Shoals songwriter humbled by AMHOF induction

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TUSCUMBIA, Ala. – The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is hosting its awards banquet and show Saturday night, January 25. Among the inductees this year, a Shoals songwriter who says this is the high note of his career.

We asked Gary Baker to bring his guitar when we sat down with him at the Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. He was playing and singing “T.L.C. A.S.A.P.” The boys from Fort Payne had a hit with the song in 1993. Gary and his writing partner, Frank Myers, co-wrote it. Alabama recorded it in the studio.

It’s just one of many hits Gary penned. He started playing another song, singing, “But a woman took my hand, turned a boy into a man, once upon a lifetime,” he said before looking at me and saying, “My first number one. Thank you, Randy and the boys.” He laughed.

Baker was born outside of Buffalo and was raised on a dairy farm. He found a new home in the Shoals. “I flew in here 40 something years ago, landed in really, a cotton field and didn’t know what was going to happen, and I ended up spending my whole entire life here,” he told me, “So, to somehow become part of the history is really endearing to me. It’s really pretty crazy.”

Gary Baker put his musical roots down in the Shoals, and it paid off. “Absolutely right,” he said with a grin, “And I refused to move several times when I was really pressured to move.” He could have easily made the move to Nashville, but he was already home. “This was the best move for me to stay here, raise my family here, do what I do and make it work from here,” he said, “And it did.”

Gary will tell you he didn’t get into the music business because of money. “I starved for a lot of years. I mean, a lot of years,” he said. A lot of songwriters do. “Yeah, they do,” he replied.

He was determined to write his own story. “It’s hard to get into this business,” he said, “But it’s way harder to stay in it.” His career spans more than four decades.

One reason he has lasted so long may be that he writes from the heart. “Whenever somebody gives me an idea and we’re writing, I’ll find something in my life I can relate to, to add to that song,” he said.

That’s exactly what he and Frank Myers did when Lonestar’s Richie McDonald came to them with an idea. “I drew completely and totally from my son Cole,” Gary told me.

He’d been on the road with Frank 296 days that year for a promotional tour. “And so, I missed a lot of Cole that year,” he recalled, “but he always would say ‘bye, when you comin’ home.'” Cole’s words became a line in the song, “I’m Already There.”

Lonestar took the song to number 1! Gary still sees that little boy when he sings the song. “Sometimes I look at him if he’s there,” he said choking up a little, “It really gets to me.”

Gary’s had eight or nine number one hits, including one he and Myers wrote in a couple of hours. “Five years later, it got cut,” he said laughing. John Michael Montgomery recorded the song. “And it was the perfect timing for the song with the perfect artist, sophomore record, first single off the sophomore album,” he said, “It went nuts.”

Gary played a little of the song for us, “I’ll love you with every beat of my heart. I swear.” The R&B Pop group All-4-One took it to number 1 for 11 weeks! He’s also penned hits for others like Reba McEntire, the Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees.

But Gary Baker’s biggest hit is being inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. “It’s quite an honor, I mean, it’s right up at the top,” he said humbly, “I can’t think of anything that I’m more honored about than this right here. I really can’t.” His buddies, the Backstreet Boys, will induct him. Gary’s been working with them on a new project the past year.

Gary still writes and gives back to the community through The Baker Family Foundation. They’ve helped build playgrounds, buy sports equipment, and provide funding to nonprofit organizations in the community. He’s also been involved with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. That’s what is really important to him these days, helping children. “It is. It is,” he said, “I want to leave it better than I found it. Simple as that.”

Along with Gary, three others are being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. They include Grammy winner and Take 6 founding member Mervyn Warren, legendary blues singer Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, and Elton B. Stephens, who spearheaded the revival of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

The awards banquet and show are set for January 25 at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence. For ticket information, call the AMHOF at 256-381-4417.

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