David Malloy, Hall of Fame Songwriter, Talks About Writing Hits For Eddie Rabbitt (“Drivin’ My Life Away”), Kenny Rogers (“Love Will Turn You Around”) And Other Artists
Veteran songwriter David Malloy, who is being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, has had his hit songs played on the radio close to 30 million times. He is known for co-writing classic hits for Eddie Rabbitt, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire. He’s also been a successful record producer
Malloy had his first major success as a songwriter, when he collaborated with Eddie Rabbitt and Even Stevens. The trio wrote and produced chart-topping hits for Rabbit including “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “I Love A Rainy Night,” “Step By Step,” “Someone Could Lose A Heart Tonight,” “Gone Too Far” and “You Can’t Run From Love.”
In 1980, Rabbitt’s “Suspicions,” which was written by the trio and Randy McCormick, was named BMI’s Country Song of the Year. Country star Tim McGraw covered the song in 2008 and made it a hit again. Notably, Malloy had a hand in writing Kenny Rogers’ hit “Love Will Turn You Around,” that was named ASCAP’s 1983 Country Song of the Year. The California native’s catalog of hits include “Real Love” by Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers, and “One Honest Heart” by Reba McEntire.
Malloy’s songwriting success will be recognized on October 30 (2022) at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala at Nashville’s Music City Center. He will be inducted along with Shania Twain, Steve Wariner, Hillary Lindsey, and Gary Nicholson.
We are pleased to do this new interview with David Malloy. He tells the stories behind three of his big hits, his magical collaborations with Rabbit and Stevens, and the story of being star struck for the first time.
BC: Congratulations on your induction in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. What’s your reaction to being selected?
David Malloy: It was overwhelming and continues to be overwhelming. It’s now something that’s in your mind every day. Either somebody’s bringing it up congratulating you, or me thinking about trying to talk for five minutes in front of everybody (laughs) at the Hall of Fame. It’s a five minute [acceptance] speech. I am very flattered and humbled to be invited in there by my peers. There are a lot of people in there who have since passed away, who were influences on me when I was young. To then be included in that is the greatest thing ever for a songwriter.
Here’s a video of Eddie Rabbitt performing his hit, “Drivin’ My Life
Away,” which was co-written by David Malloy.
BC: You’ve had an amazing career. How did you start as a songwriter?
Malloy: My dad (engineer/producer Jim Malloy) was in the business, and he was really successful, so I grew up in the business even though when you’re young, you’re not thinking like an adult. Hey, I’m around Chet Atkins! Hey, I’m around Roy Orbison! You’re just a kid. This was kind of the norm. We had Mickey Newbury living with us for a few months when he first came to town.
These were influences and they were very talented, powerful people who had a real effect on me, but not in an egotistical way where I felt like I have to be this star writer. I just felt the need. It’s like something that builds up in you that you have to get out. You feel like you’re going to burst if you don’t get these emotional feelings and music out of you. I wanted to learn how to play guitar. Dad would work with Chet all the time. He and Chet drove downtown to Gruhn Guitars store and picked out a little gut string guitar for me. I started taking lessons, and I immediately started hearing melodies when I started putting chord patterns together.
I still recall a time way back, sitting on the red shag carpet in my bedroom with a couple of friends and playing these little rhythm patterns and humming melody, and making up some probably stupid words and how the three of us went with it. We were all together on this journey I was creating. That experience was so moving, I started doing more of it.
BC: Did you also want to be a record producer?
Malloy: Yes. My dad thought the best record producers started out as recording engineers. When I was working in the studio, I was allowed to use free time. I would put in 10 feet of tape into the multi-track tape machine and hit record buttons, which gave me time to run out into the studio and start banging around. I started making noise and building little tracks of things that I was working on. All these creative juices kept building in me. Then, I wanted to start a publishing company with my father, and he said, “Okay, why don’t you go find a songwriter.”
I was working at Ray Stevens’ recording studio, and I went to his secretary and said, “I want to start a publishing company for writers.” She said, “There’s this writer named Even Stevens that’s been writing with Ray some.” I said, “That guy with the super-long hair?” I think it was the same day I was driving down the road a couple of blocks from the studio, and I see him walking on the sidewalk. I stopped and got out, and that’s how we met. And that’s how I ended up meeting Eddie Rabbitt. Even and Eddie were buds, and that was the start of it. I started writing with them. We were like this amazing team that went on for 13 years. We wrote some incredible work. It continues to get great airplay after all this time, and Eddie’s been gone 20 something years (he died in 1998).
Here’s the audio of Kenny Rogers hit “Love Will Turn You
Around,” which was co-written by David Malloy.
To bring it fast forward to “Love Will Turn You Around” with Kenny Rogers and Reba McEntire, and “One Honest Heart” and “Real Love” with Kenny and Dolly Parton. I was also the guy who produced all of it. That’s the other unusual thing in this. The writing/producing was like this one thing. We’d be writing on a song with Eddie and Even or whoever, and also I’d be hearing the record, not in detail, but just the emergence of what I wanted the single to be in my head at the same time.
BC: You had your first hit very early on, “Then You Walk In” for Sammi Smith. How did you write this song?
Malloy: My first hit was when I was a senior in high school. I had written this melody. My dad had a buddy named Johnny Wilson. Johnny had a lyric this lyric idea, “Then You Walk In,” and he loved the melody I had. We did this song, and my dad loved it and recorded it and produced. It went Top 10, and I got a BMI award a year after getting out of high school. I didn’t come from another part of the country and crawl my way in. I had doors opened, and I was very fortunate that I also had the knack for doing it.
