Paul Overstreet, Hall of Fame Country Songwriter & Artist, Talks About His Classic Hit Songs Including “Forever And Ever, Amen” And “Love Can Build A Bridge,” And His Own Albums

Paul Overstreet
Paul Overstreet

Paul Overstreet, one of Nashville’s most renowned singer/songwriters. has had a highly successful career over the past several decades. A 2003 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, he was also named BMI Songwriter of the Year for five years in a row. His excellent resume includes winning two Grammy awards, ACM and CMA Song of the Year awards and two Dove awards. Incredibly, he has written or co-written 27 Top 10 country hit songs.

Among the songs Overstreet has co-written are Randy Travis’s “Forever and Ever Amen,” The Judds’ “Love Can Build a Bridge,”  Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach,” George Jones’ “Same Ole Me,”  Forester Sisters’ “I Fell In Love Again Last Night,” Tanya Tucker’s “I Won’t Take Less Than Your Love” and “One Love at a Time.” He also wrote the classic “When You Say Nothing At All,” which was a #1 hit for Keith Whitley, a Top 5 hit for Alison Krauss, and a global hit when it was featured in the movie, Notting Hill (sung by Ronan Keating).

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Paul Overstreet, who tells how he wrote The Judds’ classic hit “Love Can Build a Bridge” with Naomi Judd and John Jarvis.

As an artist, Overstreet has recorded 10 albums, hitting the Billboard charts 16 times (two times at #1). He reached the Top 10 eight times with his own solo recordings with songs like “Love Helps Those,” Seein’ My Father in Me,” “Richest Man on Earth,” and “Daddy’s Come Around.” The Mississippi native recently signed a deal with Time Life to digitally reissue nine of his albums as well as new and previously unavailable music.

Overstreet’s highest-charting albums as an artist are Sowin’ Love (1989), Heroes (1991) and Love Is Strong (1992).

Paul Overstreet Interview

We are pleased to present this new Q&A interview with Paul Overstreet. He talks about some of his classic hit songs such as “Love Can Build a Bridge,” “Forever and Ever, Amen,” and “When You Say Nothing At All.” He also tells how he got his start as a songwriter, how the publishing industry has changed, and his new deal with Time Life.

Here’s the video of Randy Travis’ hit “Forever and Ever, Amen,”
which was co-written by Paul Overstreet.

BC: You’ve had an impressive body of work that you’ve written and recorded. What are some things that stick out to you?

Paul Overstreet: I haven’t really looked back to think about it that much. Right now, I’m trying to finish up a couple more albums. I’ve got a country album of all new songs and then I’ve got a country album of re-records. I’m putting those together for Time Life now. It’s been kind of hard to get back into it because I just finished up a beach album. Once you finish one you feel like you’ve made this completion, and you don’t really want to go back and do something else. It’s taken me a while to get into the mode of finishing another project.

BC: Do you still enjoy recording?

Overstreet: I do. I love it actually. If I had just one thing to do musically, that would be it. I’d just be recording. I like being in the studio and mixing and making it come to life. Like when you write a new song. When you can get it to come to life with the band and all the players, that’s quite a thrill.

BC: You’ve re-recorded some of youe older songs.

Overstreet: I tried to get as many as the same players that were on the Heroes album and the Love Is Strong album. The ones that I couldn’t get the original players … I got some people that play just as well. They just have a different style. I like what we’ve got. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do it, but now that Time Life is on board, it gives me a reason to do it because now I know what to do with it. Let them take it and run with it.

BC: What are some of the songs you’re doing on this latest project?

Overstreet: I re-recorded “Seeing My Father In Me.” I went back and recorded “Can’t Stop Love” and probably a song that not many people are familiar with “Trains Make Me Lonesome” that we did on the SKO record. Then, I have “Daddy’s Come Around,” “Heroes,” and “Ball and Chain.” “It’s a lot of different songs that I’ve recorded through the years and that other people recorded. I did a new version of “Forever and Ever, Amen” and “Deeper Than the Holler.”

