published Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Curtain Call: Singing lyrics easier than writing them for Charley Yates

Charley Yates performs his Live Jukebox Show at various restaurants and clubs around town. Lately, he's been writing original material as well.
Charley Yates performs his Live Jukebox Show at various restaurants and clubs around town. Lately, he's been writing original material as well.
Photo by Contributed Photo.

CHARLEY YATES

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Age: 49.

Education: East Ridge High School, ECPI University.

FAVORITES

Movie: “The Sound of Music,” “Raising Arizona,” “Heat”

Book: “The Real Frank Zappa Book”

Plays or musicals: “The Sound of Music,” “Les Miserables”

Songs: “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak, “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn

Performers: Tony Bennett, Sting, Lady Gaga, Prince.

Actors: Michael Douglas, Jim Carrey.

Quote: “You must be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi

Since he was a young boy, Charley Yates has enjoyed singing. He's especially partial to pop songs, and over the years he developed a talent for mimicking other singers.

He took up the trumpet in grade school and the guitar in high school. For a while, he was in a band, and he did some studio session work while living in Atlanta.

For the last six years, he's been singing at area clubs and restaurants doing a Live Jukebox Show.

Always skilled at singing other people's songs, Yates said he has tried for 20 years to become a songwriter, even joining the Nashville Songwriters Association.

"I dropped out when I hit a wall when I realized I wasn't communicating with myself as far as what I wanted to write," he said.

He turned a corner a few months ago, however, after reconnecting with Thom Cavin through the Chattanooga Songwriters Association. In fact, Yates will be honored tonight as the March Songwriter of the Month at the CSA's weekly gathering at Meo Mio's.

Q: Tell me about your music and what all you are into?

A: I'm doing music full-time. I do a cover gig with the Live Jukebox Show, which I've been doing around for five or six years.

Q: Describe the show for people who don't know what that is.

A: I pick over 200 songs and put them on a list, which I put on all the tables and people make requests according to what they want to hear. That becomes my set list, and I work in the vocal impressions that I do. I do over 50, I guess. James Taylor is one of the better ones, I guess, because my voice is similar. I do Michael Buble. Everyone from Lil Wayne to Elvis. It's just something I've done since I was a little kid. Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond, Barry Manilow. I've always been a huge pop fan.

Q: What sort of stuff have you been writing?

A: Well, pretty much the same as my playlist, which is all over the map. Everything has a pop hook and has to be catchy. I've been struggling writing. I could always do the music, the melodies and the arrangements, but not the lyrics since I've not focused on it. Even years ago, I was more into the melody than the lyrics.

I've been going to the Chattanooga Songwriters gatherings and meeting new people and collaborating. Things really started taking off. In the last couple of weeks, I've written more songs than I had in years of time combined.

Q: What changed?

A: I was ready. I was already to that point where I was ready. If I'd started going to the songwriters thing earlier, I wouldn't have been ready for it.

I really needed to communicate with my soul as far as getting words to come from the right place. I was just filling them in before to fit the melody or chord progressions. I met with other writers, and they really helped.

Q: So where do you hope or want to go with it?

A: Man, that's a good question. I have some people in Nashville interested in doing something, and I will meet with them and see what it brings. I like performing, but not maybe as much as some out there. I was in a broke-down van in Atlanta and got a taste of what that is like. I read where Sevendust was on the road for 18 straight months, and I'm like I'm not sure there is anything on Earth I enjoy enough to do that.

Q: It's interesting to hear you talk about how tough it is for you to write lyrics. People knock some artists, Elvis for example, because they didn't write their own songs, or most of them. He was pretty good at the other stuff, though.

A: It ain't easy, and it gets harder every day. Every time a good song comes out, it's harder than it was yesterday. And there is a quality or standard that I'm looking for, and it is not easy.

Q: Where can people see and hear you?

A: Cornerstone Grill in Dalton on Fridays, Kanpai of Tokyo at Hamilton Place on Saturdays. Cafe Roma in Cleveland every second Thursday. I have a MySpace page too. Plus, I try to get around to songwriting nights and see people.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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