5: American Made

5: American Made

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

American Made

Story by Pat McManus

Song written by Pat McManus and Bob DiPiero

Recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys

I grew up in the Pittsburgh area and started writing songs when I was about 10 years old. I used to write them for my brothers’ girlfriends. My brothers would claim they wrote them. Then when they broke up with the girls and started dating new ones, I would just change the girl’s name in the song so it would fit the next girlfriend. They weren’t paying me anything, so I wasn’t going to write a new song every time they broke up with someone.

I really wanted to break into the entertainment business, but I didn’t know how, so I studied broadcasting at Columbia School of Broadcasting. I thought that would get me in the door to show business, but I realized later that I really just wanted to sing and write songs. I quit broadcasting school and moved to Nashville in the early 1970s.

The first few weeks in Nashville, a couple of really bizarre things happened to me. I was staying in a boarding house near Music Row, paying them something like $5 a night. One night I went to listen to some music in a little lounge in a hotel on Broadway. While I was there, I asked if I could audition to play. I figured if I could pick up a few bucks, I could pay for my room and something to eat and that would allow me to keep writing songs full-time.

A few days later, I was singing there and a lady who was listening to me introduced herself and said her name was Joan Edwards. She said, “I think you are really going to do well in this town, and I want to help you.” I was just blown away, but a little skeptical, too. She told me I needed to stick it out and then she said she wanted to give me enough money to pay my bills for the next six weeks or so and asked me how much that would be. I said I didn’t know exactly, but I guessed it would be about $500. Then she left.

The next day, I was at the boarding house and the landlady called me down and said someone was there with a package for me to sign. It was a delivery courier and he had a letter from Joan with a check in it for $100, which was followed later by four more checks. So I walked to a nearby bank — I walked everywhere then because I didn’t have a car — and they looked at me a little skeptically because I was dressed kind of grungy and had an out-of-state license and had a pretty big check to cash. Just then, the manager walked by and said, “Is there a problem?” When he saw the name on the check, he said, “That’s from Joan Edwards. It’s good. Cash it.” So I had my expenses taken care of for a while.

Then, that same day, I just happened to be walking by the RCA building. I saw some musicians going into the building, so I just walked in behind them like I knew what I was doing. When they got to the end of the hallway, they turned right and I turned left. I went to the first office that had a light on, and I knocked. The guy inside told me to come in and he asked me what I wanted. I told him I just wanted someone to listen to my songs. He said, “How did you get in here?” and I told him what I did. He said, “Sit down. Anybody who’s got the guts to do that has to want this pretty bad.”

So he listened to my songs said he liked a few of them. I later found out he was the president of RCA Records! He sent me to Acuff Rose Publishing, who referred me to Johnny “Peanut” Wilson at 100 Oaks Publishing. Johnny signed 10 of my songs and gave me $1,000 in advance money. So I had $1,000 plus the money I had gotten from Joan. That made $1,500, which was a lot of money back then! It was like God or an angel was just leading me by the hand those first few weeks.

I moved to L.A. for a few years after that and had a few pop songs recorded, including by The 5th Dimension and a singer named Carl Graves, but I eventually came back to Nashville and started writing for Bob Beckham at Combine Music. This was where Kristofferson and Billy Swan and a whole slew of other writers had worked.

One day I came into the Combine offices and Bob DiPiero was there writing. He and I had been getting together two or three times a week to write. He was up on the third floor of the building, which they had converted to writing rooms and a kitchen.

Bob said, “I got this idea and I really want to write it with you, but I don’t know where it’s going exactly.” I told him I was on my way to sing a jingle for Natural Light beer over at Buddy Killen’s studio and I couldn’t stay. “It will just take a minute,” he said. I called the studio and asked if they could wait a few minutes and they told me it was okay. So Bob said to me, “Here’s the idea. It seems like everything I buy is from another country, but my girl is 100% red-blooded American” or something like that. So we came up with the lines, “My baby is American made/born and bred in the USA.”

I went and sang the demo for Natural Light beer and came back to the Combine offices later, where we continued working on it. We weren’t sure we could use brand names in the song because we had lines like, “I got a Nikon camera, a Sony color TV,” etc., but then we realized that it would be like free advertising for the products so we didn’t think they would have any problem with it. We finished the song in a few days and then started pitching the demo.

Later we heard that the Oak Ridge Boys were interested and wanted to put it on hold and we said “Sure.” They changed the melody just a little bit and then said they wanted to sing it on the road to see how it played live before they recorded it.

They came back after a few weeks and said they wanted to record the song. Not only that, they wanted to name their album American Made and call their next tour the “American-Made” tour. That was how great the audience reaction was. This was 1983, during the Reagan years, so patriotism and things like that were becoming hip again, and the crowds just loved it.

They put out a whole line of merchandise to go along with the tour: hats and jackets and T-shirts. And when the single was released, it debuted in the 30s, I think. That was one of the first times that a song debuted that high, and it eventually hit #1 for two weeks.

Later, there was an executive from the J. Walter Thompson ad agency who heard the song on the radio and decided it would make a great jingle for Miller Beer: “Miller’s made the American way, born and brewed in the USA” was how it went. They had a group that sounded like the Oak Ridge Boys sing the jingle and they made several other versions sounding like other pop stars that were hot at the time. The single and album sold well and the song even became one of BMI’s Million-Airs (a million times aired on radio), but I think we made more money over the long haul from the jingle than we did on the record royalties and airplay. That was pretty ironic considering the day I wrote the song I had just sung a jingle for Natural Light, which is made by Anheuser-Busch!

One of my favorite memories from this song happened the next year, when Bob and I went to Fan Fair (now called CMA Fest), which was held at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. As we were walking back to our cars after seeing one of the shows there, we saw a man and his wife walking toward us with American-Made T-shirts and hats. We didn’t say anything, but as we passed by them, we saw the guy reach down and pat his wife’s bottom and he started singing, “My baby is American made.” Bob and I just looked at each other and laughed. You can’t pay for moments like that.

American Made

Seems everything I buy these days

Has got a foreign name

From the kind of car I drive

To my video game

I got a Nikon camera

A Sony color TV

But the one that I love is from the U.S.A.

And standing next to me.

CHORUS:

My baby is American made

Born and bred in the U.S.A.

From her silky long hair to her sexy long legs

My baby is American made.

She looks good in her tight blue jeans

She bought in Mexico

And she loves wearing French perfume

Everywhere we go

But when it comes to the lovin’ part

One thing is true

My baby’s genuine U.S.A., red, white and blue

CHORUS

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