Scotty Emerick Reflects On Writing Hits For Toby Keith, Jimmy Buffett, And Releasing His Own Music

Emerick also revealed that he plans to record another album next year, and hinted that he’ll be touring some more as well.

By

Nicole Palsa

Nicole Palsa is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2012, she has written about the newcomers, superstars, and legends of country music for publications including Music Mayhem, Country Now, and Country Music Tattle Tale. Nicole has served as a volunteer guide with Musicians On Call since 2016 and is a Troubadour member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications and her Bachelor of Arts degree in French. In addition to being a devoted country music fan, Nicole is a family historian and genealogist who can often be found in stacks of research. She is also an avid traveler with a passion for wildlife and nature photography.

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Posted on December 1, 2023

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Scotty Emerick; Photo Provided by TKO Artist Management

Country music fans who have read the liner notes of Toby Keith CDs throughout his career will remember seeing the name Scotty Emerick credited as a co-writer on dozens of his songs (53, to be exact). Their long-lasting working relationship resulted in chart-topping hits like “I Love This Bar,” “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight,” “As Good as I Once Was” and the Willie Nelson duet “Beer for My Horses.”

The Hollywood, Florida native was influenced by traditional country icons including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash. And he was also influenced by the songwriters behind the hits, like Sonny Throckmorton and Dean Dillon. Emerick says he’s studied traditional country music his entire life, since childhood, so the move to Nashville when he was 19 was a natural next step.

“In my early twenties I wrote a lot of songs and learned a lot from a fellow named Red Lane who’s no longer with us, but Red is in the songwriter’s Hall of Fame,” he tells Music Mayhem. “He had 28 Merle Haggard songs, and he was a great guitar player, and he taught me a lot. Nashville has a community of the best songwriters in the world, and so I learned a lot just by listening to songs of those guys.”

Scotty Emerick; Photo Provided by TKO Artist Management
Scotty Emerick; Photo Provided by TKO Artist Management

Writing With Toby Keith

In 1997, Emerick met Toby Keith for the first time backstage at the CMA Awards. It was a night to remember in the star-studded dressing room, which Emerick shared with Keith, along with Steve Wariner, Glen Campbell, and a group of session players. 

“We all were sitting around playing songs and singing, and Toby invited me out on the road one weekend soon after that to write a song,” he recalls. The first song they wrote together was “Yesterday’s Rain,” which appeared on Keith’s 2001 Pull My Chain album. They continued to write over the years, and the first number one hit they scored together was “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight.”

“For the next 10 years we wrote like 53 songs that he did,” Emerick recalls. “It was a great time for all of us. Busy time, but it was wonderful.”

How Did Scotty Emerick Form A Friendship With Toby Keith?

It’s rare for a songwriter to have so many cuts with a single artist, and Emerick attributes their success to their shared appreciation for traditional country music and the craft of songwriting.

“We both had the same love for the same type of music and the same old songs. And we both have a love for piecing a good song, what we think are good songs together and what makes a good song and how to lyrically and melodically set ’em up to write.”

Emerick explains how he and Keith would write together.

“Most of the time we’d have a phrase as an idea and work from the idea, the title itself, and then other times we would just not have an idea, and we would have a melody and just maybe a cool first two lines that we knew was a song, and have to chase it down to find out what the title would be. So it was all different ways, but mostly it was having an idea to begin with, and then the idea would dictate to us which way to write it and whether it would be a ballad idea, whether it be a mid-tempo idea or an uptempo idea, and we would work from there and just try to create it the best we could.”

Scotty Emerick; Photo Provided by TKO Artist Management
Scotty Emerick; Photo Provided by TKO Artist Management

Praises Toby Keith

Emerick shared some of the qualities he admires most about Keith in this season of his life, including his strength and intelligence. Keith revealed in June of 2022 that he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer the previous fall.

“Toby is a fighter, and he’s the strongest person, strong-willed person as I’ve ever met, and he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known,” he says. “When something of adversity hits him, he’s going to hit it back just as hard.”

YouTube video

Wrote “Like My Dog” On Jimmy Buffett’s Final Album

Sometimes it takes 16 years for a full-circle moment. As a kid from south Florida, Emerick dreamed but never imagined that he’d have a song recorded by Jimmy Buffett. But that life-long goal came to fruition when Buffett recorded “Like My Dog” on his last album, Equal Strain on All Parts.

“That was a dream come true for me,” says Emerick. “It’s bittersweet. I hate that it’s his last one, but we really didn’t know that. But now that it is, it’s kind of extra special also.” Buffett died on September 1, 2023, after a four-year battle with Merkel cell skin cancer.

Emerick wrote the song about his now 16-year-old dog Maggie, who was just a puppy at the time. Billy Currington recorded the tune in 2010, but it was Mac McAnally who helped bring it to Buffett’s attention. “Mac had seen the crowd’s reactions a lot to that song when I’d play it, and so he told Jimmy about it and Jimmy watched me open up with it. He wanted to do it immediately if we could find a Calypso way to do that. So we found a way to do it, and so it all worked out well.”

YouTube video

Buffett’s team released a music video for “Like My Dog” in partnership with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to encourage pet adoption from animal shelters and rescue organizations across the country. It includes videos hashtagged #likemydog that were posted on social media by Buffett’s fans.

Memorable Moment Shared With The Late Jimmy Buffett

One of Emerick’s most memorable moments with Buffett was in the studio together. 

“When they were recording his album before the tour started, he was in Nashville doing some tracking, and they invited me over to the studio and right when I walked in, everybody stopped me. He went, ‘Oh, there he is, the missing coral reefer.’ So that was neat, and he made me feel really, really included and at home.”

Emerick was invited to open for Buffett on what would turn out to be the “Margaritaville” singer’s last tour. “I was a tad bit nervous, but he was very gracious to me,” he shared.

That opportunity was the spark that led to Emerick releasing his eight-song EP, Headwinds (The Demo Tapes), in early 2023, a compilation of his favorite demos he’d recently completed.

“I thought it’d be good to have something that his fans could maybe find me a little bit more readily available if they looked.” The easy-listening tunes are a perfect soundtrack for lying on a beach or even just dreaming of a tropical getaway. It’s easy to see why Emerick and his music fit in well with the culture of Buffett’s fan base, the Parrotheads.

Headwinds (The Demo Tapes) Track List

  1. Burning the Midnight Gasoline
  2. Bad Day Fishin’
  3. Bottom of My Glass
  4. So Late so Soon
  5. Anchor Man
  6. Time Traveller
  7. A Kind Word
  8. Where That Came From

Emerick revealed that he plans to record another album next year, and hinted that he’ll be touring some more as well. Mostly, he’s focusing on what he does best and plans to “write a few more good songs.”

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Nicole Palsa is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 2012, she has written about the newcomers, superstars, and legends of country music for publications including Music Mayhem, Country Now, and Country Music Tattle Tale. Nicole has served as a volunteer guide with Musicians On Call since 2016 and is a Troubadour member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications and her Bachelor of Arts degree in French. In addition to being a devoted country music fan, Nicole is a family historian and genealogist who can often be found in stacks of research. She is also an avid traveler with a passion for wildlife and nature photography.

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