Here’s the video of The Judds’ hit “Love Can Build a Bridge,”
which was co-written by Paul Overstreet.

BC: What’s the story behind “Forever and Ever, Amen”?

Overstreet: There’s a couple of cool stories around it.  I was playing at a [music business] golf tournament, and it was so much fun because everybody was out there playing. I think we played 36 holes of golf, and then they had this little dinner there. At dinner, Vince Gill joked that what ended his first marriage was hanging out there and staying overnight (laughs). I called home when I finished, and I got this message that (legendary songwriter) Don Schlitz was trying to find me. I called him and he said, “Man, I’ve got this idea for a song that we have to write.” I was kind of tired so I said, “What about tomorrow?” He goes, “No, we’ve got to do it now.” I knew better than to put it off because when that opportunity comes, when somebody feels that strong about it, you do it.

Don came over and we sat on the front porch, and we wrote “Forever And Ever, Amen” that night. He had a lot of the chorus going already because his wife at that time was named Polly, and she had a little boy who had learned to say the Lord’s Prayer. At the end of it is “forever and ever, amen,” and then he would say. “Mommy, I love you. Forever and ever, amen.” Don goes, “I think that’s a cool idea.” So we wrote the song that night. When we finished it, the first place we took it was over to Randy Travis because we had written (Randy’s hit) “On The Other Hand” and I had “Digging Up Bones” with him and “No Place Like Home.” They loved it. [Producer] Kyle Lehning asked if I would come out and sing on it. I took Paul Davis out there [with me]. When he got out there, he found a rod and reel, and Kyle had this place by this pond. Paul started fishing, and he wouldn’t help me on the backgrounds. I wound up having to do them all. You can hear my voice on that record.

The other story behind that song that I think is really interesting, was Randy and his people sent over a letter that they got from a young girl who had cancer. They were treating her, and she lost all her hair. She wouldn’t go out and play with her friends because she thought they’d make fun of her, laugh at her or whatever. She said if Randy Travis could love somebody without any hair, my friends should be able to love me. She started going out and playing with her friends after she heard that song.

Here’s the video of Alison Krauss’ hit “When You Say Nothing At
All,” which was co-written by Paul Overstreet.

BC: It’s cool how music touches people in so many different ways.

Overstreet: When you first start out, you don’t realize how important it can be to people. My first hit that I had was with George Jones (“Same Ole Me”). This DJ told me one day when we were in Texas, “I had a truck driver call one night and he was going cross country, and he said, ‘Man, it’s a matter of life and death that you play Same Ol’ Me’.” He dedicated it to his girl or his wife.

BC: How did you initially get into music?

Overstreet: My father was a Baptist minister for a long time. Then, he and mom divorced. My mom kept us in church; my dad moved to California, but my stepfather played guitar, mandolin, different instruments. My brother started playing, my brother-in-law played guitar. I learned a few chords from all those different people. When I saw the movie about Hank Williams, Your Cheatin’ Heart, that’s when I realized that’s what I want to do. I was 8 years old…I realized that was the ticket. Of course, you don’t get a lot of encouragement to do that for a living because everybody goes, “No, you can’t make a living at it.” I go, “Well, he did.” He was exceptional.

BC:  When did you start writing songs, and when did you realize you had a special gift for it?

Overstreet: I was writing songs at an early age or trying to, but it seemed like before I could go to school, I was at home with my mom all day and all the other kids were in school. She would be doing ironing and stuff like that and listening to country radio. I would hear all these songs on country radio, and I always felt like I knew some of the lines they were going to say next just because of the rhyming. It was interesting to me at an early age; I understood that and I kind of knew what the next line was going to be. I guess I’m probably doing what I was created to do more or less.

BC: You’ve been able successful at being a songwriter and an artist. What’s the difference in feeling or reaction for you, whenever you’re performing a song that you’ve written versus hearing the song you’ve written sung or recorded by someone else?

