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Bill Deasy writes country tunes while still performing his own folk-rock songs

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the late 1980s, Bill Deasy was hanging around Pittsburgh's musical open stages, finding his voice and showcasing a surprisingly sophisticated set of introspective, optimistic folk-rock songs. Within a few years, he and his band Shiloh had outscored Rusted Root to win the 1991 Graffiti Rock Challenge, and by the mid-'90s, as the core of The Gathering Field, Deasy had signed a contract with Atlantic Records.

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
Local folk rocker Bill Deasy, who played a sold-out show last weekend at the South Side's Club Cafe, is also on a hot streak with country songwriting. He will perform as part of tomorrow's First Night festivities.
Click photo for larger image.

Now, Deasy is back on the fringes of the national spotlight with a song he co-wrote on a popular new album by country star Martina McBride. Released in October, "Martina" peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard album chart and became the top-selling country album. It's gone gold with more than 500,000 sales and is still hanging on in the country Top 10 on the strength of two radio singles, "This One's for the Girls" and "In My Daughter's Eyes."

"Learning to Fall," a catchy heartbreak song from the pop side of country, was written by Deasy and Arkansas songwriter Odie Blackmon, whose tunes have been recorded by a long list of country stars including George Strait, Gary Allan and Aaron Tippin.

"It seems like kind of stretch, I know, doing country after so many years of being a folk-y rock guy," says Deasy. "But some of that plays well in Nashville. I think they're looking for something different. Turning phrases is still what sells."

Deasy generated a buzz in 2001 by co-writing and singing "Good Things Are Happening," which ABC's "Good Morning America" adopted as its theme song. "Achy Breaky Heart's" Billy Ray Cyrus has covered one of Deasy's songs, and Deasy has a publisher and manager in New York and several co-writing friends in Nashville. He frequently performs solo gigs in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and last weekend sold out a showcase at the South Side's Club Cafe. Deasy plays two First Night sets at the CAPA Auditorium tomorrow and headlines at the Uptown Theater in Washington, Pa., on Jan. 23.

Deasy and Blackmon recently hired a session singer to help them record a seven-song demo in Nashville. Despite the growing repertoire of country songs, Deasy says he isn't ready to give up on the music that's gotten him this far: distinctive, spiritually aware folk-rock with soaring choruses that beg audiences to sing along.

This year Deasy released "Good Day, No Rain," a solo album of contemporary folk-rock tunes that he sees as part of a plan to build a two-tracked career. Deasy is pushing his solo album to AAA radio, with hopes of building a following at independent public stations including Pittsburgh's WYEP-FM. He's pushing his country tunes to Nashville with hopes of being covered on more country albums.

"I see my career as a performing artist as something completely different than the country songwriting," he says. "I don't really have aspirations to get a record deal in Nashville. What I'd really like to do is set up a career path like somebody like John Hiatt, where I could make my own records my way and have people from different genres cover my songs. That would be my ideal -- write from the heart and people would come to see me at the Rosebuds of the world, and singers would like the songs so much they'd cover them on their albums."

The newest incarnation of The Bill Deasy Band includes some top Pittsburgh players: guitarist Taylor Sinclair of Room to Move, keyboardist Gar Misra of Stone Soup, bassist Scott Tamulinas of Sleeping Giant and BEAM drummer Dave Throckmorton.


John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.

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