At my very first recording session with Larry Butler, I walked into a dark recording studio and sat down next to him, and it was there, for the first time, I heard Dottie West sing:
You want things your way
And I want them mine.
And now we don’t know
Just where to draw the line.
How can love survive
If we keep choosing sides?
And who picks up the pieces
Every time two fools collide
“Larry,” she said, shielding her eyes from the glare of the studio lights. “Is that Kenny Rogers there?”
“Yeah,” Butler answered. “Come on over and say hello.”
That simple invitation was the beginning of a great musical and personal friendship between Dottie West and me. I had heard a lot about Dottie but had never actually heard her sing live until then. She was special in so many ways, to so many people. She was, at this time, a single mom with three kids and getting it done for her family. That alone was a great credential. But equally as impressive was her voice. You believed everything she sang. That was her gift.
To me, Dottie represented everything good about country music, and as I would come to learn, she had, in one form or another, lived or would one day live most of the things she sang about. I had often heard the expression “Dottie doesn’t sing her music, she lives it.” It didn’t take me long to realize how true that was.
The first thing she said when she came in the control booth, even before saying hello, was “I want to sing with you!”
What made this meeting such a twist of fate was that Larry was producing both Dottie and me in the same studio, virtually at the same time. Her session was supposed to have ended at 8 p.m. and mine was to start at 9.
After she sat down, she said, “Larry, we have to find a song we can sing together.” I was more than flattered. No one had ever come out and said anything like that to me before. That’s a usual invitation in this business. But then managers, agents, record companies, or someone else get involved and screw things up. More creativity is lost with technicalities than you can imagine. Sometimes you’ve just got to do it and let the chips fall where they may.
Of course in this case, Larry had a lot of juice with the company, and I was starting to have some of my own. I had loved so much hearing what she sang that while I was sitting there, I had subconsciously begun singing along with her. So without fear of repercussion and convinced I could sing in that key, I suggested: “How about this song?”
Dottie and Larry were shocked, as was I, at my eagerness to hear us together. I brazenly walked into the studio, put on her headphones, and started singing:
You lay the blame on me
And I the blame on you.
Why do we keep finding fault
With everything we do?
How long can we keep right and wrong
So cut and dry?
And who picks up the pieces
Every time two fools collide?
You have no idea how great that felt. Here were two people who had never met before, knew nothing about each other’s personal lives, and yet were about to sing a song that wasn’t actually written as a duet. But it was a perfect duet: each of us could understand the pain of the couple from our own perspective and experience.
My session was put on hold for the night so we could finish the song. This was less like doing a song than sharing an experience with a new friend.
I want to tell you the history of that song, because it is a good story — and I love hearing about how songs come about. “Every Time Two Fools Collide” was written by Jan Dyer and Jeff Tweel and was one of those accidental co-writes, where luck or magic shows up and takes charge.
Jan was working as a secretary at United Artists Publishing, typing up song contracts and handling general office duties. But like so many people with day jobs in Nashville, Jan was also a songwriter. On one particular day when a lot of the company writers were standing around in the office, someone knocked over a little cactus plant on Jan’s desk, spilling dirt all over the contracts and lyrics Jan had just finished.
“See what happens” — she laughed, looking at Jeff Tweel — “when two fools collide?”
It was a line of Jan’s that she had used for years, but somehow she hadn’t used it in a room filled with songwriters. Jan remembers a hush coming over the room, the same kind of hush that happens when a hook line is spoken. You could hear a pin drop as the writers snapped to attention. Every writer glanced at the next one, but Jeff spoke first.
“That is Jan’s and mine!” Jeff announced. The other writers moaned and wandered back to their desks. Jan and Jeff worked on the song all that afternoon and evening, then polished it up and took it to UA’s publisher, Jimmy Gilmer. Jimmy, in turn, took it to Larry Butler.
Can you imagine? A cactus gets knocked over and gives Dottie West and me a No. 1 hit!
Reprinted with permission from William Morrow/Harper Collins. From the book Luck or Something Like Itby Kenny Rogers. Copyright 2012.