Few songwriters in Nashville have reached the dizzying heights of Don Schlitz. His mantle full of awards and his prominence on the charts for the better part of three decades has made Schlitz an integral part of country music’s rich heritage of storytelling songs.
Don Schlitz was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. He briefly attended Duke University before moving to Nashville in 1973. After his arrival, Schlitz served as a computer operator at Vanderbilt University, but continued to write songs for five years before his big break. With “The Gambler”, Schlitz’ career finally moved forward. The classic tale of a man learning how to “know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em” enraptured country music audiences upon its release in 1978. The story of a young man and a train-traveling sage earned the Grammy for Best Country Song in 1979 and received the CMA honor for Single of the Year later that year.
The pairing of Don Schlitz with fellow writer Paul Overstreet produced many classic songs of the late 1980s, with the two lyrical masterminds writing “On the Other Hand” and “Forever and Ever, Amen” for Randy Travis, and “When You Say Nothing at All” for Keith Whitley (later a hit for Alison Krauss & Union Station). At first, the two men were disappointed that then-newcomer Travis would be the recipient of “On the Other Hand”, intending the song to be recorded by a legend like Haggard or Jones, but Travis’ version impressed them greatly. Travis would soon become a constant source of success in their careers. Both the CMA and the ACM named “On the Other Hand” as Song of the Year in 1986, and “Forever and Ever, Amen” took the trophy at the CMAs in 1987. Schlitz was granted the award of ASCAP Songwriter of the Year an unprecedented four consecutive years from 1988-1991.
United States President George H. W. Bush also requested for Schlitz to write a theme song for his “Points of Light” program, and it became a hit for Randy Travis in 1992 (for the record, “Point of Light” reached #3 on the singles chart, Bush finished #2 in the Presidential election the next year). In 1993, Schlitz was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
One of the most important creative marriages of the 1990s occurred when Schlitz shared co-writing duties with Mary Chapin Carpenter on a number of tracks for her multi-platinum collections of the time, most notably Come On, Come On. Their most famous collaboration, “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” earned Single and Song of the Year nominations at the 1994 CMA Awards, and even received a nod in the Record of the Year category at the Grammys the following February.
His fifty Top Tens have included twenty-four #1 singles, and Schlitz gained additional acclaim by writing the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” His boundless talent continues to influence new songwriters through his frequent performances at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, as he shares the songs that stamped the lives of generations of country music fans.
The Don Schlitz Catalog
- “40 Hour Week (For a Livin’)”, Alabama
- “Almost Goodbye”, Mark Chesnutt
- “The Battle Hymn of Love”, Kathy Mattea & Tim O’Brien
- “Deeper Than the Holler”, Randy Travis
- “Forever and Ever, Amen”, Randy Travis
- “The Gambler”, Kenny Rogers
- “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her”, Mary Chapin Carpenter
- “I Feel Lucky”, Mary Chapin Carpenter
- “I Think About You”, Collin Raye
- “Learning to Live Again”, Garth Brooks
- “On the Other Hand”, Randy Travis
- “One Promise Too Late”, Reba McEntire
- “Point of Light”, Randy Travis
- “The River and the Highway”, Pam Tillis
- “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain”, The Judds
- “Strong Enough to Bend”, Tanya Tucker
- “When You Say Nothing at All”, Keith Whitley or Alison Krauss & Union Station