Sunday is Mother's Day. I think this past year has made us all more aware of the importance of a mother and the love that exists between the hearts of a mother and child. Due to Covid-19, unfortunately not everyone has been able to spend time with their mothers, they've had to send their love over phone lines, Zoom calls, email, and many other such impersonal ways of connection in today's world. Single moms who have been unemployed struggle to make the bills and put food on the table, they have become homeschool teachers, they are working the front lines in hospitals, retail, and restaurants. They've long been our heroes and even more so in the current environment. It's been a weird and unsettled 14 or so months but things are slowly starting to come back around to a sense of normalcy and just in time to celebrate the women who not only gave us birth, but continue to teach us and love us every day.
There are a lot of songs about mothers that have been released over the years but one always stands out with me and has become probably my favorite of all of them, "That's What Mamas Do" by hit songwriter Jason Matthews. Jason is the pen behind many great songs including "Must Be Doin' Something Right" by Billy Currington, "Country Man" by Luke Bryan, "Break Down Here" by Trace Adkins and Julie Roberts, "That's Just Jesse" by Kevin Denny and others. "That's What Mamas Do" was recognized by Southern Living as one of the "All Time Greatest Mother and Son Wedding Dance Songs", taking it's place at #20 resting between "Days Like This" by Van Morrison and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" by Stevie Wonder.
I have been a longtime fan of Jason and have been blessed to call him a friend after meeting he and his wife, Debbie, several years ago and we recently caught up to not only discuss the song, but to talk about his own relationship with his mother over the years, his recent battle with throat cancer and what drives him to create the music. I wanted you to get to know Jason the person and not just Jason the writer. He's more than a name in the liner notes, he's more than the first breath of a song, he's a pretty amazing person first and foremost.
1.) How did “That’s What Mamas Do” come about? What made you know this was a song you needed to write?
My wife’s mother was dying of cancer and I just felt completely helpless watching her waste away every day. I wanted to write a song to honor her. My friend and co-writer, Mike Mobley, came by to write and he had that title and a lot of what would become the first verse. I thought he had been reading my mail. So we dug in and really went for it with this song. It had to be written right because it was for her. At the end, I realized we had written a song for all the mothers in the world. I hope you can hear the care we put into this song when you listen it; it means a lot to me.
Well, for starters, I love her! I don’t get to see her often enough because I live in Tennessee. And last year was terrible because I didn’t get to see her at all due to Covid. I have a lot of guilt about that. I grew up in Harrells, NC, farm country, about an hour from the beach, and about one minute from church. I was an only child out in the country, so I had a lot of time by myself. I think all of that time spent in my own head played a huge hand in making me a good writer.
3.) In what ways do you think you’re much like your mother?
My mother loves to read and I guess I inherited that from her. Her sense of humor, too. She loves to laugh. She has an inner strength that I think rubbed off on me, as well.
4.) What are some of the most important values you hold that you learned from her?
She has a stubborn streak and I do, too. And I can tell you, if it wasn’t for that stubborn streak, I never would have made it in the music business, it’s ruthless. My mother took me to church as a small child. I remember being in awe of the sanctuary with its high vaulted ceiling. It has a way of making you look up. I’m a Christian because of my mother.
5.) What made you decide to be a songwriter?
I was the weird kid that carried a notebook around with them everywhere, writing poetry and short stories. I thought I wanted be Stephen King until I saw Eric Clapton play the guitar. As soon as I had learned three chords, I wrote a song. It was my natural inclination. When people heard the first song I wrote, they said it, “sounded like something that ought to be on the radio.” Of course, it didn’t, but it gave me the right amount of encouragement to keep doing it. I found that through songwriting I could do the three things I love to do more than anything else in this world: sing, write, and play guitar. I am so blessed to have been able to do what I love for a living; most people can’t say that.
6.) Did your mother have any influence in your love of music and writing?
Much of my deep love for music comes from riding in the car with my mother to the grocery store and Grandma’s house as a child. The radio was always on. Music was magical and ever present like air. Also, when I would sing in the choir, she would say, “you sang so purty” in the car after church. It gave me a reason to keep doing it. The words you speak over your children can make a world better for someone who’s being beaten by the world.
7.) You recently fought your own battle with throat cancer. How did you discover the symptoms, what kind of treatment did you undergo and how are you now?
