This post is the first in what will be an occasional feature – Songwriter Profiles. If you have a suggestion for a bluegrass songwriter we might want to consider, please contact us.
Patrick McDougal was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina and he grew up watching his father, Robert McDougal, perform at the Grand Ole Opry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was influenced by the first generation of bluegrass musicians, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the like.
He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina, where he owns and operates Music Plus, a music store and instruction studio, as well as teaching a music course at Blue Ridge Community College.
Currently McDougal is a member of High Windy. In the past Patrick has performed with such notable musical talents as Herschel Sizemore, Jimmy Haley, The Blue Dogs and country star David Ball. He is 43 years old and has been with High Windy for two years.
McDougal is best known for writing the title song to Dan Tyminski’s Grammy-nominated CD, Wheels. The song was September’s No. 1 on Bluegrass Music Profiles‘ Top 30 Hot Singles chart in and is noted in the December edition of Bluegrass Unlimited at No. 2 in the National Bluegrass Survey, having been five months on the charts. His work has also been performed and recorded by Del McCoury, Alan Bibey and Blue Ridge, The Lonesome River Band, Jeanette Williams Band, Dixie Creek Revival and The Blue Dogs.
Recently, I chatted with McDougal about his background and his song writing ‚Ä¶‚Ä¶.
Tell me about your formative years in music.
“I always wanted to play banjo, since I was about 6 months old. They told me that I would cry unless I could go to sleep holding on to the banjo players pants leg when my dad’s band would practice. My dad played in a very successful band in 1960s and 1970s; even played the Opry some. I got my first banjo at age 12 and practiced some times all day.”
Who was the first bluegrass songwriter that you took noticed and why?
“Bill Monroe was. I noticed most of his songs were about every day things or events that really happened. I sorta got the bug when I heard two friends of mine sing their songs and thought that was a true way of expressing your thoughts. Tim O’Brien was one of my favouritess. But Tim Stafford makes me cry…”
When did you start writing songs yourself and what was your first song?
“About 10 years ago. My first real song was No Sad Goodbyes [recorded by Blueridge]. I’ve been fortunate only two songs I pitched haven’t been recorded.”
What other songs have you written and by whom have they been recorded?
“County Fool [Alan Bibey, accompanied by Del McCoury], Missed It By A Mile [Lonesome River Band], (You Left The) Dog Off The Chain [Junior Sisk] and Carolina Time [Jeannette Williams]. The Blue Dogs have recorded three tunes; Missed It By A Mile, The One That Didn’t Show and Four Winds. High Windy have recorded five also; Richest Man To God, Stuck Out In The Rain, Dancin’ Round The Daisies, Country Fool and Four Winds.”
What inspires you to write?
“When I hear a song that touches me or a phrase that would make a good hook I think that would make a great song. Most of my ideas come to me in dreams or right before I fall asleep.”
Wheels may be your most well known song; tell me how you came to write it.
“I really don’t remember. I use to sit up all night and just record tunes I like and I guess something spurred the idea. I do know I wrote all at once.”
Which of your songs are you most pleased with in terms of it being finished just as you intended it should?
“I like Four Winds, The Richest Man To God and Wheels. I was surprised when I heard Dan’s version, for the most part it was left the way I sent it.”
What tips would you offer for someone new to bluegrass song writing?
“Write meaningful things that you have some connection to. Its OK to make up stories, but try to take your thoughts there to that time or place. Feel it, mean it.”
What prompted you to pitch Wheels to Dan and what did Dan have to say to about the song?
“Sound engineer Daren Shumaker said Dan was looking for material and I should send it to him. Dan said when he heard the song he knew he could build an entire album around it.”
Looking back through the 10 years in which Patrick McDougal has been writing songs it is evident that those songs are of a consistently strong quality, with a couple being quickly picked up by top flight artists. At the turn of the century, Jeanette Williams’s recording of Carolina Time (on Too Blue) and the Lonesome River Band’s cut of Missed It By A Mile (on Window Of Time) have kept McDougal’s name in the minds of bands who are looking for good, fresh new material.
In addition to Wheels, Dog Off The Chain, Richest Man To God and Dancin’ Round The Daisies are all getting a lot of air play currently and each adds weight to an assertion that they represent McDougal’s best work to date.
Most recently McDougal has written four new tunes that he and his new publisher Eric Willson, with Omni Artists Productions, plan to pitch to a wide range of artists.
Editor’s note: Patrick was also featured in the most recent issue of Bluegrass Music Profiles.