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I Wish You Well - Billy Kemp
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I Wish You Well


In the fall of 1982, I had been in Nashville about six months, when a friend, Jerry, had invited me down to Atlanta to do a recording session for another artist. Jerry was the engineer on the session. The studio was brand new, and this was going to be the first session. The studio owner looked very nervous, and when we spoke, I said to him about the studio, “I wish you well.”


The session was going fine. I laid down my rhythm guitar track and then the singer was going to cut a vocal track. I had a bit of a break and found an empty storage room where I could play my guitar without disturbing the vocal tracking. I was grateful for the space because I was getting tugged hard by an idea of writing a song with that title, “I Wish You Well.”


At the time, I was listening to lots of music by Willie Nelson. I especially liked Willie’s early music that harkened back to the late 50s and early 60s. His songs, “Crazy,” “Nightlife” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” had struck me to the core. They were timeless, melodic and emotional ballads not unlike songs that my Dad had sung when I was a kid. My Dad loved Frank Sinatra, and he sang many of Frank’s hits. Later I learned that Willie also loved Sinatra, especially his vocal phrasing, tending to stay around the beat but not on it.


The melody unfolded in that storage room in Atlanta, along with a title and a few words. Then, I was called back to the session for a lead guitar overdub, and I had to leave the song until I got back to Nashville the next day. I really liked the music, the title and some of my words and sent them to my songwriting partner, Geoff Himes, who lived in Baltimore. Geoff sent me back an early draft with completed lyrics, and I loved it. I worked the song up and started playing it around Nashville at the various writers’ nights, and folks seemed to like it. 


One Sunday night, I was hosting the writers’ night at The Bluebird Café, and I played “I Wish You Well.” A gentleman walked onto the stage as I finished the song and introduced himself as Del Bryant, president of BMI Nashville. BMI is Broadcast Music Incorporated, a performance rights organization that makes sure that songwriters receive payment for use of their songs. Needless to say, Del was a very important person in Nashville. He asked me if I had a recording of the song, and I said no, I had just co-written it. He said that if I could drop off a voice/guitar demo to him by Wednesday, he would take it with him to Texas and pitch it to Willie Nelson, whom he would be playing golf with that weekend. 


Willie hasn’t cut the song yet, but I’m still hopeful. If you see Willie, direct him to my website and nudge him to listen to the song again. I would love to hear Willie sing it. Hey Mickey Raphael (Willie’s harmonica player and other voice), please pitch “I Wish You Well” to Willie one more time!

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