Songwriter’s Backstory – Trains I Missed

Walt Wilkins, Gilles Godard and Nicole Witt

This month’s column features the song, Trains I Missed, written by Walt Wilkins, Gilles Godard and Nicole Witt in 2005. It was recorded by Balsam Range for their 2010 album by the same name and became the 2011 IBMA song of the year.

A diverse and accomplished team of co-writers is responsible for the existence of this wonderful song. As they each spoke of their individual contribution, all three writers seemed taken by surprise at the speed and flow with which the song was completed. The authors are also very vocal about their gratitude for the finished piece.

The title of the song was a great place to start, and Gilles Godard, a French-Canadian writer, had been saving this one for a good while. He said, “Just thinking about opportunities…getting ready to take them. You can’t reverse the river. It’s like if it’s meant to be, that’s life.” After some thought, Walt was the voice and co-writer Gilles sought out to bring the song into being: “Walt is sort of a world traveler; a free spirit. Nothing holds him down. Anything is possible, that’s why we all admire Walt. And it’s really a French saying: ‘les trains que j’ai manqué’.” It sounds so poetic in French that one can almost imagine what the translation actually means. “I kept that thought for a while,” Gilles said.

Recording artist and Texas-born traveling troubadour, Walt Wilkins, had just moved back to his hometown of Austin, TX from Nashville, TN and was back in Nashville for a short time to play a show. Gilles stopped Walt just after he came off stage at Douglas Corner Cafe. Walt recalls their conversation: “Gilles came up to me after my set and said, ‘Man I really want to write with you.’ He said, ‘I can see how happy you are in Texas. It looks great on you. I’ve got this idea, ‘Trains I Missed.’ You’re happy, and it just kinda radiates off you.’” Gilles reconfirmed with Walt that they would get together to write on Walt’s next Nashville trip.

A few months later, and still under contract with Curb, Walt made another co-writing trip to Nashville. It was the last day of his trip, and Gilles had also been writing that same morning with Springfield, MO native, recording artist and fellow Curb writer, Nicole Witt. Gilles and Nicole had a good groove going that morning, so it made sense for her to join Gilles and Walt’s afternoon writing session. Though Gilles and Nicole are both accomplished musicians, they let Walt play the guitar and ‘drive the train’, as they described it. Walt had some time to think on the title, since Gilles had mentioned it a few months earlier. After writing all day every day for two weeks, Walt says his brain was primed and working. Giles recalls the creation of the first verse: “Walt started to play and sing a piece of music. I said, ‘Is that what you wrote this morning?’ Walt said, ‘No that’s where your idea is taking me’.” Gilles continues, “It just fell out. And the words just fell into place. It was meant to be. A memorable day.”

Walt also calls it a memorable day of creating an unforgettable song: “I had a guitar that day and drove it. I had the music in my head. When it was over in an hour, I knew, ‘I’m going to sing this song for the rest of my life’!” Walt went on to record Trains I Missed on his 2007 Palo Duro Records album, Diamonds In The Sun. Walt Wilkins is known all over the US and abroad as a gifted writer and touring artist, and it’s a given that he’ll pack the house at any show that he performs in Texas. With over 200 songs recorded by other artists, his song, Somewhere Tonight (Wilkins/Raines), was a hit for Kelly Pickler and later recorded by Kenny Rogers. You can keep up with Walt online.

Nicole Witt recalls the day in a similar way, though some of the details have slightly faded since the song came about so quickly and some time had passed. “It just fell out!” she exclaims. An expression now quoted by all three writers about this special day and remarkable piece of work. “I do remember the three of us jiving on this idea and knowing there would be a lot of people that could identify with this. And as time has gone on, I know Walt sings it every night in his shows. When I’m doing a solo show, I also sing it. There are people in the audience that come to tears. And you just don’t know exactly why, what their personal story is.” I asked Nicole for some details on the writing session itself. As with Walt’s and Gilles’s recollections, it’s about the big picture and not so much the details. She reflected, “I can’t remember specific details line per line. But I do remember thinking that, as we were writing it, it progressed.” 

Trains I Missed

Here’s to the trains I missed, the loves I lost
The bridges I burned the rivers I never crossed
Here’s to the call I didn’t hear, the signs I didn’t heed
The roads I couldn’t take the map that I just wouldn’t read

It’s a big ole world but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt that led me straight to this
Here’s to the trains I missed

I’ve been a clown I’ve been a fool and I pushed on every chance

I searched far and wide tried to crawl out of God’s hand
But there’s stones I didn’t throw and hearts I didn’t break

And the little hope I held onto with a silver shining thread of faith

It’s a big ole world but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt that led me straight to this
Here’s to the trains I missed

Here’s to the place I found, the love I know
The earth and the sky that I call home
And here’s to the things I believe, bigger than me
And the moment I find myself right where I’m supposed to be


