It’s been a while since Billy Yates had a Nashville record deal and co-wrote a couple huge hits for “The Possum,” George Jones (“I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” “Choices”). But even though he hasn’t been on the charts a lot lately himself, Yates has been anything but idle.
Before the pandemic arrived two years ago, Yates was hosting “Hit Songwriters in the Round” in Branson, bringing in old friends who had written for Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, and so many other Nashville artists. “As far as doing those shows in Branson on a full-time basis, I won’t be doing that again anytime soon,” he said recently by phone from his Nashville home, where he can be found when he’s not in his hometown in southeast Missouri. “So my intention is to try to take that on the road, I’m looking to book some corporate gigs and various things with that. It’s about trying to create an avenue for all these great songwriters to get out there, because the money’s kind of dried up as far as songwriting goes to a certain extent with the streaming and everything, especially for those writers who were busy back in the day. But it will be nice for them to play some gigs and make some money, and scratch their itch to play some music. That’s not to say I might not go back to Branson myself for a short run or something like that. I made a lot of friends there, really fell in love with the town.”
“I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio in Nashville,” he continued, “trying to finish up some things I was doing with [the late] Charley [Pride]. We did the Music in My Heart CD a few years ago and that went really well, and we had started a new project pre-Covid, we had recorded 15 new songs, so I’ve still been working on that project. And we’re working on some older things that Charley had recorded and never finished, so the list of songs keeps getting longer and longer, which is kind of cool but also a lot of work. We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the era that he recorded them in, and some things he did with [Johnny Cash producer] Jack Clement that we’re working on, so we’re really trying to keep it true to what Jack would have wanted.”
Yates has also worked with Pride’s son, Dion. “I produced a few sides on Dion recently and that went really well,” he said. “Dion is a fabulous guy, great singer, great guitar player, a great showman, much like his dad that way. We’ve been doing a lot of stuff over at Beaird Music Group in Berry Hill, it’s a great studio and Charley really liked it a lot.”
Yates will be appearing on the Grand Ole Opry on April 28th and said the timing is somewhat serendipitous. “This is the 30th year anniversary of ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ which was my big break more or less. April 26th is the ninth anniversary of George’s death, and the 30th year for ‘Rockin’ Chair,’ so it kind of makes sense for me to do the Opry then.”
Even though he’s staying busy in the studio, Yates loves playing in public as much as ever. “It’s something I never get tired of,” he said, “something I have a passion for, always want to keep doing it. As the business changes I still encourage my friends not to give up, to keep on writing and playing. But now you can’t put all your eggs in one basket now, you need to have various sources of income. I’m just trying to keep my options open. There’s still a fair amount of business in Nashville on the production side of things, and I’m still doing the Opry. There’s still some demand, and as long as there’s some demand, I’ll be there.” He also has a following in Europe, where he started playing about 15 years ago. “When I went to Branson I wasn’t able to go overseas as often so I kind of gave it a rest, but now it’s time to get back over there.”
Yates is popping up just about everywhere lately. He’ll be playing four nights at the Key West Songwriters Festival in May, and he and his tear-jerkin’ classic “Flowers” even have a mention in the new book by Dolly Parton and James Patterson, Run Rose Run. You can keep track of Yates at facebook.com/BILLYYATESOFFICIAL.