“Songwriters are reporters, and we’re reporting on the human condition,” Bob DiPiero says. “And we’re putting it to music.”
Bob DiPiero has made a career out of being pretty darn good at it.
His career took off with a bang when the Oak Ridge Boys recorded his song “American Made.” The song ultimately became a jingle for Miller High Life and BabyRuth candy bars and landed him on the cover of the Wall Street Journal – more on that later.
He shaped the sound of the ‘90s with accolades including multiple CMA Triple Play Awards, awarded for three #1 songs in a 12 month period, with songs like “Take Me As I Am” for Faith Hill and “Blue Clear Sky” for George Strait.
He made his mark on the 2000s with mega-hits like “Gone” for Montgomery Gentry and “Southern Voice” by Tim McGraw. And he’s still a verified hitmaker – recent hits include “Boys Like You” by Fancy, featuring Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande.
“I’m just aware of language – language is so fluid and music is so fluid,” DiPiero says. He jokes about Walker Hayes’ newest single having the word bougie in it – something that never would have worked in the past but feels authentic in 2021. “Make it sound real,” he says. “If you can make it sound real, you’ve got a good chance of connecting with somebody.”
DiPiero grew up in Ohio, surprisingly, perhaps, without a country background. “I knew zero about country music, like minus ten,” he jokes, “but I played in Midwest rock and roll bands all over. When I started out I’d be reading liner notes of albums like I’d read a Beatles album and it would say Lennon/McCartney, and I thought, oh, so these guys must be writing the songs. Well, I’m in a band, and nobody else was writing the songs, so it just kind of grew out of organically following that path,” he says of songwriting. “I’m in a rock band, I play guitar, I sing, if I really want to go somewhere other than these bars I guess I can start writing original songs.”
Those songs took him to Nashville. “I knew my car wouldn’t make it to LA but I knew it would take me to Nashville,” he jokes. “I had some friends who had moved to Nashville and I remember taking a trip down just to visit them and really falling in love with Nashville. As time was going on I was getting more and more interested in writing songs.” Each trip he’d bring a new set of demo recordings to play for publishers. “They never signed any of ‘em, but they always said, next time you’re in town stop back and we’ll listen to what you’ve got,” he said. Encouraged, he continued to write, eventually making the full move to Music City.
Though as a guitarist and a touring artist he considered other paths, he eventually landed squarely on songwriting. “I realized that what people were responding to mostly were my songs, so I changed my focus into being the best songwriter that I could be,” he says. “I started soaking up everything I could possibly learn from the radio, from other people, just trying to communicate. That’s what I want to do more than anything, I want to communicate with people.”
He fell in love with country, as well. “I’ve always loved language,” he says. “I’ve always loved how words work and how they fit together, and how they can become inspiring or make you laugh or cry. I was always naturally interested in that, so I followed that along with being a musician and just wrote whenever I had the chance to write.”
Though Nashville may be a ten-year town, DiPiero found himself a hit writer fairly quickly. His first song recorded by a major artist was by Reba, called “I Can See Forever In Your Eyes,” which became a Top 20 hit.
And just three years into his time in Nashville, success really hit. He and Pat McManus wrote a song called “American Made,” which became a hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. A few years later, the Miller Brewing Company told the duo that they wanted to make the song their anthem – Miller’s made the American way. “It was the first time that each time a song was performed on radio, television, wherever the songwriter got paid per play,” DiPiero says. “Up to that point, you were paid one time for a song. This was the first time that a song ever broke that mold. It ended up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and my brother’s a businessman, he’s going, ‘How the hell did you do that?’’ He laughs. “That was my ticket to the ballgame.”
Some songs of DiPiero’s were cut astoundingly quickly; he once had a song cut by Montgomery Gentry based solely on the verse and chorus he and his co-writers had written that morning, with the assignment to finish it because they wanted to record it.
Others, like his Montgomery Gentry hit “Gone,” took quite some time in the making. He and Jeffery Steele had written the song as a rock song, and James Otto went in and recorded it, but ultimately the label decided it was “too rock” and didn’t release Otto’s recording. “The song remained in limbo for about six years or so,” DiPiero recalls, “until Montgomery Gentry heard the song and recorded it, and it fit what was happening at that moment.”
When he’s not writing hits, he’s running his publishing company, teaching younger writers how to hone their craft and balance their creativity with the direction of the business and adapt to the changing sonic times. “When I go into a writing room, we’re equals, because we’re both staring at a blank page,” he says. “Let’s just write something fun. I’ve always said, dare to suck. You can say the stupidest thing in the world, and it might in fact be stupid,” he laughs, “but it might also be very sticky, it might really connect to somebody out there.”
As genres shift and arrangement styles change, he emphasizes writing songs that at their foundations are strong, solid, and connective. “You want to write timely songs, but ultimately, I want to write timeless songs.”
“My hobby is my business and my business is my hobby,” he continues. “I’m just one of those people that’s been very blessed to make a long career out of it.”
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