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Stegall wears musician hat this time

By Richard McVey II, March 1996

Keith Stegall's on top of the world. As an honest to goodness "jack-of-all-trades," Stegall currently works at Mercury Nashville as the vice president of A&R, bringing new acts to the label like Terri Clark and Kim Richey; he's an accomplished songwriter; he produces such acts as Alan Jackson and Sammy Kershaw and he's a proud father of three.

In an effort to further his musical prevalence, he's also affixed the title, Artist, to that list by recording his own album, "Passages."

The road to Nashville for this Texas-native started at the age of four when he began playing the piano. With his father, Bob, as a steel guitar player for country legend Johnny Horton, Stegall attended country concerts at The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport before he was even in school. At eight, he made his stage debut at a local hoe-down in Tyler, Texas.

Four years later he took up guitar and joined a rock and soul band called The Pacesetters. By 15, Stegall turned to folk sounds and began writing his first songs. In high school he toured in a folk group called The Cheerful Givers and wrote gospel tunes. During his college years in Shreveport he ironically worked in both churches and bars, honing his conducting/arranging skills in one and his showmanship in the other.

Following the advice of Kris Kristofferson, Stegall moved to Nashville in 1978 and had immediate success as a songwriter. In fact, three months after arriving, he co-wrote his first hit, Dr. Hook's 1980 pop smash "Sexy Eyes." A host of other acts recorded his songs, including Al Jarreau, who hit big with "We're In This Love Together." Those in Nashville also took notice of his talents. Such acts as Conway Twitty, Charley Pride, Jerry Reed, George Strait and Steve Wariner recorded his material.

He also had his share of success as an artist. First at Capitol in 1980, he did a two-year stint starting in 1984 at Epic Records, yielding his big solo hits, "Pretty Lady" and "California." Despite being nominated for the Top New Male Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music awards in 1985, Stegall became disillusioned and left the spotlight.

It wasn't until Nashville nightclub singer Randy Travis asked him to produce a $5,000 album that Stegall once again made his mark in country music. He also landed back on his songwriting feet when Ronnie Milsap took "Stranger Things Have Happened" up the charts in 1990.

Meanwhile, one of his songwriting partners continued asking him to produce a tape to pitch for a record label contract. In 1990, he finally gave in and produced his songwriting partner, Alan Jackson. Since that time he's produced all of Jackson's albums and co-written three of his number one hits.

How long has this album been in the works?

It was before I even had the chance to make the record or even a record deal. This goes back to three years ago. I was determined that I was going to make a record again, and I began to turn down projects and open some space to do the record. Then all this other stuff happened in the mean time, coming here. We actually started recording the record in November, a year ago. The record was finished in May. I took a little more time on this than I thought I was going to take.

You wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on the album. Is it important to you to have most of your stuff on there?

For this particular album because it is more of a concept album than most records are. For the first time, I knew there were songs on here that I needed to say. The center-piece song on the album is a song called, "Middle-Aged Man." Everything else kind of found its way around that song. Once I kind of got the focus on that, I really began to write quite a bit.

Are you critical of your work?

Probably so. Probably harder on myself than anybody else is. Especially things that I write by myself. When you're co-writing you can bounce things off your co-writer. When you're writing by yourself you sometimes second-guess yourself too much.

I was reading in your bio about a time when you went into a slump. What was that time like, especially since you are so successful now?

I came to town and got really lucky early on and had a couple of huge pop records as a writer, and it was like that was a rarity in this town. I took it for granted. I took a lot of things for granted the first time around. Then career things went side-ways, and the artist thing went side-ways, and getting songs cut finally ground to a halt. All of a sudden this thing that I thought was so easy and would always be there, wasn't there any more. Nobody was calling for my songs. Nobody was cutting my songs. It gave me a real dose of what it was like to be outside of the circle again. I told myself, "If you get a shot at a second wind in this career you need to really appreciate it and never take one bit of it for granted. That's kind of where I've been since things turned around for me. They can turn around very quickly. That's just the way this business is.

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