BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - A lot of entertainers have passed through Van Wert over the past decade, stopping to treat locals to a great performance before rolling on down the highway. From the most famous to the least these performers have put in many miles on the road to share their talents, usually because the desire to perform is constant.
Alan Rhody knows all about that desire. A singer-songwriter originally from Louisville, Kentucky who turns 66 this week, Rhody will spend an evening in Van Wert playing at the Black Swamp Bistro, doing what he longs to do. While on his way back from a songwriters convention in Florida, Rhody stopped to reflect with The Times Bulletin on why he continues to write songs and drive long distances to perform them."Something that keeps me going is playing for people. Playing live is one of my favorite things to do. The road travel, I'm kind of getting burned out on, but I don't tour as much as a lot of people do. I did at one time. But that has to do with wanting to be home more and I have other things I am pursuing," shared Rhody. "But it's the writing and singing for people that really keep me going."
The name may not be as familiar as the songs in Rhody's case. He burst onto the music scene in Nashville when one of his songs, I'll Be True To You, was recorded and taken to number one on the country charts by the Oak Ridge Boys.
He also hit big with Ricky Van Shelton's rendition of Wild-Eyed Dream and Lorrie Morgan's version of Trainwreck of Emotion in the late 80s. His songs have also been recorded by Toby Keith, Tanya Tucker, George Jones, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Lee Greenwood.
These days, he explained, performers prefer to write their own songs. "From the mid 70s to the mid 90s is when I had the most songs recorded, and I still get songs recorded these days, but the business itself has changed in a lot of ways, and it has been to the detriment of writers and publishers who aren't directly connected to the artist. I'm speaking of country mostly, but I'm sure it's the same way in rock."
Country music was more of an afterthought for Rhody, who considers himself a singer-songwriter.
"I got into music professionally when folk and country and rock and mixes of those three genres were the most popular of the day... I had a lot of influences growing up, mostly rock and roll and blues, then later on folk and folk-rock. Country didn't enter my realm until groups like the Eagles and some of the others came along that were really blending styles," he remembered. "Musically speaking, I've been pretty much the same as far as what I write and perform for the majority of time I've been playing. Different things have happened to my songs, but most of them are that folk and country-rock theme. Singer-songwriter describes what I do best. It's folk and country and rock based, really mostly folk and rock. I have written some really country, but that's not who I am as a performer. I'm more singer-songwriter, solo, storytelling guitarist and singer."
According to Rhody, the stories he tells come from all sorts of different experiences, some are personal and others are attempts to share what he has observed in other people. He does credit his wife for inspiring a fair number of love songs.
"I just love making up stories," he summarized. "I really want to write books one day. I've got a book started, but that's based more on my own experiences, but I also write poetry. I just had some poems published in a poetry and prose anthology that is coming up based around the Civil War's 150th anniversary, but it also deals with how our country has dealt with the years since then."
Beyond writing, Rhody is also a visual artist. He majored in painting in art college and has exhibited work and won awards over the years for his skill with the brush. Besides the writing and performing, painting is another skill Rhody wants to continue as his career goes on.
His ninth original CD, Led By Love, was recently released,and Rhody is out to share some of the new songs along with many of the more familiar. He continues to write songs because the stories keep coming to him.
He chuckled, "I don't anybody is really ever out of stories, now whether somebody may have heard something similar before may be the case at times!"
The best way to share his songs is to come out and play. So about 60-80 times a year, Rhody hits the road to have a little fun.
"I've been down a lot of roads to a lot of different places," he admitted. "For the first 10 or 15 years that I was playing out, it took me a long time to get totally comfortable and relaxed on stage. I didn't have stage fright, I just didn't have a lot to say between songs and that kind of thing. These days I just feel totally at home, I have for a long time. I think people connect with that immediately if they know you're having a good time and everybody is relaxed. I really enjoyed it. It's always fun... Like we tell people, you really have to love this stuff, you really have to love music to keep doing it."