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 #20


This is part of a 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 bus 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.


Jimmy C. Newman was a Cajun from Louisiana. He was the real deal and spoke with a heavy accent. He was quite colorful and always wore the sequined Nudie suits. He was a big hit on the Louisiana Hayride and that’s where I first met him along with a fiddler named Rufus Thibodeaux. Rufus was one of those guys that could literally make the fiddle talk. I mean, form words. He was amazing. I tried for years to get Rufus to come and play for me, but he barely spoke English and wouldn’t stray out of his comfort zone. Anyway, I had booked Jimmy C. quite a few times and he and Rufus were a lot of fun.

One time Jimmy C. came in from Nashville and Tom T. Hall had driven him down. Tom T. was trying to get into the music business. He was writing then for Jimmy Key at New Keys Talent. I knew Jimmy and Scotty Key back when they were here in Texas booking high school auditorium shows. Anyway,  Jimmy was booking single at the time and asked if we would let Tom T. sit in, sing a few songs and play guitar. No one had ever heard of him yet, but we let him sit in. I thought he was okay and that he might just make it. Little did I know he would become a much bigger entertainer and songwriter than we could imagine with eleven number one hits and twenty-six more that reached the Top Ten.

He wrote, “Harper Valley PTA,” that was a huge hit for Jeannie C. Riley. At the time, she was a  secretary at New Keys Talent. If I remember the story correctly, they got her to record a demo of the song and they decided she was good enough they wanted to release it. I don’t know exactly how it went down, but that’s the way her uncle, Johnny Moore, from Anson Texas told the story. Well, of course, it took off from there and launched her career.

Johnny Moore had a song called, “15 Acres of Peanut Land.” He and I were good friends. He didn’t like to play honkytonks (he was pretty religious) so if he got a gig he didn’t want, he’d pass it off to me. I’d do the same for him with rodeos and school dances. Anyway, he used to bring Jeanie C. around with him when she was sixteen and ask different bands to let her sit in. Her last name wasn’t Riley then. I don’t remember what it was. She sat in with us a time or two and I didn’t really think she had anything going for her. But, I’d do it as a favor to Johnny.

Anyway, after I went to prison, I kept hearing this song, “Harper Valley PTA,” by this gal from Anson, Texas, Jeannie C. Riley. I wasn’t putting it all together. After all, it couldn’t be the same little Plain Jane Jeannie that had sat in with us. And, then I saw her on TV, and my God, she had changed immensely. She as “doin’ it” then, and was incredibly beautiful as well. But, it was her. It just goes to show how sometimes the whole key to success is being in the right place at the right time.

Later on, after I got out of prison, Johnny Moore and another performer I always thought a lot of, Frankie Miller, came to Brady to play at a little Opry house and I heard it advertised on the radio. So, Jan and I drove over to the radio station where they were doing an interview and we renewed our friendship. It was so great to see both those guys still out there doin’ it.

In 2001, Johnny invited me to be a guest at the annual Johnny Moore day in Anson. It was only the second time I’d been on stage in over thirty years. It was a great honor. Johnny remained a good friend and visited every time he came down from Nashville.

If I could do things over again, I would certainly make different choices and I would have stayed more serious about the music in spite of the dirty deals, swindlers and crooks out to steal your hard work.”

Rufus Tibedeaux, Rick and Jimmy C. Newman
L-R Rufus Thibodeaux, Rick Sikes, Jimmy C. Newman
Rick,Johnny Moore,Frankie Miller
L-R Rick Sikes, Johnny Moore, Frankie Miller
ansonrick2 (2017_03_11 18_36_10 UTC)
Rick onstage in Anson, Texas 2001

I hope you've enjoyed this segment of-STORIES FROM THE ROAD-from Texas SingerSongwriterRICK SIKES