Here’s a video of Paul Overstreet performing his hit, “Heroes.”

Overstreet: I like both things. I enjoy hearing my songs being sung by other artists because that whole lifestyle to me is probably the better lifestyle. [As a songwriter] you don’t have to get on the bus, and you don’t have to travel if you don’t want to because you can make a living [writing songs]. To me, that’s a good lifestyle. It’s not as famous. You don’t get all the accolades that the artists do, but that whole thing is a little bit phony anyway. It’s not real. It comes and goes with your last hit. As far as a writer, songs can live on and on and be recorded again by another new artist, and it’s got another life. I think that’s a better lifestyle choice, but everybody likes to do the artist thing because you get the publicity. That’s probably why you get into it anyway.

BC: What do you see as your strength as a songwriter?

Overstreet: My sister, when we were young, used to say to me, “Somebody’s going to make a lot of money on your melodies.” I’d be like, “Well, I hope it’s me.” It could be melodies, but I think through the years, I learned from a lot of other writers. I learned a different craft of molding a lyric into a song and saying something that’s meaningful, and putting those words with a melody that causes people to listen. I’ve written a lot of songs that have never seen the light of day. But every now and then you’ll hit one that you go wow, that’s pretty complete. When you do that, you know there’s no more work to do on it. It’s done. Then, on some songs you keep writing on for years and they never get done.

BC: One of the classic hits you wrote was “Love Can Build a Bridge” by the Judds. How did that song come about?

Overstreet: Naomi (Judd) called me and said, “We’ve never recorded one of your songs. I’d like to get together with you and write one.” She had me over for dinner at her house. She told me what their concept was. They had Coca-Cola on board. They were going to pay for the [music] video, and they were going to use the Grand Canyon, and they had all these things going on around it. But she said, “We don’t have a song.” I was trying to think about the Grand Canyon and how no one’s every really bridged that. I’m thinking if you had people on either side of it that were in love, if they were different tribes or whatever, how would they get together? Basically, that’s where the concept came from, “Love Can Build a Bridge.”

Here’s the video of Paul Overstreet’s hit, “Seein’ My Father
In Me.”

Naomi had a notebook with some lyrics in it. The lyrics were really complete. They were all there. I said, “You need to use these somewhere. They’re really good.” I came home and started working on the idea separate from her. Then, she called me and said that she had gotten with John Jarvis, and they had the song together. Basically, that’s what you hear is what she and John put together.

BC: What’s the story behind the Keith Whitley & Alison Krauss hit, “When You Say Nothing At All?”

Overstreet:  Don (Schlitz) and I wrote two days a week. We would write Monday and Tuesday every week. That’s when we were really after it. That was one of those days when you just go in. When people were asking me what inspired it, I’m like, “I don’t really know.” So, I called Don up and said, “Don, people are asking me what inspired it.” We were just writing. It was like a blaze, one thing after another. He said, “I had a dream about it.” I said, “Oh, really!” I didn’t remember all that part. It was one of the days we were writing so you go in and whoever has the idea, you start working on it. That was one of those days that we wrote the song and finished it. When it was done, it was complete.

The first place we took it was over to (producer) Garth Fundis for Keith Whitley. They recorded it pretty much like we demoed it.

BC: Do you still enjoy and try to get your songs out to the newer artists? Is that a good fit for you?

Overstreet: I do. I don’t think about that as much these days because the music has changed. I still think a great song can find its way through all of the stuff. We used to take a great song to a good producer and they had an artist for it. It’s not like that today. It’s different because these publishing companies found out how to make it happen. They control it all. They have artists they bring them up through their publishing company. Then they get them a deal. Once they get the deal they—I don’t know if they have to—always cuts songs that come from that publishing company’s group. It’s a little more in-house than it used to be. I think the industry struggles a bit because of that. I think the songs are not as good as they could be if they allowed more competition, but they’ve got it just the way they want it (laughs).

Here’s the link to Paul Overstreet’s site:

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].