Paul Craft is one of those writers whose name is not widely recognised. In fact, he was not a particularly prolific songwriter, but he wrote a number of songs that have been extensively covered and his writing was interesting and, often, very witty.
I first became aware of him when I heard the wonderful ‘Drop Kick Me, Jesus (Through The Goalposts of Life)’, a big country hit for Bobby Bare in the mid 70s (though I heard it much later than that, as its success didn’t extend outside the American country charts). It was a great piece of writing that really cracked me up at the time and that continues to put a smile on my face every time I hear it. Craft wasn’t a particularly religious man, by any stretch of the imagination, but he did have a highly developed sense of irony and a quite wicked sense of humour. Craft said of his song, “When I wrote ”Dropkick Me Jesus I figured everybody knew about songs like ‘I’m Using My Bible For A Roadmap’ and ‘We Need A Lot More Jesus (And A Lot Less Rock And Roll)’ and would appreciate what I had accomplished with my song. Well, my mother didn’t, for one. She just KNEW there was something wrong with a song that had “kick” and “Jesus” that close together in the title. And she wasn’t alone. But Elvis Costello and Bill Clinton understand it and like it.” The song went on to become something of a redneck anthem until people started to catch on that, perhaps, it wasn’t all it appeared to be.
“Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life
End over end, neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous up-rights
Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal posts of life.”
Craft wrote a number of amusing songs, another success being ‘It’s Me Again Margaret’, a major hit for the master of “funny” chart hits, Ray Stevens, but he also wrote a number of less amusing and often much better songs, many of which have been covered by top acts in country and americana.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee in the August of 1938, Paul Charles Craft grew up on his parents 2,000 acre farm, where he taught himself to play a number of different instruments. In his 20s he took a break from his English Language college studies (he later returned and graduated) to play banjo in Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys. He was always enthusiastic about his music, yet he didn’t start writing songs until he was in his late 20s and only made the breakthrough when he moved to Nashville in 1975 and began publishing his own work, already well into his 30s. Originally his plan had been to make his living as a singer-songwriter, and he did release a few records under his own name, including his own version of ‘It’s Me Again, Margaret’ and his own recording of ‘Tears In My Tequila’, later covered by J.J Cale, but Craft was not a success as a performer and poured his considerable energy into his songwriting. Those that do know about Craft associate him most with his country songs, covered by the likes of Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Tompall Glaser, Don Everly, Moe Bandy, T. Graham Brown, the Eagles, and many more, but he was also a very successful writer of bluegrass music and penned successful songs covered by Alison Krauss (‘Teardrops Will Kiss the Morning Dew’), The Osborne Brothers (‘Fastest Grass Alive’) along with a number of songs written for The Seldom Scene. His own favorite of his songs was, apparently, the ballad, ‘Walkin’ Home in the Rain’, covered by Barbara Mandell, though it was a very long way from his most successful. That accolade probably goes to ‘Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life’, a major country hit for Moe Bandy and since covered by a number of other artists. For me, I’ll always have a soft spot for ‘Drop Kick Me Jesus’ but, as far as I’m concerned, his finest hour is the sublime ‘Keep Me From Blowing Away’, especially the beautiful version recorded by Linda Ronstadt on her “Heart Like a Wheel” album, it really is an outstanding song, so it’s not surprising that it has also been recorded by Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis and a host of others including, most recently, Anna Ash.
Craft was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame on the 5th October 2014 and died just 13 days later, at the age of 76. He’s a songwriter who will have passed many by, but I’d urge you to seek him out because his way with words, and his wonderful sense of irony, mark him out as a lyricist of considerable talent and his music, particularly his ballads, have great emotional resonance.
Back in 2007, in an interview with the magazine, American Songwriter, Craft was asked whether his songwriting success was down to discipline and determination. Ever the humorist he replied, “Hell, it wasn’t work, it was play. You couldn’t hold me back. I had to do it — like a squirrel climbing a tree.”