HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Huntsville songwriter Jim McBride grew up in the Dallas Mill neighborhood where he loved listening to the radio. We sat down at the Tangled String Studio at Lowe Mill where Jim told me, “I had all these songs in my head.” He put those thoughts down on paper. “I wrote my first song when I was 12,” he said, “And I didn’t write another one until I was 18.”
Jim didn’t play an instrument, so he’d go to Fire Station Number 2 where one of the firefighters was also a guitar picker. Jim would sing while his friend played the melody. He recorded the songs and took those tapes to Nashville where he pitched them to legendary songwriter, Curly Putman.
“That was kind of scary, but I just had to do it,” Jim recalled, “And Curley said, if you’ll let me be honest with you, I think I can help you. I think he saw something there. Sometimes I came home feeling good and sometimes I came home not feeling so good.”
His first hit was in 1980. “I’d written a song with Roger Murrah from over in Athens,” he said, “Roger was already in Nashville, and we wrote a song that Conway Twitty recorded, and it went to like number 2 at the end of 1980.”
Jim saw that as a sign and moved to the Music City. “I had a publishing deal when I moved up there thank goodness. So, I didn’t have to wait tables or anything like that,” he told me.
His focus was on writing songs. One of them was “Bet Your Heart on Me.” Johnny Lee recorded it my first year and it was number one,” Jim said proudly. “And I thought, this is easy. I should have been here a long time ago,” he said with a smile, “I didn’t have another big hit for six years.”
Alabama recorded one of his songs, “Dixie Boy” on its “The Closer You Get” album in 1983. “Yeah, it was just about my life growing up and they say you can’t write inside songs, but people associate,” Jim said, “The boys from Fort Payne associated with that song.”
I remember listening to that song over and over. It was always one of my personal favorites. And to be honest, I was a little disappointed that RCA didn’t release it as a single. Now, I know why. “Well,” Jim said with a huge grin, “There was another little song on that album called Dixieland Delight.”
He added, “Yeah, that song did so well. But you know that album sold 5 million and I wrote it by myself so, that’s like having a single. I was okay with it.”
Country music was changing. “I had songs on 14 albums and couldn’t get a single because if you listen through those albums my song was probably the most country song on there,” Jim told me. But he stayed true to his country roots. “Randy Travis kinda kicked the door open and Waylon. We had his last number one in 87 so things started picking up long about that time,” Jim said.
That’s about the time Jim saw a new face at the office. “I thought who is this guy?” he told me, “He looks like he might be a star. But I don’t know anything about him.” That guy was Alan Jackson who later called Jim. “He said will you write with me? And I said yeah, let’s get together,” Jim recalled, “So, we got together and hit it off just like that. It was like writing with myself really.” The two just clicked.
Two southern boys who liked the same music. Jim and Alan had four number-one songs. The first one, “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” That was just the beginning. “Chattahoochee was the biggest hit either one of us will ever have,” Jim said. It was the Country Music Association’s “Song of the Year” in 1994. It was Jim’s first CMA award. “First and only one,” he said with a laugh.
30 years later, people still want to know, what is a Hoochie Coochie? “Alan got tired of everyone asking him. He told everybody to call me, and they did,” he said with a chuckle, “When the county fair would come to town, there was always a side show with the hoochie coochie girls. So that’s what I was thinking. And the deal was if you were a young man, you’d try to get in there before you were 18.” So now we know, it’s dancing ladies at the state fair. “Yes. They’ll show you a little bit but you’re going to have to pay if you see anymore,” he said laughing.
In 1995, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame gave Jim its Creators Award. His first guitar and gold record from Chattahoochee are already on display there. But being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the hit of his career. ”Alabama is my home state and I love it. And to be honored by your home state, that’s really big,” he said proudly, “So, I’m put that up there right now.”