joe wrote. That was how you wake up the next morning
- the day after - with a headache and broke and looking for your watch
or your wallet or your shoes and you say I'll ain't never gonna do that
again. Everyone says it but everyone does it again. That was the idea
of the song - a play on that."
helped Canadian band The Rovers, nee the Irish Rovers and formed in 1963,
try to crack the U.S. market.
The band, named after the song The Irish Rover, had a 17-year career
including a 1976 album The Irish Rovers Live In Australia under that name.
They also had a 1967 international hit with late Playboy cartoonist and
author Shel Silverstein's classic The Unicorn.
But in 1980 they changed their name to The Rovers to invade U.S. charts
with the albums Wasn't That A Party, No More Bread And Butter
and Pain In My Past.
They also released singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman's song
People Who Read People Magazine and Randy Brooks Christmas song
Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.
"The Rovers Pain in My Past is a real funny thing," Dycus
"I actually wrote a song called You're A Pain In My Ass about
my ex-wife. I wrote it knowing it would never be recorded in America.
When I played the clubs over here people would request it over and over
again. One night I performed it at the Old Time Pickin' Parlour and Max
D Barnes was a great songwriter heard it and loved it. He came up to me
and said 'why don't make it commercial and rewrite it?' I said 'I don't
know - I would think about it.' So about a week later he came on over
to my office, picked up a guitar and sang You're A Pain In My Past.
I said 'OK go get it cut.' He took it to his publisher who took it The
Rovers and they had a big hit on it."
Dycus also landed two songs on an album by New Zealand country duo Jodi
Vaughn and Brendan Dugan.
"The two songs were True Love Has Found A Home and Another
Loving Night," Dycus recalled.
"The Burrito Brothers had recorded a song of mine called Family
Tree. It had been recorded six or eight times. A lady by the name
of Patsy Riggir in New Zealand also recorded it.
Brendan Dugan also cut my song Some Ladies Don't Like Cowboys for
his solo album. Jodi Vaughn came over here and we co-wrote four tunes.
Jodi introduced me to B J McKay - a country singer from Melbourne - Australia."
McKay didn't record Frank's tunes - instead he opted for Hillbillies
Hate Change and Jodie penned by expat Kiwi Wolverines singer
Darcy LeYear and this diarist.
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