Descriptive Phrases

We all hear so much about Showing vs. Telling, and there are no better or more concise examples than those found in song lyrics.

Think about it. You have 3 – 4 minutes to tell an entire story. There is no time for wasted words. Then, top that with the fact that things have to rhyme and have a rhythm, and you can see that songwriting is no easy task.

Tom T. Hall is known as “The Storyteller.” So, it seemed fitting that I look at his work for a good example. Here’s one:

He was an old-time cowboy, don’t you understand
His eyes were sharp as razor blades his face was leather tan
His toes were pointed inward from a-hangin’ on a horse
He was an old philosopher, of course
He was so thin I swear you could have used him for a whip
He had to drink a beer to keep his britches on his hips (Wow! Now there’s a visual!)
It gives us a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? I tried to find an image that matched what I saw in my head and couldn’t. These boots came close.
Want to hear the whole song? Here’s the YouTube Link: 
Another prolific writer, Kris Kristofferson, was a genius with words. One of my favorite, “Lovin’ Her Was Easier,” tells such a tender and eloquent story.
I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountain in the skies (I can see it!) 
Aching with the feeling of the freedom of an eagle when she flies (I feel it!)
The entire song is short, but says SO much.
Mountain sunrise
Or how about “The Gambler?” That’s one helluva story. The writer, Don Schlitz, was homeless and living in his car when Kenny Rogers recorded it. Needless to say, he was soon a wealthy man.
On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the Gambler, we were both too tired to sleep…
Haven’t heard it in a while? Here’s a link:
Another very expressive writer and performer that has emerged on the scene is Chris Stapleton. Take at look at these lyrics.
There’s a bottle on the dresser by your ring
And it’s empty, so right now I don’t feel a thing
I’ll be hurting when I wake up on the floor
But I’ll be over it by noon
That’s the difference between whiskey and you
What do you think? Can you feel the ache, the agony, the desperation? Want to give it a listen?
But, this song written by Hank Williams Sr., may be the most descriptive. It is exactly 2 minutes and 32 seconds long, but tells such a sad lonely story.
Did you ever see a night so slow
As time goes draggin’ by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry…
There are SO many songs out there that are extraordinary examples of descriptive writing with only a handful of words. As authors, we can learn from these songwriters
How about you? What are some of your favorites and why do they touch you?


Stories from the Road #2

STORIES FROM THE ROAD!A series of first-hand tales from a Texas Musician and songwriter...

I’m beginning a new series of posts I’ve entitled, “Stories From the Road.” Each week I will post a new story from Rick Sikes, a Texas musician who traveled the roads of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and out to California for well over twenty years. With hours to pass in a van full of sweaty musicians, they found ways to entertain themselves. These stories are told in Rick Sikes’ words. I’ll do my best to correct grammar, but I want to keep them in his own voice.

“When I was a very young kid, around sixteen, Hank Williams Sr. played in Brownwood at the old Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium. He was definitely an idol of mine. It was sort of an amateur type show first, and then they brought Hank out as the big entertainment. I did my little part in the amateur show. I don’t remember what I sang. Little Joe Carson was there…some people may remember him. He was quite a musician. Anyway, I did my bit and I got to talk to Hank, which I found out in later years was very unusual. He didn’t talk that much, or at least that’s what I was told by Sammy Pruett, who was Hank’s guitar player. I did some gigs with Sammy years later on down the line and I related this story to him. He said that Hank simply didn’t often talk to people, but that every once in a while, he’d talk to a kid like me. Probably because I was young and sincere and he sensed something in me. Anyway, Hank Williams Sr. told me to go out there and ‘make the audience feel what you feel. You make them hear what you are saying…’

Projecting yourself is what it basically came down to. I watched him that night and I never saw any other entertainer that had the magnetism, or projection that this guy had. He was not flashy and it almost appeared as if he had stage fright. He had a presence. There was something around him beyond himself and it worked. He could captivate an audience with just his presence on stage before he said anything. It really wasn’t that he was all that great of a looking guy or anything like that, it was just something that he did. It was a form of magic and I worked hard to understand it and to learn to do that – to project. I got to where I could bring the audience to my way of thinking. I could make them cry or laugh or feel whatever emotion I wanted them to feel. I think this is probably one of the most important things an entertainer can learn to do.”

Hank Williams, Sr.


A Very Young Rick Sikes