BC: You, Even Stevens and Eddie Rabbitt wrote several hits together including “Drivin’ My Life Away” and “Suspicions.” How did those songs develop?
Malloy: We had an opportunity to write a song for Meat Loaf’s movie, Roadie. We got this script and read through it. I remember saying, “If we write something that’s just about this movie, what if the movie is a flop and nobody knows what we’re talking about?” Eddie said, “We’re talking about roadies, and roadies are really like truck drivers. So let’s write a great truck driving song.” That’s what set us on that path with “Drivin’ My Life Away.”
“Suspicions” was a total impromptu accident. It was something that was meant to happen. I had taken the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and flown them out to Los Angeles to work in the Wally Heider Studio. where Paul McCartney and others had done a lot of great things in that room. I always wanted to go where the coolest things had been done or stuff was happening. I was a junkie for the great music that was being created.
Here’s of video Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton performing their hit,
“Real Love,” which was co-written by David Malloy.
Right next door to this studio was a famous old Italian restaurant. You literally could smell the garlic faintly coming through the wall into the studio from the kitchen. We had finished cutting Eddie’s Loveline album. A bunch of us guys got a private room and went over there to eat. After dinner, I went back to the studio and Eddie was there, and our keyboard player, Randy McCoy, sat down at the Rhodes piano. He had it cranking in the room, and he had this groove, which would become the groove of “Suspicions.” I started singing a melody. Eddie walked over, and Even (Stevens) was standing there. He said, “What’s that melody?” I said, “I don’t know. I was thinking it was a chorus.” He said, “Man, I think that melody is like a verse.” Eddie started going off on this lyric like a machine on this groove that Randy was playing. In the time that it takes to play that song about four times, the whole thing was written.
BC: What did you think when “Suspicions” was recorded by Tim McGraw?
Malloy: I was completely honored and thrilled, because we had never really had our songs covered by anybody else. I wish we could get more cover songs. I have to laugh and say I made those records so damn good you couldn’t beat them. I think I’m close to having songs that I’ve been a writer on played 30 million times on the radio. I have to say the record is as much a part of that as the song. But you can’t make a great record if you don’t have a great song. The song is always the cornerstone.
BC: Can you tell the story behind Kenny Rogers’ hit, “Love Will Turn You Around”?
Malloy: Kenny was doing a movie called Six Pack (about NASCAR), and they needed a song for the movie We had gotten a call from Kenny’s uncle, Leland Rogers, who worked with Kenny. I said to Leland, “I’d really like to see Kenny live, to get an idea of what to make this song about.” He said that Kenny would be playing in Louisville the next night.
So Even (Stevens) and I chartered a tour bus with a driver, and we put some sound recording equipment in it. I said, “Let’s get something started,” so when we see him we don’t go in empty-handed. Then Kenny walks in and he grabs the guitar, tunes down the E string and he starts doing something he had started. He started humming the lines, “How do you know when to stay or to go, and how do you know when it’s real.” He said, “See if you can make something up around that.” I said, “What do you want it to be about within the movie?” He said, “I don’t know. Just watch the show, and you’ll figure it out.” They had us in seats near the front, maybe two rows back, staring right at him. There were no cell phones so there wasn’t any built-in microphones. We had no way to record what he had hummed. After each song that he performed, we hummed that little piece back to ourselves so we wouldn’t forget it.
Here’s the audio of Eddie Rabbitt’s hit “Suspicions,”
which was co-written by David Malloy.
I said, “Man, if we can nail something around that little piece he gave us, we’re in.” We remembered that little piece driving home that night, and Even said, “This is right up (songwriter) Thom Schuyler’s ally. Let’s call Tom.” It was late. We got Tom up and out of bed, and he met us at the building as soon as we got in from Louisville. He took the idea and ran with it and came back with a good part of it. That’s how it came together. Then I flew out to L.A. and produced the record with Kenny.
BC: What do you feel like is the greatest strength you have brought to the table in your songwriting career?
Malloy: I think I’m just so damn commercial (laughs). I’m just so hit-oriented and hit-driven, and have a sense about what people can’t get enough of and wanted to hear more of. That’s the essence of it. Just knowing what was cool and what wasn’t cool. Coming in with those feelings and thoughts and then co-writing. You and the other person or you and a couple of other people go to work building this piece. Then, you have to also be a great editor at that stage and know what’s cool and what’s not cool. It’s not hard to write a song—it’s hard to write a hit song. To take it a step further, you’ve got songs that people will listen to for free, but can you create the songs that people feel like they’ve got to spend money on that they’ve got to own a piece of it? I felt like for the longest time I was in that groove, in that pocket, and knew how to make that record too.
BC: You’ve had an amazing career. When you look back, do you see any particular moment that stood out to you?
Malloy: I can’t say there’s one moment. Obviously, the culmination of it all with this great honor (the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame). To be in that special group with so many people that I’ve admired since I was 12 years old is a great thrill. All the way back to making up silly songs so I’d have something to run in the studio to record and produce. All of the elements, all the little pieces of it that came together to allow it to happen. Plus, just the amazingly-talented people that I’ve been so fortunate to be around and to create with. It’s awesome. There’s no way I can stand on that (Hall of Fame) stage at the end of the month and say I did it all myself. That would be a joke. I’ve been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and with who I needed to be, and to be able to add my part to deliver.
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, ParentLife, Homecoming, and Singing News and is currently writing a biography on The Osborne Brothers with Bobby Osborne. He can be reached at [email protected].