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Real Retirement: ‘Don’t give up on your dreams,’ says the Medicare songwriter

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Last year at about this time I was sitting at my desk when all of a sudden my phone blew up. Congratulatory text messages started coming in:

“Way to go! It’s about time.”

“I always knew this would happen. Proud of you.”

After a little checking and a phone call or two, I found out what all the fuss was about. A song I had written, Why Not Me? had made the Grammy ballot in two categories: Song of the Year and Country Song of the Year. 

Read more about how Grammy voting works

Like everything else this past 18 months, it came out of the blue. And it brought some powerful lessons with it.

I have been writing songs for almost 50 years. I went on Medicare in January. I’m The Medicare Songwriter. Occasionally through the years I have recorded a collection of my songs and commercially released them. Some of my more than 500 songs have been recorded by other artists, including pop singer Christine Padua and country artist Erica Nicole. 

Though I have a full-time day job that I love, as a publicist for authors and their books, I take songwriting very seriously. When I go into my writing room I parse every word of every song as if Garth Brooks or Adele were eagerly waiting outside my door to record it. I love songwriting. I love what music does to us and how the best writing says for us what we are unable to say for ourselves. At night, when other people are watching their favorite shows on TV, I am in my writing room sweating over a single line of a song or a musical idea.

I’m not complaining, though. At a time when most of my contemporaries are retiring, I feel like I am just beginning. 

And I’m not the only one. A very talented friend of mine who started doing film scores a few years ago understands firsthand what I am feeling. He recently received an ASCAP award for his second film score on the same night that another writer and composer his same age received a lifetime achievement award.

As odd as it seems, this is what happens when people stay the course. It’s not always this dramatic, but it is always satisfying.

Staying the course apparently also creates an atmosphere where miracles can happen. In January of 2020 (Right before COVID-19 hit the U.S.), my wife and I were driving through Nashville and we decided to have dinner with some old friends of ours. We met at a Mexican restaurant and my friend, Rich Herring, asked me what I was working on. I told him that I had written a new song that I thought might be my best work. He asked me to sing it for him, a cappella, right there in the Mexican restaurant. 

I dutifully obliged and when I finished the first verse and chorus, he held up his hand and stopped me. “I’m supposed to help you with this,” he said. “Let me produce the demo on this song.”

Rich is the lead guitarist for Little River Band, a world-class producer and songwriter and an even better friend. I was delighted to let him produce the track. I sang on it and the resulting recording was outstanding. Probably my best recording ever.

After it was finished, I sent the song out to several producers that I know, and in a few minutes Tony Mantor called me and said he would like to record the song for his own record that he was working on. He even planned to retitle his album, Why Not Me?, after my song.

Watch Why Not Me? video celebrating first responders

In December of 2020, Mantor released Why Not Me? as a single in the U.K. and it got lots of airplay while he did 30 interviews there. Then, in February 2021 he released it in the U.S. and it stayed on New Music Weekly’s country charts for almost 40 weeks, topping out at No. 2 on its main country chart and No. 1 on its digital radio chart. He submitted it to the Grammys and when it made the early ballot he put it out on Facebook. I didn’t see that post until my cellphone lit up with all those sweet messages from friends.

The Why Not Me? experience went so well that Rich has been producing an entire album of my songs, What Love Makes Us Do.

It is my best work and I am grateful beyond measure.

Right after we found out that Why Not Me? had made the Grammy ballot I (jokingly) went to work on my Grammy acceptance speech. I decided to try it out on my wife, a loving audience of one who I knew would get a kick out if it.

I would walk to the stage and take my place behind the podium. Then, I would hold up the Grammy and say this:

“If you are here and you have been working a really long time on something you know you should be doing and it hasn’t happened yet, keep going. Keep working. Keep walking. Because you never know what’s just around the next corner.”

The lesson here in all of this? It’s never too late.

So, what’s your song? Can you remember it? Do you still want to sing it?

If you do, get busy. Roll up your shirt sleeves. Tune out the naysayers. Start today.

And above all, don’t give up. Because I am here to tell you, you truly never know what’s just around the next corner.

Dennis Welch is president and chief executive of Articulate, a public relations and communications company. Welch has recorded four commercially released records, penned hundreds of songs and his fifth album, What Love Makes Us Do, was released on Sept. 1.

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