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Local songwriter forms group to provide network for singers, songwriters and musicians

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By PETER SAWYER

 Local songwriter Gene Blair has written over 270 songs. He feels there are three elements to a song: singers, musicians and songwriters.

“You’ve got to have these to really make a song,” Blair said.

If a person is able to do all three, it’s a blessing, he said.

“A lot of people can write words, but can’t write melodies,” Blair said.

Blair has a vision to help facilitate a network where singers, songwriters and musicians can get together.

“Songwriting is a craft,” Blair said. “It can be learned. And the best way to learn is by being around other people who do it.”

This is why he and a group of other singers, songwriters and musicians have formed the East Tennessee Singer Songwriter Association.

“We formed this last September,” Blair said. “We’ve set it up as a legitimate organization instead of a bunch of people getting together making up rules as they go along. We have a corporation so we have to have our corporate meetings.”

The officers, including Blair, who serves as president, the vice president, secretary and treasurer, hold regular corporate meetings at the Big Valley Barn. The ETSSA uses the Big Valley Barn as its corporate address.

The ETSSA has a state charter and filed an application with the Internal Revenue Service for 501c3 nonprofit status about seven months ago. This application is still awaiting approval.

“They said four months minimum when we applied,” Blair said.

The ETSSA functions as an umbrella organization, intended to handle the business and operations, such as filing paperwork and handling club dues, for songwriting groups. With small organizations, a secretary is often needed to handle such tasks, Blair said. Much of the time at meetings is spent on official business instead of singing and songwriting. 

Members of affiliated groups are members of the ETSSA.

The ETSSA frees affiliated local singer songwriter groups from worrying about the official business so they can focus on music and songwriting.

“We were just trying to make it easier for people to get together and network with each other,” Blair said. “They could meet, write their songs, have their jam sessions and not be bothered by the business end of things. We don’t want the singers and songwriters to be bothered.”

But whoever facilitates the individual singer songwriter groups sits on the ETSSA’s board.

“So everybody would have a voice,” Blair said.

The Big Valley Songwriters Group is currently the only group affiliated with the ETSSA. This group of singers, songwriters and musicians meets at the Big Valley Barn. Link Byrge, who owns the Big Valley Barn, is a member, and so is his wife.

“We meet every Tuesday night,” Blair said. The group meets at 7 p.m. at Big Valley Barn.

They engage in song critiques. Lyric sheets are passed out and each member comments on the songs.

“Everyone puts their comments on there,” Blair said. “They change words. If something doesn’t sound right, they write comments.”

Asking for comments from relatives isn’t helpful, because they can too nice, Blair said.

“You need comments from strangers,” Blair said.

“It’s amazing how much difference it makes,” Blair said. “When you write a story, your telling your story. But when somebody else hears it, they don’t know what you’re talking about. So you have to take your (story) and condense it down to three minutes. And it’s difficult to do.”

When song critiques are finished, the members of the songwriter’s group have jam sessions.

“You don’t even have to be a songwriter to be a part of this,” Blair said. “You can be a singer, come sing.”

Blair is the facilitator for the Big Valley Songwriter s Group.

“I agreed to be the facilitator of the Big Valley Songwriter group, but it’s just until someone else wants it,” Blair said.

Big Valley Songwritings Group mostly produces county music, Gospel and light pop.

“Don’t have any rock and roll or metal members,” Blair said. “Not saying they aren’t welcome. They are welcome.”

The songwriter groups affiliated with the ETSSA are meant to be available to a wide variety of people from diverse genres and skill levels.

“We will take people that just want to be,” Blair said. “Anybody from beginners to experienced. There’s something for everybody. We’ve got members that are actually professional musicians.”

Dennis Keith Lambert comes to meetings, and has performed in multiple venues.

Kubil Hopper, who plays at the Senior Citizens Center on Thursday nights, is a member.

It is a goal to have more groups affiliated with the ETSSA that essentially do what the Big Valley Songwriters Group does.

“It would be the same thing, it would just have a different name,” Blair said.

“We’d like to get enough people together that we could form (separate) genres,” Blair said. “What we are trying to do is difficult. It’s hard to put together a group of people that, it’s convenient to everyone.”

The Big Valley Songwriters Group has members from all over, and it is a long drive for some of them to get to the Big Valley Barn. More local members are needed in order to form more groups that can meet in more convenient locations, Blair said.