- 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos
Since the 1980s, Paula Breedlove has quietly been developing a career as a lyricist. She wrote the words for songs that have been recorded by the Gaither Vocal Band and Tommy Shaw of Styx, among many others.
"I've been doing it for over 30 years. I'm an overnight success," joked Breedlove, a 1967 Jackson High School graduate who lives near East Sparta in southern Stark County.
At 2:30 p.m. Aug. 6, on a stage outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the band Terry Baucom's Dukes of Drive performed its uptempo football-themed bluegrass hit "4th & Goal." The lyrics were written by Breedlove. Earlier this year, the song was No. 1 on the Bluegrass Today singles chart.
"Bluegrass people would know it. Sirius XM has a bluegrass station that plays it," Breedlove said about the song. "I wrote the lyric a long time ago and Brad Davis put the melody to it. They call him 'The Shredder.' He's a big guitar player who loves in Texas."
Breedlove is fully content with others singing her lyrics.
"I always loved music but I didn't like performing. I had stage fright and my voice would shake. But I wanted to be a part of music," she said.
"Songwriting is rewarding, but if you're doing it for money you might as well quit. You've got to do it because you love it. In bluegrass there's not much money to be made, and songwriters are at the bottom as far as being paid."
Road to success
When Breedlove, 68, decided to launch a songwriting career, she began studying the music charts, keeping track of which songwriters used co-writers, and mailing her lyrics to music publishing companies in Nashville. The first song of hers ever recorded, "More Nights," was co-written with the award-winning Nashville songwriter Bob Morrison and appeared on the soundtrack of the 1983 Dennis Quaid film "Tough Enough."
"One of my best moneymakers," she said, was a song titled "When Fear Comes Knockin,'" that the Gaither Vocal Band recorded in 2014. "Bill Gaither pays (royalities) quarterly and he pays very well," she said.
Writing song lyrics "is different than writing poetry," Breedlove said. "You have to watch the metrics. The first line of the first verse and the first line of the second verse should match so the melody will fit. You don't write it like a poem, you write it like you are speaking to someone. But all rules were meant to be broken. Th hardest part is finding ideas."
At some point along her songwriting journey, after successfully battling cancer in the 1990s, Breedlove began writing lyrics for bluegrass songs. Her husband John, who is from North Carolina, has a cousin who plays for a successful bluegrass band and she found the bluegrass scene to be receptive to songwriters.
"A lot of bluegrass songs tell cool stories. Some of them are really silly. You hear millions of songs about 'the cabin on the hill.' They also write a lot of killin' songs," she said. "There's a lot of songs about a man killing a woman but I got even. I wrote one called 'The Hangman's Daughter' that's about a woman killing a man." It was recorded by the Southwest Ohio bluegrass band Nightflyer.
In 2013, Breedlove and Mark Brinkman were nominated as songwriters of the year by the International Bluegrass Music Association for writing 10 songs for "God Didn't Choose Sides," a Civil War-themed bluegrass album featuring an array of performers. "I'm a Ramblin' Rolling Stone," a song co-written by Breedlove and Brad Davis, was recorded by Phil Ledbetter and went to No. 2 on two bluegrass charts.
It was Davis who contacted Breedlove for lyrics to a melody he'd written for Styx member Tommy Shaw.
"They sent me the melody from California really late and they wanted (finished lyrics) the next day," she recalled. "I was up till 4 writing it. I made it about a couple that was splitting up, and then found a box of letters from his grandparents in the attic and they didn't split up. They were love letters from across the great divide."
Breedlove emailed Shaw her finished lyrics.
In a Facebook post, Shaw wrote, "By the time I walked downstairs and out to the studio I had tears running down my cheeks. I was a little embarrassed and waited while Brad finished what he was working on to hand him the sheet. He read them.
He looked up and now his eyes were red. What was happening to us? We immediately called Paula and all had a good little laughing-crying session and cheered for the incredible job she'd done turning this scenario into a beautiful love story lyric. What a gifted lady!"
Alison Krauss sang harmonies with Shaw on "The Great Divide," which became the title song for his 2011 solo album. In 2016, Shaw invited Breedlove to his concert at Cleveland State University where he performed the song with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra. Recalling the experience, Breedlove said, "Grandma's a rock star now!"