Suffice it to say that Dave Barnes’ success would be ensured even if he never recorded another note of his own.
A Grammy nominee and Country Music Association honoree, he’s a successful songwriter whose credits include contributions to Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Marc Broussard, Thomas Rhett, Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton. Shelton’s recording of Barnes’ composition “God Gave Me You” was the song that garnered the Grammy nod and the CMA acclaim.
Not surprisingly, Barnes readily acknowledges his success. With nine albums under his own aegis and the ability to tour only as he pleases — his annual Christmas show plays Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre for two nights this week — he’s carved out a career that seems to give him the best of two worlds.
“I am so thankful,” Barnes said during a brief break in his current tour. “I love what I do, and I love where my career is now. Having a family makes it hard to tour a ton, and I feel like I have found a good groove with playing shows and being home. That’s what has been so fun about writing for other people — it keeps me home and still making music while I’m still able to play shows and make my own music.”
Then again, his Knoxville appearances could be considered a homecoming of sorts. Born in South Carolina the oldest of three children and son of a pastor, he was raised in Mississippi before his family relocated to Knoxville during his junior year of high school. He graduated from Farragut High School and went on to attend Middle Tennessee State University, where he graduated with a degree in recording industry management. Shortly after graduation, he started playing guitar and writing his first songs, at first for fun and then for others, while honing his performing skills at nearby universities. Influenced by Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Marc Cohn and Bebo Norman, he discovered he had a knack from crafting breezy, infectious hooks and an easy, accessible, soulful style that at times brings to mind Cohn, Timothy B. Schmit and Don Henley, the latter two both solo and with the Eagles.
He also showed a skill for doing stand-up comedy, an ability which he began developing for his live performances. Barnes said his sources aren’t hard to find.
“My music tends to be inspired by other music,” he said. “And my humor is mostly from life in general.”
It’s somewhat ironic then that his latest album is titled “Who Knew It Would Be So Hard To Be Myself.” Even so, Barnes said that his work routine is incredibly organized, and that he’s able to divide his duties so that he knows in advance which material he’ll offer to others and which songs he’ll keep to record for himself.
“I tend to know what I’m writing for each day,” Barnes said. “So the days that I have down to write for myself usually find me by myself in my studio in my backyard, although every now and then I’ll write something for myself that I end up thinking may be a better fit for someone else. It’s vice versa on the other days. Ninety nine percent of the time, I’m writing with someone else when I’m writing for them or another artist. But every now and then, we write something I want to record myself.”
Given both his efforts to others and his need to keep his own catalog current, it figures that Barnes doesn’t simply wait for the muse to come to him.
“Sometimes I have a song title or something very specific I want to write about,” he said when asked about the source of his inspiration. “Other times, there is a musical idea I have that I then have to figure out a lyric part for.”
The same can be said about the process he uses when plotting out a new album.
“Sometimes I start with a concept, and sometimes I get a few songs in and then realize what the trajectory or theme is,” he said. “I’m always really thankful for that moment!”
Barnes’ enthusiasm naturally carries over into his “A Very Merry Christmas Tour.” That was evident with the initial announcement he posted on his website:
“It’s Christmastime again! PSYCH! Is that still a thing? I doubt it. But you know what is a thing? Christmas. Back off. I know it’s not that funny, but I’m a dad, and that is really beginning to inform these jokes. So, be gentle. And blame my kids.”
Some might suggest otherwise. After all, with two previously released albums of Christmas music and the upcoming evening of entertainment featuring both Christmas classics and original material of his own, it’s clear Barnes himself is decidedly in a holiday spirit.
“I know I’m biased, but I think it’s such a fun show. The band and special guests are so good and really add to the night. Hopefully it gets people in the Christmas spirit.”