It’s a big ole world but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt that led me straight to this
Yeah, it’s a big ole world but I found my way
From the hell and the hurt that led me straight to this
Here’s to the trains I missed

I caught up with Balsam Range lead singer, Buddy Melton, to ask how he and the band got their hands on the song:

Buddy Melton

“Years back, Milan Miller and I were in a band called Jubal Foster which included Mark Winchester, Mark Baumgartner and Jeff Smith. We were playing a lot in Nashville, and we were on a label with Walt Wilkins.” That would be the now retired Palo Duro Records label. He continues, “We did several shows together. At the time, Walt had the album out with the song on it. I was just always a fan of the lyrics of that song and a fan of Walt’s as well. I always thought that the lyrics were impacting, and it would be a great song to do again at some point. Kept thinking about it. I had it in my back pocket for years. I pitched it to [Balsam Range] several times, and the timing was right for us to do it on what turned out to be the album title, Trains I Missed.”

He shared with me a very current story of the song’s ongoing impact, “We still get a lot of requests. It’s amazing how many people come up and say that song has been a big impact to their life. There was a girl the other night, as a matter of fact, she had it tattooed on her the inside of her arm: Here’s to the Trains I Missed. That’s pretty impacting when somebody’s tattooing a phrase on their body. Sometimes songs like that can be as impacting as a really great Gospel song for people in that it helps them through tough times. And that’s been the case right there, time and time again. It’s just great to have a song that helps people down the path and that can be one for us. And I’m grateful for Walt [and Gilles and Nicole].”

Buddy’s tenacity paid off. Trains I Missed turned out to be a huge record for Balsam Range, and garnered the 2011 IBMA Song of the Year Award. Two of the three co-writers, Walt Wilkins and Nicole Witt, were able to attend the 2011 IBMA award show that was held in Nashville at the famed Ryman Auditorium. Gilles was having dinner with family when the surprise text appeared on his phone that he was one of the recipients of this distinguished honor.

All three songwriters express their delight in the Balsam Range version of their song. Walt says, “When they sent me the recording, my [wife] Tina just started crying. It was so beautiful to us. It’s one of my favorite records. We just couldn’t believe what they did with that song. It’s so beautiful. I feel like we have a connection forever because of that song.”

In the country genre, Nicole Witt has had her songs recorded by artists such as Zac Brown, George Strait and Diamond Rio. Trains I Missed was also recorded on a solo EP that she sells at her shows. New Opry members, Dailey and Vincent, recorded Nicole’s song, Brothers of the Highway, and they, along with Nicole, are all signed to the newly formed Keith Steagall label, Dreamline. Nicole comes from a musical family as her grandparents, Timothy and Evelyn Morse, were bluegrass musicians on the Ozark Jubilee television program, and her dad performed in the square dance group on the show. She never got the chance to meet her grandparents, but she was gifted her grandfather’s fiddle. This fiddle is very special to her, and she plays it every night on tour with her band, Farewell Angelina. She recalls receiving her IBMA award in 2011: “I was thrilled and honored to be there. I felt like my grandparents were with us that night.” You can also keep up with Nicole online.

Gilles Godard came from a musical family and started out as pedal steel player. In order to catch up with his touring then-girlfriend, Susan, he had to join her band, The Candy Lynn’s. It worked out in the end because not only did they get to tour together, they later married and raised a family in Cornwall, Ontario. Around 1983, Ronald Reagan granted Gilles his green card, making it possible for him to move to Nashville with his family. Gilles is an award-winning author as well as a successful songwriter, with over 400 songs recorded by artists such as Ricky Skaggs, Tracy Byrd, Dan Seals and more. Gilles now serves on the administrative side of the music business as chief executive officer at the Olé Music Publishing office in Nashville.

Some exciting news: Both new and loyal fans can look forward to upcoming Texas and Southwest tour dates with Walt Wilkins and Balsam Range. Late summer shows are in the works for these performers as co-headliners.

As for the song, it continues to touch and inspire audiences all over the globe. That is simply the nature of a great song: to describe the indescribable and to explore the human condition of contemplative regret turned to hopeful optimism. Here’s to the trains I missed.

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About the Author

Irene Kelley

Irene Kelley’s signature mix of Bluegrass, Country and Americana appeals to music lovers across all genres. A native of Latrobe, PA, Irene Kelley discovered her flair for songwriting as a teenager and soon found her way to Nashville, TN where her songs were quickly noticed and recorded by Carl Jackson, Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White. While recording an album for MCA and independently releasing 3 more critically acclaimed records and touring worldwide. Her new bluegrass album, These Hills was released on Mountain Fever Records in May of 2016 to critical acclaim. Irene raised two daughters and scored cuts with Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Loretta Lynn, Pat Green, Brother Phelps, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Darrell Scott, The Whites, the Osborne Brothers and others.