In my next few columns, I'll be talking about some of my favorite songwriters. Some of them are famous and some aren't, but they're all the real thing. I've even added a sub-title to each one, the first being "Rory Bourke, the Human Touch."
Rory Michael Bourke (pronounced Burk) has been involved in the music industry for a little over thirty years. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Rory started out as a product manager for Mercury/Smash Records in Chicago in the mid '60s, later becoming a promotion man for Mercury Records in Nashville. He's been writing songs since his college days at Mt. Saint Mary's in Emmittsburg, MD, where he received his B. S. in history.
The first cut he got was by none other than Elvis Presley, on a song called "Patch It Up," co-written with a young Eddie Rabbitt. Rory left his promoting job after the Elvis cut became one side of a double "A" sided single. He got two cuts by Leona Williams as well and signed his first exclusive writer agreement with Chappell Music, then headed by Henry Hurt, now director of BMG Publishing. Rory credits the late Don Gant and Diane Petty, currently director of publishing at Starstruck Entertainment, with much help and encouragement in those early years.
After sixteen very successful years at Chappell, Rory made the move to The Welk Music Group, then led by the late Bill Hall. A year later, Chappell was bought by the Warner Brothers Corp. and became today's Warner-Chappell.
While at these two organizations from 1971 through 1988, Rory scored a long list of hits that included such classics as "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," recorded by Charlie Rich; "Easy As Pie," cut by Billy "Crash" Craddock; "A Little Good News," Shadows in the Moonlight" and "Blessed Are the Believers," by Anne Murray; "I Know a Heartache When I See One," by Jennifer Warnes; "You Look So In Love," by George Strait; and "Baby I Lied," by Deborah Allen. During this incredible period, he also had big chart hits by Mel Tillis, Bobby Borchers, Jeannie Pruitt, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker and Ronnie Milsap. All of these records were top ten or higher. Folks, we're not talking album cuts.
In 1989 Rory, along with his longtime co-writers Charlie Black and Tommy Rocco, were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International's Hall of Fame. In 1990, Welk was bought by the huge Polygram Corporation and Rory, still under contract, became of Songs of Polygram writer and co-publisher. That year, he had another big hit with "He Talks to Me" by Lorrie Morgan.
I have to stop here and write a little about Rory the person, since 1990 was the year we met. I met Rory's wife Rita first, at a novel-writing class at Tennessee State University. Rita brought Rory out to hear me once at Windows on the Cumberland on Second Ave. in Nashville. We immediately made plans to get together.
Rory Bourke is obviously a tremendously talented person with the staying power of a Harland Howard or Hank Cochran. However, his gifts go far beyond being able to sit down with someone and write a heartfelt, well-crafted piece of music and words. I'm speaking of Rory's ability to spot exceptional talent when he comes across it, and, in many cases, before the world knows about that talent. Rory has an ease and warmth about him that makes writing with him a totally painless process, which is the way it ought to be. It is this trait that has made Rory a great collaborator as well as a much loved individual in the music community. If you met him for the first time, you'd never suspect he's the man behind so many great and lasting songs, songs you've sung along with hundreds of times or hummed on your more trying days.
It is also this trait that has proved Rory right with people like K. T. Oslin, with whom he and Charlie Black wrote "Come Next Monday," before K. T. put on that famous showcase that got her the chance she needed. Gail Davies and Lee Roy Parnell are two more examples, yielding "Round the Clock Lovin'" and "Tender Moment" respectively.
Many more artists such as Sissy Spacek, Olivia Newton-John, Gary Stewart, Con Hunley, Janie Fricke, The Bellamy Brothers, Dan Seals and Neal McCoy have recorded Rory's songs.
In April of 1994 Rory left his Polygram association and started his own company. He says the move was to prove his independence to himself, not anyone else. After knowing him for the past six years on a personal as well as professional basis, I know this is true. Rory is not only one of two or three people I call my favorite co-writers, He has been a great friend at the times when I really needed a friend.
I'd like to close with a candid quote from him, which I believe he lives by: ". . . working with other people to bring about the creation of something meaningful that wasn't there before."
See you next month, when we talk about Rory's longtime friend and collaborator, Charlie Black.