Neal Coty Writes Songs for Some of the Most Popular Country Artists
James Rada Jr.
Although Neal Coty has released two country music albums over the years (Chance and Circumstance in 1997 and Legacy in 2001), you are more likely to have heard his lyrics coming out of the mouths of Mark Chestnutt, Blake Shelton, and many other country stars.
Coty, a 1982 Catoctin High School graduate, grew up knowing he wanted to work in music, but he saw himself as a rock star. He even played guitar in a high school band called Magister Ludi. The band was named after a Hermann Hesse book, although Coty says he doesn’t know why.
However, while working at WTHU in high school, he had what he calls his epiphany.
“We would play these 45s, and I realized that all the songs I liked were written by someone other than the performers,” Coty said.
So, he continued performing, but he also felt energized to write songs. He moved to Baltimore after he graduated.
While in Los Angeles recording one of his songs (at that time, he was still performing rock), a friend set up a meeting between Coty and a representative of the Nashville Songwriters Association. Coty went to the meeting, and the woman told him he had five minutes to play her his best song. He played a rock song, and when he finished, she told him, “Play something else.” He played another song, and when he finished that one, she asked for another song. After the third song, she asked him if he had considered working as a staff writer for a music publisher. Coty was open to the idea, and she arranged meetings in Nashville for him to meet with different music publishers.
Coty stopped for a few days in Nashville on his way back to Baltimore. He visited the publishers and played them his songs.
“By the time I got back to Baltimore, there were messages on my machine with offers from the publishers,” he said.
He spent the first year traveling back and forth between Baltimore and Nashville before moving there. He feels like the 1990s was a great decade for him to get into country music—the types of songs that were selling meshed well with his style.
He has written or co-written songs for Mark Chesnutt (“She Was”), James Wesley (“Real”), Craig Morgan (“Every Friday Afternoon”), Blake Shelton (“Playboys of the Southwestern World”), Flynnville Train (“Last Good Time”), and Heartland (“Mustache”), to name a few. However, he notes that none of his favorite songs, those closest to his heart and how he was feeling at the time, were ever recorded.
Among his recorded songs, he said his favorite is “One Night in Tulsa” by Kylie Frey and “The Jacket” by Ashley McBryde.
While Coty says he enjoys writing more than he ever did performing, he says it can be frustrating sometimes. He told one story of performing live. He announced to the audience that he was going to sing a song he wrote. As he started singing, one woman shouted, “That’s not your song. It’s Tim McGraw’s!” McGraw had recorded the song. Another time, he went to a store to buy a new CD by a performer who had included one of Coty’s songs on it. He was so excited to find his name in the liner notes that he unwrapped it while in line. He pointed to the song and told the woman behind him in line, “That’s my song!” She just smiled and said, “That’s my song, too, honey,” not realizing Coty meant he had written the song rather than saying it was one of his favorites.
Nowadays, Coty is enjoying life as a songwriter and occasional performer.
“I love my life,” he said. “As long as I can keep going, I will. I’m not worried about fame.”
He gets up each morning and will “noodle around” on his guitar, playing notes and making up pieces of lyrics. It’s a stream of consciousness exercise that often yields something that will later become a song. While writing so many songs each year can be an effort, it also gives him a better chance of finding a song he likes.
“It’s fun to write songs, but you have to write 100 to find that one good song,” Coty said.
He said he continues to try and evolve his writing and avoid casting a song or writing a song for a specific artist. That said, his work sometimes requires him to write as if a song was going to be recorded by a specific singer. When those songs do get recorded, Coty said he usually realizes he could have done a better job if he hadn’t been so focused on a specific singer.
He is more than happy to allow younger performers to claim the spotlight. “My role is to help them put their feelings to a song,” Coty said.
He finds time every day to work on new songs. Although his job expects him to write 12 songs a year, Coty estimates he writes closer to 50.
He regularly returns to Thurmont to see his family. “I also love high school football and try to see Catoctin play when I’m here,” he said.
Note: The timing of this article coincides with the passing of Neal’s mother, Gloria Angleberger (please reference her obituary on page 25). Neal, we offer our sincere condolences to you, your family, and your extended family.