One of Sarah Beth Terry’s earliest memories is of her 4-year-old self plopping down on the front steps of her rural Eastern Kentucky home with an oversized book of poetry, a notepad, a pencil and an assignment from her mama.
“Open the book, pick out a line, then write a poem about it.”
Terry’s mother, a talented poet in her own right, would take a look at her daughter’s first effort and say, “You need to work on that second stanza. You have 10 minutes.”
Little did the family matriarch know that she was grooming her intelligent young daughter, who already knew how to read and write as a preschooler, to be a gifted and prolific songwriter.
Fast forward not too many years and Terry has advanced from expounding on lines from dead poets to crafting her own art. Her repertoire is thick with songs whose lyrics do more than rhyme. When Terry writes a song, she’s out to create a reaction, a rush of nostalgia or a sigh of understanding.
“I want to be the Joan Rivers of songwriting,” Terry says, referencing the now-deceased talk show personality known for her blunt candor. “I’m saying what people are thinking. My mission in Nashville is to tell the truth. When someone hears my song, they say ‘Holy sh**, that’s my life.”
Admittedlly overzealous and relentless when it comes to her profession as a songwriter, singer and musician, Terry says her life motto is “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”
To that end, as a staff writer with Three Hounds Music, Terry wrote 645 songs in 2018 and has already written 65 in 2019. Her annual quota as a staff writer is 12. “If I’m going to catch lightning,” she says, “I need to put about 70 lightning rods on the roof.”
Terry has caught lightning a couple of times in recent months with two well-placed cuts. One song, “We Are All God’s Children” is on the new album by the Gaither Vocal Band and is quickly rising up the gospel charts. The second, a song that Terry co-wrote with songwriter and artist Anthony Smith titled “I Hate the Taste of Whiskey” is the latest single from country artist Craig Morgan.
“I’ve been performing this one song live called ‘Whiskey,’” Morgan said in an interview prior to the song releasing to radio. “I’m pretty excited about it. It’s a country song, but it has such a unique melody and the melodic structure in the song is so fresh that it seems a little different than traditional country. And yet again, it’s super traditional country, so it’s cool.”
While proud of her successes, Terry isn’t sitting still and resting on her proverbial laurels. She travels the short distance frequently to Nashville from her home in Munfordville, Kentucky, where she and her husband, three hounds, two cats, and baby squirrel, live in a log cabin on the town square.
“I’m doing the old timey thing,” she says. “Shaking hands, writing with the people I think matter. I believe you have to be thinking ‘Is what I’m doing right this second going to help me tomorrow?’”
The strategy is working. During a recent exchange with Garth Brooks, the superstar may have given Terry the ultimate compliment.
Your songs, Brooks said, “are the ones people get tattoos of.”