On Songwriting | Musings On How To Write a Song

Jim Hurst On Songwriting

Jim Hurst On Songwriting

Listening to Jim Hurst perform his special brand of musical magic on the guitar is nothing less than phenomenal. Whether pickin’ his guitar solo or performing with the totally awesome Claire Lynch Band, Jim presents a delectable, bottomless cornucopia of melody, tones, percussion and brilliant phrases song after song, each one just right.

As you watch Jim play his guitar, straining hard for a glimpse of insight into what he’s actually doing to produce such amazing sounds, there’s surprisingly little to see. My ears tell me he’s using a bunch of fingers on his right hand to pick his lead notes while maintaining a strong, precise bass line, but I could hardly see any of his fingers move. That, plus his warm, soothing harmony and lead vocals and his creative songwriting ability and his obviously joyful and generous spirit make Jim Hurst somebody you’d really enjoy talking with.




Your improvisational solos always sound so fresh, thoughtful and fluid. Do you think about improv similar to how you think about composing a new song from scratch?


Thank you. Only in that the melody and rhythm/groove aspects are important. Other than that they are pretty different approaches to me.

I create a song from some inspiration and origination that to me is a fresh canvas. I only have to make me happy. My improvisational approach to soloing definitely is relegated by the song and the options or limitations there. Also it can be more or less relative to the melody depending on the song and the numbers of solos — whether I do more than one or if I am one of a group of instruments taking solos. I try to consider the dynamics of a song and character or overall feel of the song to give me my parameters as well as the artist’s or producer’s desires/thoughts. I then have to make my happiness fit theirs.


When you listen to new original music, what are some of things that tend to catch your ear in a way that you end up saying “Mmm, I kinda like that song, maybe I’ll pick it on my guitar sometime?”



I have a fairly wide musical palette and can enjoy (or tolerate) most types of recorded or live art. But I tend to enjoy things I can musically and lyrically understand more than the overly cerebral or complex things. Not to confuse full orchestration symphonic pieces or power-chord rock to this, I enjoy those type things as well. I mean lyrics that have me looking things up in history books or otherwise spending time trying to discover the meaning(s) or lingo, or music that is more mathematic or theoretic by design, and/or done primarily to put down another culture or lifestyle — or overtly brag about it.

I tend to use music and musical expression as an escape from real-world issues, political or otherwise. But I also need to have something there I can latch onto or at least somewhat understand or can digest without too much “study.” I will learn from music, especially things I can’t do as of yet, if ever. But I think melody and feeling good are the main ingredients.

Sample Jim’s Music:

Same Old Moon

Little Baby Child

Atlantic Crossing

Open G Medley

Big Iron

Mando Bounce

Danny Boy


What have you noticed about the creative process of songwriting that helps most with your own writing?


That no one way is the only way, unless of course one is writing to fit a scenario (like a movie, TV or theatrical score) or commercial success goal (country music). If one would make a list of their top five songwriters and listen to the works of these folks, you would possibly hear similar chords, arrangements, story lines, etc., but they would sound different if not unique.

In one genre alone, let’s use traditional bluegrass, I can choose a few: Bill Monroe, Carter Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Pete Gobel and Hazel Dickens. Each of these folks come from near the same demographic background and era, yet they sound different in their approaches. Same for any genre. My biggest takeaway here is that they were each trying to reveal a story, emotion, or experience that they felt sincere about and wanted to share. Even if it was an imaginary point of reference, they made it seem real. I try to do the same, and the biggest difficulty for me is trying to sound new without changing the overall genre.




What is the single most important insight you’ve thought about that could benefit other songwriters?


Write what you feel is good. Don’t be complacent or eager to wrap up, and try not to overwork. Sounds like a dichotomy, doesn’t it? I’ve heard other songwriters say, “It’s not finished until it is,” and I think that is a good saying. Every song I have ever written (instrumental or lyric song) has benefited from my deciding when it is finished without prejudice. I mean, I don’t want to overwork the song, but I do want it to feel complete.

Also, I try to record and listen back, sometimes over a period of time to confirm my own opinions, positive or negative. I also hate to hear someone say (judge) that one’s creative art is either not good or incomplete when it is really only their own opinion. Who would have the audacity to say that Beethoven’s or Mozart’s pieces are either incomplete or overworked? How about Bill Monroe or James Taylor? Duke Ellington or Hoagie Carmichael? My opinion is the only ones that would say anything like that are arrogant and have a false sense of perfection in their own efforts. Commercial success doesn’t mean art, and vice versa.


Jim Hurst Discography:


Audio CD: Intrepid

MP3: Intrepid

A Box of Chocolates

Looking Glass

Open Window



Second Son

Atlantic Crossing


Jim’s Links: