Rafe Van Hoy, New Inductee Into The Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Talks About His Classic Hit Country Songs

Rafe Van Hoy
Rafe Van Hoy
(photo credit: Ron Keith)

Veteran songwriter Rafe Van Hoy has been named one of five new members inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Class of 2023 also includes Keith Urban, Kix Brooks (of Brooks & Dunn), Casey Beathard, and David Lee Murphy. They will join the legendary body of 235 previously inducted members during a special ceremony at the 53rd Anniversary Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala on Oct. 11 at the Music City Center. Van Hoy will become one of the elite members in the veteran songwriter category.

Raised in Bristol, Tennessee, Van Hoy began writing songs from an early age, and after graduating high school, he moved to Nashville with his family to pursue a musical career. Legendary songwriter & music publisher Curly Putman signed the teenager to Green Grass Music, which led to a songwriting contract with Tree Music Publishing (now owned by Sony Music Publishing).

Van Hoy had his first major success in 1976 with the number one country hit, “Golden Ring,” sung by George Jones & Tammy Wynette. Over the next three years, he had a remarkable 50 to 60 cuts per year. His hit songs include “Baby I Lied” by Deborah Allen (a 1983 Grammy nominee for Best Country Song), “Friday Night Blues” by John Conlee, “Hurt Me Bad (In A Real Good Way)” by Patty Loveless, “I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again” by T. Graham Brown, and  “I’m Only In It For The Love” by John Conlee.

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Rafe Van Hoy, who tells how he co-wrote George Jones & Tammy Wynette’s hit, “Golden Ring.”


In addition, Van Hoy had hits with “Let’s Stop Talkin’ About It” by Janie Fricke, “Old Flames Have New Names” by Mark Chesnutt, “Somebody’s Gonna Love You” by Lee Greenwood, and “What’s Forever For” by Michael Martin Murphey (which was also recorded by Anne Murray, Johnny Mathis, B.J. Thomas and Olivia Newton-John).

Rafe Van Hoy Interview
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Rafe Van Hoy, who tells the stories behind some of his big hits. He also discusses his connection to fellow inductee Kix Brooks, and why it was the 10th time that was charmed for one of his top tunes.

Here’s the audio of Michael Murphey’s hit “What’s Forever For,”
which was written by Rafe Van Hoy.

BC: Congratulations on being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s such a huge award. What does this honor mean to you?

Rafe Van Hoy: It’s the biggest one for me. This is something I always hoped I could be a part of, and never knew if it would ever happen and I’d kind of given up on it. I thought maybe I might need to have a couple more hits or more current activity to be considered. But they picked me this year, and I’m certainly glad they did.

BC: One of the big hits you wrote (with Bobby Braddock) was the George Jones & Tammy Wynette classic, “Golden Ring.” How did that develop for you?

Van Hoy: Here’s the condensed version I tell people and it’s the truth. It was like winning the song lottery. Back then, I happened to be at Tree Publishing company which is now Sony/ATV. I had become friends with Bobby Braddock, who had already written tons of hits. I was signed to Green Grass Music, which kind of went to Tree, which is how I got to Tree through Curly Putman when I was 17. So these are two mega writers (Braddock and Putman) who were Tree writers at the time for years.

Bobby was going to meet Curly to write the song idea he had for George Jones & Tammy Wynette. I didn’t know they were going to record the next week and in fact, I was unaware they had gotten a divorce not a year before. Nobody really knew if they were going to record as a duet again. So whatever they recorded was probably going to be pretty huge when it came out because I think people thought when they got divorced, that’s it for the duo. Bobby had this idea for the song that he had started, and he was gonna meet with Curly to finish it. But Curly didn’t feel like driving in from Lebanon, Tennessee that day. It was about 20 miles away. So Bobby said, “You want to help me finish this song?”

So we went in this little writer’s cubicle that had no windows and just wide enough for a chair and a little Spinet piano, and I think it had green paint and green shag carpet. We worked on the song two, three hours and came out, and Bobby was leaving that afternoon to go see a girlfriend in Alabama, and he asked me if I would demo it.

Here’s the audio of George Jones & Tammy Wynette’s hit “Golden
Ring,” which was co-written by Rafe Van Hoy.

I went upstairs in this little four-track studio. I did a guitar/vocal demo, and put a couple harmonies on it, which ended up being the arrangement for the song. They recorded it the next week, and four months later it was number one. It’s like the stars all lined up. It was  amazing how it all came together so fast and for it to turn out with so much success.

BC: I bet your phone really started to ring asking you for songs after that.

Van Hoy: I had had some cuts, and I had three chart records that were maybe in the 20s. But that song definitely put me on the map and got my name around town. It kick-started my songwriting career for sure.

BC: Another hit you had was Deborah Allen’s “Baby I Lied.” Tell me about that one.

Van Hoy: We had been working on Deborah’s career, and it had taken some twists and turns, and she was on Capitol Records at the time. We knew that we were going to be able to record with Charlie Calello out in L.A. who had worked with Juice Newton. And if you look at his biography…the man has produced and arranged hits. From Juice Newton to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons to Barbra Streisand. So Deborah and I were writing with some different people and ourselves, and we had an appointment to write with Rory Burke who had a bunch of hits. Rory came over to our house, and as soon as he walked in, he said, “I’ve got this idea. and if you don’t like it, it’s okay. It won’t hurt my feelings.” It was a really good idea. I can’t remember what it was. but instead of saying, “that’s cool,” Deborah and I went silent because our brains were thinking of what we wanted our response to be.  In that little pause, Rory says, “Wait a minute. Did I say my feelings wouldn’t be hurt? I lied.” And I said, “Hey, that could be a good song idea right there.” We said, “Oh, let’s write that.” It was just a response from a conversation talking to him when he walked in the door.