I started having pain in the back of my throat when I ate supper at night. Then I started spitting up blood. The first doctor told me it was TMJ. He’s no longer my doctor. My wife kept pushing for an MRI and it revealed a tumor that was taking up 3/4 of my throat. My general practitioner asked me who I wanted to see and I said, without skipping a beat, Vanderbilt Ear, Nose, And Throat in Nashville. They deal with singers all the time. I had my suspicions of what this was, yet no one had said the word “cancer” yet, so I was hopeful it wasn’t. Nothing prepares you for the moment the doctor walks in and says, “I’ve got some bad news. You have cancer.” Fortunately, my cancer was highly treatable and curable. I went through 6 weeks of chemo and radiation. Radiation was 5 days a week. Chemo was one day a week. Your sense of taste is the first thing to go. The radiation shuts down your salivary glands and your tastebuds. You stop wanting to eat. I was losing 5-10 lbs a week. The world’s worst diet plan. But it wasn’t really painful until about 4 weeks after treatment ended. That’s when the real pain showed up and it stuck around for about 3-4 months. Think blowtorch to the back of your throat. And you think it will never go away, until one day, it just does. And my voice started coming back, ‘cause for a while that was gone too. And then I could sing a little. No range at first. And then that started coming back. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to find that I was not only gonna be able to sing again, but sing better than ever. God is an awesome God. And you don’t really know that, until you’ve personally seen Him work miracles in your life in your darkest moment when you’re completely helpless. I didn’t do it. He did.
8.) What did you learn about yourself and did you learn about those around you during your rough year?
I was deathly afraid of the fitted radiation mask they put over my face because they strapped it down to the table with clamps so that my head wouldn’t move. The radiation beams were mapped out to beyond the millimeter to target the exact right spots. I thought I wouldn’t get through it. I thought I would suffocate. But they told me they could give me oxygen, and that helped because I knew I would be able to breathe at least. It was the longest 10 minutes of my day. So I decided I would start talking to God while I was in the mask. I learned that God can make the unbearable bearable. I also learned that my wife is the greatest person I’ve ever met on Planet Earth. She was with me every day for every treatment and somehow still was able to sell real estate while dealing with me. She became the number one realtor in her office that year. She’s Superwoman.
9.) What drives you the most when it comes to your writing?
I’ve always wanted to write songs that were worthy of becoming part of the soundtrack of people’s lives. I want to create songs that matter. I want to do the most with the talents God gave me. I want to hear God say at the end of this journey, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
10.) Which song you have written is your favorite and why? Which song did you find the most difficult to write?
“That’s What Mama’s Do” is definitely in my top three, but I think my favorite song I’ve ever written is “For Pete’s Sake.” My co-writer, Kerry Kurt Phillips, had an English bulldog named Pete who was in the room for every song we ever wrote. He came real close to getting his name on those songs! Well, I went over to Kerry’s one day to write and Pete wasn’t there. Dogs get old. Well, the first thought I had was that we should write a song to honor Pete. And that title popped into my head as we were walking to lunch. We came back and started writing it and 6 months later we had “For Pete’s Sake”. Every time I sing it, it still gets to me.
11.) What’s next for you? Have you considered releasing another album of originals?
I’m writing again and loving the songs that are coming out. Very excited about being able to sing and create again! And, yes, I am working on a new record that will very much be a product of these past 2-3 years. Very personal.
12.) If there was one thing you could change about this industry to make it an easier road for up and coming songwriters, what would you change?
I don’t know that I would necessarily make it an easier road. It’s difficult for a reason: fire tempers steel. The difficulty refines you and makes you better. But if I could, I would make the business more equitable in general for songwriters. The way the business has changed, the ones that receive the most benefit are the owners of the master recording and the ones who receive the least benefit are the copyright owners. Hard to make a living in this new streaming system unless you are an artist too with other income streams. And when money shrinks, camps form, wagons get circled, and outside cuts virtually disappear. Not a “best song wins” kind of system. That, in and of itself, hurts the up and comer, because historically your foot in the door has always been having a better song than the next guy. Having the new and interesting point of view. Those things appear to be shrinking in importance and I think that’s a terrible development.
13.) What advice was given to you that you would pass down to a struggling writer?
Write, write, and write some more. You have a songwriting muscle and it gets stronger the more you use it. Read the chapter in “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell on the 10000 hour rule. I firmly believe in that. Also, do it for the love of it and notfor the love of money. There are lots of ways to make a lot of money and songwriting is probably last on that list. However, there aren’t a lot of ways to move large groups of people with words. I believe songs can change the world for good. The problem is that not many people are currently
trying. Change that.
You can connect with Jason on his website at https://jasonmatthews.net and on social media. His music is available on all digital outlets.
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