Pat Alger is one of those quiet, unassuming songwriters that many will never have heard of; but if you’re a fan of americana music you can’t have failed to have heard his songs. Other considerations aside, it’s fair to suggest that, without Pat Alger, Garth Brooks might not have become the unstoppable force he was back in his heyday. Of the many number one country hits Brooks has racked up, Pat Alger wrote no less than four of them. He’s also written very successful songs for the likes of Kathy Mattea and Nanci Griffith and been covered by artists such as Lyle Lovett and Dolly Parton, to name just a few.
Born in New York in 1947, but raised in LaGrange, Georgia, Patrick J Alger was originally planning to be an architect but decided, instead, to pursue a career as a musician and a songwriter. Architecture’s possible loss was, most definitely, songwriting’s gain. Moving to Woodstock in 1973 he became part of the local singer/songwriter scene, as a member of Woodstock Mountains Revue, alongside Happy and Artie Traum. This loose-knit group would also include, at one time or another, Arlen Roth, John Sebastian, Paul Butterfield, and Maria Muldaur, among others. This is where his serious songwriting started but he would have to wait until 1980 for any real success; that’s when Livingstone Taylor recorded Alger’s song ‘First Time Love’ and took it into the American Top 40 both in the country and pop charts. The following year he moved to Nashville, where he had something of a breakthrough as a performer; he’d opened for Don Everly a few times when Everly Snr was pursuing a solo career. When the brothers embarked on their reunion tour they chose him as their support act in 1984, and he would go on to open for the duo for the next four years but, while a good performer with a decent voice and a particularly nice fingerpicking guitar style, Alger’s real love lay in crafting his songs and convincing others to record them.
His persistence paid off as a steady string of artists, including Mickey Gilley, Brenda Lee, Crystal Gayle, Patti Page, Peter, Paul & Mary, George Hamilton IV, and Dolly Parton all covered Alger songs. He also worked with Nanci Griffiths during this period and co-wrote well known songs like ‘Once in a Very Blue Moon’ and ‘Lone Star State of Mind’. He wrote ‘She Came from Fort Worth’ and ‘A Few Good Things Remain’ for Kathy Mattea and other hits include Hal Ketchum’s ‘Small Town Saturday Night’ (co-written with Hank DeVito) and Trisha Yearwood’s ‘Like We Never Had a Broken Heart’. Then there’s that amazing run of number 1 songs for and with Garth Brooks, starting with 1990’s ‘Unanswered Prayers’, then 1991’s ‘The Thunder Rolls’ and ‘What She’s Doing Now’ followed, in 1993 by ‘That Summer’. It’s an amazing streak of songwriting. Brooks is the co-writer on ‘The Thunder Rolls’ and it was originally pitched to Tanya Tucker, who was the first to record it, though she didn’t release her version until after Brooks had his hit. In all, that particular song has been covered over twenty times.
The 1990s were a very successful period for Alger. He released three solo albums, all critically well received, “True Love and Other Short Stories” (1991), “Seeds” (1991), and “Notes and Grace Notes” (1994). The Nashville Songwriters Association named him Songwriter of the Year in 1991 and he was ASCAP’s Country Songwriter of the Year in ’92.
In more recent years Alger seems to spend much of his time out on the songwriter circuit, often with other writers, talking about his songs and playing examples of his work. These songwriting circles are becoming increasingly popular and it’s good to see writers of Pat Alger’s calibre getting out there and talking about the process of songwriting and encouraging younger writers to get involved. The great thing about the sort of show Alger does now is that it lets an audience hear a successful song in the manner in which it was first conceived, showing the strength of individual songs before the arrangement and instrumentation that turns them into a commercial hit. It’s a great way to engage people with the potential of songwriting as a career, something Pat Alger has always championed. He’s also a board member of the Nashville Songwriter’s Foundation and is an active advocate for songwriters and the protection of their intellectual copyright. Alger was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame just three years later.
In all, Pat Alger has well over 20 hits to his credit, including an impressive 8 number ones! In addition to those four hits for Garth Brooks, his songs have hit the top spot for Hal Ketchum (‘Small Town Saturday Night’), Don Williams (‘True Love’), Trisha Yearwood (‘Like We Never Had a Broken Heart’) and Mark Collie (‘Calloused Hands’). That’s the sign of a good songwriter, that he can hit the bullseye repeatedly and for a wide range of different singing styles. Pat Alger is one of the best.