BC:  One song you wrote that’s been recorded by several artists is “What’s Forever For.” It’s been recorded by Michael Martin Murphey, Anne Murray, Johnny Mathis and several others. Can you talk about that song, and were you surprised that the song has been accepted across the board by a variety of singers?

Here’s the audio of Deborah Allen’s hit “Baby I Lied,” which
was co-written by Rafe Van Hoy.

Van Hoy: Back in the days, they had these things called guitar pulls. It was the beginning of Songwriters in the Round that they have now at the Bluebird Café and everywhere. All those started in people’s houses. They’d have a party. People would say, “Come over and bring your guitar—we’re gonna have a guitar pull.” People would know that they would put out chairs in a living room and they would get around in a circle and pass the guitar around and take turns playing songs. Some of those things got to be a real event where people would rehearse and get all their best material and bring it to the thing.

As I was just a budding songwriter at the time and I would get invited, there would be some old school, master songwriters that would play in front of me. Then it was my turn, and I didn’t really have anything that would stand up to their songs (laughs). It would get a little intimidating, but it made you want to go home and try to write a better song.

So I remember after one of those events being at home thinking almost like a prayer. “Hey angels, if you can give me some idea that can turn into a really great song that I could sing at these things and be proud of it, I would always appreciate it and be very, very thankful.” I remember taking a nap and when I woke up, I had this idea about some friends of mine who I heard we’re having some problems with the marriage and stuff, and they seemed like the last people on the planet that would ever split up or have a problem.

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with Rafe Van Hoy, who tells how he co-wrote Deborah Allen’s hit, “Baby I Lied.”


In the music business, it gets pretty wild. There’s people getting together and breaking up all the time. But these people seemed like the ones that would never do that. And so I started thinking about them and the idea came to me about…if love didn’t last forever, what’s forever for? I thought, “Wait a minute, is that the idea I just asked my angels for?” So, I started trying to write all this stuff down. It all spilled out pretty quickly. I wrote that the same year I wrote “Golden Ring” with Bobby Braddock. But back in the day, you could get a song recorded more than once by several artists. It doesn’t happen so much anymore. But the first person that I called to try and pitch that song to was Kyle Lehning, who was producing a pop band called England Dan & John Ford Coley. They had some big pop hits, recording them in Hendersonville.

Here’s the audio of Patty Loveless’ hit “Hurt Me Bad (In a Real
Good Way),” which was co-written by Rafe Van Hoy.

My publishing company got Kyle’s number, so I called him up and we started talking. I said, “Hey you don’t know me. I’m this new songwriter. I’ve got some songs, and I really like your records on England Dan & John Ford Coley. I’d like to play you some songs or send them to you.  He says, “Where do you live? I’ll come by and listen to them.” A few days later, he comes by my house, and I play him “What’s Forever For” and a couple other songs. After he sits there and listens, he said, “Okay, give me a copy of that first one,” which was “What’s Forever For.” And that was it; he left. So I sent to him the song, and he recorded it on England Dan & John Ford Coley. Then it got recorded by Anne Murray and by nine other artists over the next five years, and then it was recorded by Michael Martin Murphey. It hadn’t been released as a single until he recorded it. I had actually given up on it ever being a single, but he was the 10th person to record it and he decided it was going to be a single and it took off. It did really well, and so I got very lucky on that song too.

BC: These days, are you still busy writing songs?

Van Hoy: Yes, after you think about songs and song ideas for so long, your brain doesn’t stop. My phone is full of song ideas, ones I’m finishing now, some with other people and some by myself. I get song ideas every week, although they’re not great ideas necessarily. So you try to sort through them and pick the best to spend your time on finishing. But I kind of like my ideas better now than the ones I was getting back when I was younger. I guess I hadn’t lived enough to have enough experiences to write about, but now I get lots of ideas. I think they’re better quality. The difference being that you have to become a part of one of those hubs of activity. I write a lot of songs and finish them myself. But pitching those is not as easy as it used to be, and there aren’t as many people that want to hear outside songs. They really want to co-write their own material. So right now, I interface with new artists that are trying to write for their career and try to interface with other existing artists that already have careers that want ideas or some other input from the outside.

BC: I’d like to ask you about your song “Hurt Me Bad (In a Real Good Way),” that Patty Loveless recorded.

Here’s the audio of John Conlee’s hit “Friday Night Blues,”
which was co-written by Rafe Van Hoy.

Van Hoy: That was a song that I wrote with Deborah Allen, and I remember playing guitar one morning right after I woke up. I was playing the intro of what wound up being the song, a little groove and a lick. Then she started singing along with it, and it started spilling out. It was one of those that happened pretty fast and we recorded it as a demo. Deborah was trying to have a pop record at the time, so we didn’t think of it as a record or song that would be for her to sing.

BC: Congratulations again on your Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame honor.

Van Hoy: The brain trust that’s in that group of people is pretty immense, and I don’t claim to be equal to any of them, but I’m glad to be in the club with those folks. It’s a huge honor, and I’m glad that they invited me in because they have a long list of people to choose from and they only pick one from each category. It was also especially great to get in there with my buddy Kix Brooks, because I’ve known Kix since he moved to town (decades ago), and I wrote a song called “I’m Only In It For the Love” that John Conlee had a number one record on and it was also Kix’s number one song as a songwriter before he ever got his record deal. And I guess because of that, Kix asked me to produce his first record, which I did on Capitol, and there were two people on Capitol at the time who had a last name of Brooks. One of them was Kix, and the other one was Garth. So it’s a really cool club to be inducted with.

Here’s the link to Rafe Van Hoy’s site: https://www.rafevanhoy.com/

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].