1: 16th Avenue

1: 16th Avenue

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

16th Avenue

Story by Thom Schuyler

Song written by Thom Schuyler

Recorded by Lacy J. Dalton

I remember quite vividly where I was when I wrote “16th Avenue.” My wife and I had just settled into being married and had our first child. We had bought a little bungalow near the 100 Oaks Mall area in Nashville. It was late one Friday night and I was just picking around at home. I really didn’t even have an idea. It wasn’t one of those songs where I thought, “This is a great idea. I can’t wait to start writing.” I didn’t even know what I was doing! I just started writing the song.

I scribbled down probably three verses and then I thought it was too much of an “industry” kind of song. It didn’t really have the structure of a commercial song. It didn’t even have a chorus. So I just threw it in the desk drawer.

About three months later, I played it for my publisher, Even Stevens. He was working with Eddie Rabbitt then, and he had a publishing company on Music Row. He asked me if I was working on anything, and I told him yes, but I didn’t think it was very commercial. I played it for him and his eyes got as big as saucers. He said, “Where did that come from?” and I told him I didn’t know. He said, “Well, work on it some more.”

I’m an absurdly practical guy. I was prepared to come to Nashville, and I had a little bit of money saved, so I never really stayed at any of the boarding houses on Music Row or lived in my car or any of the things mentioned in the song, but I would observe other people who did and listen to their stories.

Once I had finished the song, we did a little demo of it. There was a guy named Jerry Smith, who has worked with a lot of new artists over the years to help them get their start. He was plugging some songs for Even Stevens and Eddie Rabbitt and he took “16th Avenue” and another song I had written called “My Old Yellow Car” down to producer Billy Sherrill’s office at Columbia. He came back and said that Billy liked them both, but “My Old Yellow Car” was his favorite.

Two or three days later, Billy called me at the publishing house and asked me if I would come down to his office and visit with him, which was quite a thrill for a young writer like me. He was very generous with his time and he ended up recording both of those songs with Lacy J. Dalton, a singer he was producing then.

They used “16th Avenue” to open the Country Music Association Awards Show in 1982. Lacy came out and sang it, and they did this really wonderful montage of downtown Nashville photos, and cats walking around with guitar cases and things like that on the screen behind her. It was a very nice piece, and then Columbia put it out as a single. It really had its run on big radio in the early part of 1983.

From time to time, when I hear it, I’m reminded what a great recording it was, and how well it was produced and how great her vocal was. It’s only been recorded twice as far as I know. Maybe there are certain songs that need to be recorded only once and should be remembered in their original form.

Honestly, to this day, if there is any one thing I’ve done in this town that I am associated with, it’s that song. I still think of it as an insider song. It did get into the Top 10, and it was a big record for Lacy, and it still gets played a lot, but I’ve had bigger hits. I’ve had number ones, but people don’t always remember them. But they remember this song. Some people call it “the songwriters’ anthem,” and that’s quite an honor.

16th Avenue

From the corners of the country, from the cities and the farms

With years and years of livin’ tucked up underneath their arms,

They walked away from everything just to see a dream come true

So God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue.

With a million dollar spirit and an old flat top guitar,

They drive to town with all they own in a hundred dollar car,

’Cause one time someone told them about a friend of a friend they knew,

Who owns, you know, a studio on 16th Avenue.

Now some are born to money. They never had to say survive

And others swing a nine pound hammer just to stay alive

There’s cowboys, drunks and Christians, mostly white and black and blue,

They’ve all dialed the phone direct to home from 16th Avenue.

Oh, but then one night in some empty room where no curtains ever hung,

Like a miracle some golden words roll off of someone’s tongue,

And after years of being nothing they’re all lookin’ right at you,

And they for awhile they’ll go in style on 16th Avenue.

Hey it looks so uneventful, so quiet and discreet,

But a lot of lives were changed there on that little one-way street,

’Cause they walked away from everything just to see a dream come true,

So God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue.

More stories from our partners