Brett James

If you go

› What: Music City Hit-Makers

› Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St

› When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7

› Admission: $21 and up

› For more information: 423-267-8583

Did you know that "Jesus Take the Wheel" was originally pitched to Hillary Scott before she joined Charles Kelly and Dave Haywood to form Lady Antebellum?

After Scott chose the trio instead of pursuing a solo career, the song was later played for Carrie Underwood and her team. Fresh off "American Idol," Underwood loved it and made it her first single off her "Some Hearts" album. The song launched her career on an upward trajectory that hasn't leveled off yet.

That country-Christian crossover hit spent six weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs, reached No. 4 on Billboard's Christian chart and cracked the top 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. It was named Single of the Year at the 2005 Academy of Country Music Awards, and won Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and Best Country Song.

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Hillary Lindsey

Two of the three writers who penned "Jesus Take the Wheel," Hillary Lindsey and Brett James, will take the stage at the Tivoli Theatre on Saturday night when the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera hosts Music City Hit-Makers. The third singer-songwriter joining them will be Rivers Rutherford, whose songs have been hits for Brad Paisley and Tim McGraw. Bob Bernhardt will conduct the country-themed pops concert.

Music City Hit-Makers was launched seven years ago by Charles Dixon with the Nashville Symphony. The premise combines the artistry of some of Nashville's best songwriters with lush symphonic accompaniment. The singer-songwriters perform their hits and give the audience a behind-the-scenes peek at their creative process and the stories behind their songs.

"It started off with just the three of us — Brett, me and Gordie Sampson. We were the guinea pigs," laughs Hillary Lindsey in a phone interview. "Then different songwriters came in. We've done them with the Boston Pops, Nashville and Birmingham symphonies and just all over."

What happens when a country song, which fans are used to hearing with guitars, is backed by woodwinds and brass? Does it lose anything in translation?

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Rivers Rutherford

"I'm not sure what it feels like in the audience, but being onstage with the symphony behind you makes it more emotional," says Lindsey. "I know it might sound cheesey, but it feels like you've been given a set of wings and you're taking off."

With Chattanooga's huge country fan base, the concert is expected to draw the interest of folks who might not otherwise attend a CSO concert.

"With our Pops Series, we try to hit a variety of genres, such as Broadway, pop and film music," says Samantha Teter, CSO executive director. "We have not presented much in the country genre recently, and we know what a big country music town this is, so it only seemed natural to present this show. With our proximity to Nashville, we're excited to have access to these greater songwriters to bring their hits to Chattanooga."

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.

How you know them

Brett James
“Brass Bed”

“Something in the Water”

“I Hold On”

“It’s America”

“Out Last Night”

“Sun Goes Down”

Rivers Rutherford
“These Are My People”

“When I Get Where I’m Goin’”

“Real Good Man”

“Stealing Cinderella”

“Ain’t Nothin’ ’Bout You”

“Livin’ In Fast Forward”

Hillary Lindsey
“Blue Ain’t Your Color”

“Dirty Laundry”

“Jesus Take The Wheel”

“Girl Crush”

“Last Name”


Five questions with Hillary Lindsey

Hillary Lindsey’s songs have been cut by Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Shakira, Lady Antebellum, Sara Evans, Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Tim McGraw and Luke Bryan to name a few. Her first No. 1 was “Blessed,” sung by Martina McBride.

Lindsey is part of the trio of female Nashville songwriters who call themselves the Love Junkies. The Love Junkies wrote Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which won a Grammy for Best Country Song and a CMA for Song of the Year.

Six of Lindsey’s No. 1 hits are singles cut by Carrie Underwood. Lindsey co-wrote eight songs on Underwood’s “Blown Away” album.

Q. Having written so many hits for Carrie Underwood, do you write songs now specifically with Carrie in mind?

A. Once you get in the middle of a song, you realize it might be good for Carrie, or Keith Urban or whoever. You can kind of feel it, you can tell who you think should sing it.

Q. When you have that feeling, do you send it directly to them?

A. You can, if you’re brave enough. I try to keep my distance from that a little bit because I don’t want to feel like I’m pushing my songs on anybody. I have my songs under Daniel Lee at BMG. I’ll send it to him, and he’ll send it to the manager, producer or occasionally directly to the artist.

Q. What started your interest in songwriting? Did you first start out writing poetry?

A. I did a little bit. For me, they went hand in hand. I never took lessons, but for whatever reason, I would sit down at the piano in my parents’ home, when I was very young, and play, and the melodies and words would come out. It was very natural for me. Nobody told me to do it, nobody taught me to do it. I just did it. That was my journal. We had cassette recorders, and sometimes I would record them. Sometimes I would just write down lyrics on a scrap piece of paper.

Q. How did the Love Junkies form?

A. Those are two of my best girlfriends in town. Lori McKenna and Liz Rose had been writing together for a couple years. I had written with Lori once years ago. I was honestly very nervous about writing with her because she is so amazing. I didn’t know if I could be as good. I was intimidated by her.

She and Liz had developed a really good relationship and somebody decided the three of us should write together. So we did — for two or three days straight.

We stayed in our PJ’s and lounge/workout clothes, would get up, have breakfast and talk song ideas. At 5 o’clock, we’d take a break and sometimes, back then, we’d write until 2 o’clock in the morning. Then get up and do it all again. We still do that.

Our first song was “Sober” that Little Big Town cut.

Q. Were you surprised by the controversy over the lyrics to “Girl Crush”?

A. It did surprise me. It showed that whoever felt that way didn’t listen to the lyrics. It was just a complete misunderstanding.

So many people in this town — artists, songwriters, fans — came out and championed the song. Artists were wearing “Girl Crush” hats, and it turned out for the better. It made people listen to the song, and the focus that ended up being on the song was that people loved it instead of hating it.


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