Godfrey Daniels hosted Thom Schuyler (pronounced “Sky-ler”) along with his compatriots on March 24th at 8 P.M. A born and bred native of Bethlehem, Schuyler relocated to Nashville at 25, and quickly became a sought after lyricist and musician. Schuyler worked with the likes of Lacy J. Dalton, Kenny Rogers, and Michael Martin Murphy, and eventually became chairman of the Country Music Association. In that role, he played a primary part in signing Kenny Chesney, Lonestar, Martina McBride, and Sara Evans. In 2011, Schuyler was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of fame. In anticipation of Schuyler returning home for his performance in March, Southsider reached out to hear his unique perspective on growing up in Bethlehem and what listeners can expect later at Godfrey Daniels.
What draws you back to Bethlehem for your performance at Godfrey Daniels in March?
Thom: This trip back to Bethlehem and performing at Godfrey Daniels has been something that I’ve been doing for the last five or six years every March with one exception. First of all, I love Bethlehem and Godfrey Daniels, and to come back to your home, you know, it always comes with a little anxiety but it’s something that I really treasure the opportunity to do. I still have a lot of family there. I’m very fond of the place of my birth.
On the “About” section of your website, you write a “really brief memoir” about growing up in Bethlehem. Would you say that Bethlehem has changed since you moved away? What was your experience like growing up in Bethlehem?
Thom: I haven’t lived in Bethlehem for a long time. I graduated Liberty high school in 1970, and went off to college. With a few exceptions, I’ve never really spent a lot of time there. So it’s really hard to tell the kind of transformation the town went through. I go back once a year or so, so I can’t really tell, like someone who’s spent their whole life there. One big thing is when Bethlehem Steel Corporation shut down. That was huge. But I’m very proud of the way that the town has figured out a way to move forward without that great corporation that hired so many people. It’s still a lovely town, great history, you know, Moravian Church, so many educational facilities there, like Moravian, Lehigh, and others. It’s a charming town.
What were your early musical influences? Has any of that influence remained in your music or songs you write now?
Thom: As for as my early musical influences, I don’t know that my experiences were any different than any other ones of anyone else in this country. I was influenced by the music of the church that I grew up in. I was influenced by the music in the 60s, so I had the good fortune of seeing a lot of great performances at Lehigh University growing up. I saw Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and lots of other people. So you know, that had a lot of impact. It’s a very cultural town. I’m familiar with it, you may be, I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t kept up with it. It was an old publication, and folk music magazine, Sing Out, that also brought a lot of attention to Bethlehem and Lehigh Valley.
I heard you mention Bob Dylan. Did you expect him to ever win the Pulitzer? Do you think he deserves it, and do you think music rises to the level of literature?
Thom: I was as startled as anyone else that a songwriter was elevated to the highest ranks of literature, but I can’t think of anyone in my generation who was more deserving. He took the craft of lyric writing to a whole other level, and more than anyone else has achieved. I thought it was pretty great, and we’ll see what it means for the future.
I was listening to some of your songs by SKO, and noticed that “I Go Back” has a very nostalgic tone to it. Is this referencing your hometown and can you speak at all about what inspired the song and the writing process for it?
Thom: It’s very autobiographical. It’s very much a song about being away from your hometown, and the people like your family. So even though it was my reflection on that circumstance, it’s a universal kind of feeling. You might live 10 miles away from your family or 10,000 miles away from your family, and you know, missing that you make a point to go back as often as you can.
What pushed you to make the jump from Bethlehem to Nashville? How did your friends and family originally take the news?
Thom: You know what, they were remarkably supportive. I never had any family member or friend question that decision. Frankly, I was in my early 20s and uncertain about the direction that I wanted to go in my life, and I chose that one. And I suppose it was risky, but I did it and I’m happy to say that it was a successful one and that I still receive support to this day.
How and when did you make your first big break, and how has your music changed from then to now? What can listeners in March expect to hear from you?
Thom: I moved down there when I was 25 years old, and had a couple of day jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table. I was very blessed to have some nice things happen in the first couple of years, and once I got aboard that train I rode it pretty hard for about 15 years. I don’t know that my style has changed that much for roughly the 40 years that I’ve been here. I’m still folky at heart, but I’ve grown musically. I’ve always had a lot more faith in my ability to craft a lyric than I have in my ability to craft a melody. At the show at Godfrey Daniels I’ll be doing a cross section of songs that thank God became hit songs, along with songs that people have probably never even heard.
Thom Schuyler played alongside Craig Bickhardt, Jack Sundred, and Jack Murray for “On the Road, In the Round” on March 24th at 8 P.M. at Godfrey Daniels.