Songwriter’s ‘Smile’ is No. 1 country hit
By Bill Lynch
Photo courtesy of MARK MARCHETTI
Songwriter Mark Marchetti (right) still plays and writes songs, but mostly he takes care of his organic farm in Tennessee.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On Dec. 15, Craig Wayne Boyd cruised to victory on the seventh season of NBC’s “The Voice” with a song called “My Baby’s Got a Smile on Her Face.”
It was a song country superstar and celebrity “Voice” coach Blake Shelton had been planning on recording for years, but, for the show, decided to give to Boyd.
The 35-year-old Texan knocked it out of the park, won the competition, and by Christmas the tune hit the top spot on the Hot Country Songs charts, the second song to ever do that. (Country music legend Garth Brooks did it in 2007 with “More than a Memory.”)
The night Boyd sang the song, songwriter Mark Marchetti was at home on his farm near Goodlettsville, Tennessee — and absolutely not watching the show.
“I watch ‘The Voice,’ but I just hadn’t kept up with it this season,” the 65-year-old former Raleigh County resident said.
Marchetti was just puttering around the house, when he got a call from his friend and old songwriting partner Stephanie Urbina Jones.
“She was just screaming,” he said.
Marchetti couldn’t make out what she was saying at first, but she was shouting, “Our song is on TV!”
Marchetti was just floored and he’d almost forgotten that they’d written “My Baby’s Got a Smile on Her Face.”
Marchetti and Jones wrote the song almost two decades ago, when they’d both worked for SonyTree, a songwriting publishing company in Nashville.
Jones, Marchetti explained, had even pitched the song to record producer Bobby Braddock.
Braddock, best known for co-writing a slew of country music hits, including “He Stopped Loving Her Today” for George Jones, “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” for Tammy Wynette and “Texas Tornado” for Tracy Lawrence, among others, was developing a new singer named Blake Shelton.
Marchetti said, “It’s all a process of steps. Bobby had to like the song, and then Blake had to like the song. Then they had to decide to record the song.”
Even if management, the record label and the artist all like the song, there are still obstacles to it becoming a hit.
Sometimes songs get recorded and don’t end up on albums. Other times songs end up on records, but they’re not released as singles. Most singles don’t become hits. Marchetti had had a couple of minor hits he’d written, including a song with Gail Davies called “Hold On,” which made it to No. 24 on the country charts.
Marchetti said Braddock and Shelton both liked “My Baby’s Got a Smile on Her Face,” but when the country star released his debut album, the song wasn’t part of it. The song didn’t show up on any of Shelton’s other records either.
The song was never recorded.
Marchetti said having a hit at his age is a thrill and a complete surprise.
“I’m 65 and I’ve had songs recorded and some hits. I’ve been blessed, but never had a No. 1. That’s something as a songwriter you want, but I’d pretty much figured that it was probably never going to happen to me.”
Marchetti started making music when he was a kid.
“I come from a big Italian family,” he said. “My grandparents came over from Italy and settled in Pittsburgh. We were a very passionate family — lots of fighting and screaming.”
But also a lot of love and a lot of singing.
“As a child, I remember whenever the family would get in the car, everybody would sing,” he said. “I equated that with happy.”
When Marchetti was in fourth grade, his father, who worked for the Bureau of Mines, was transferred to Mount Hope.
“If you can imagine going from the inner city to Mount Hope,” he said. “It was kind of a culture shock.”
Though not in the way most people would expect.
Marchetti remembered that on his first afternoon in Mount Hope, his father dropped him off at the local movie house, while he went a few blocks over to work on unpacking into their new house.
“I remember I got a Coke and then tripped over a kid and spilled some on him on my way into the theater,” he said.
After the movie was over, Marchetti, walking home, was jumped by the same kid, who pulled a knife.
“Hey, you spilled something on me,” Marchetti said the other boy told him and then pressed the blade to his throat.
Marchetti said he pushed him away and then ran for home.
“The inner city was tough,” he said. “Mount Hope could be tough too.”
Later, he said, he and his knife-wielding assailant became good friends.
Through high school, Marchetti said he stuck with music. He wasn’t much of an athlete.
“I tried out for football once. I got tackled and carried down the field. That was enough for me,” he said.
Instead, he formed a band.
“We called ourselves The Five Satins,” Marchetti said. “We wore blue blazers and looked really sharp.”
One of the local papers liked them enough to take their picture and do a story about the band.
“The caption under the picture read, ‘The Five Satans,’” he said and laughed. “But after the Rolling Stones and the Beatles hit, we changed artistic directions and became The Things.”
The Things lasted until Marchetti and the rest of the band went their separate ways after high school graduation. Marchetti left for WVU, where he lasted for a year before dropping out and moving to Pittsburgh in 1969.
He worked for a while and then was drafted into the Army. He spent two years in the service, one of them in Vietnam.
After his tour, he returned to Pittsburgh and got married but struggled to find a career.
“It was just too much to deal with after Vietnam,” he said.
Marchetti enrolled in the Opticians Institute, but then got a call from Duncan Fuller, an old friend from Oak Hill, who’d sat in once with The Things.
“It was out of the clear blue sky. He asked me to come to Tennessee,” he said.
So, while sleeping on the floor of his friend’s house outside of Memphis, he wrote and recorded a couple of demo songs.
“I hocked an old Telecaster to pay for it,” he said.
He took his demo and marched into Stax Records.
They hired him.
“I thought I’d made it,” he laughed.
Marchetti spent the next couple of decades working for one music publisher or another, with some nice successes here and there, but then he went through a divorce in his mid-40s.
“I was in a pretty bad place,” he said.
“So, a friend calls me up. He’s going through a divorce too. He tells me to come to Nashville, that I can stay with him for a while.”
His landlady was Stephanie Jones, his future songwriting partner. His neighbor was another songwriter named Peggy Jean Lynn, one of the daughters of country icon Loretta Lynn.
The three of them worked for SonyTree until a series of layoffs about 16 years ago.
“It was a bloodbath,” Marchetti said. “They laid off something like two-thirds of their writers.”
Meanwhile, Marchetti and Lynn went from neighbors to friends to a lot more. The couple married in 2001.
Marchetti said he still writes songs — never stopped — but he doesn’t do it for a living exactly. On the land belonging to his mother-in-law, where his wife was born, he and Lynn run an organic farm called Madison Creek Farm.
“We have miniature donkeys, sheep and bees,” he said.
“I love it. Farming is a lot like songwriting in some ways. There’s a real spiritual aspect that I connect to.”
With “My Baby’s Got a Smile on Her Face,” Marchetti doesn’t expect to suddenly become a songwriter in demand. He’s not even sure what kind of royalties he’ll get or when. “I can’t say how much because money doesn’t come in for the writers until six months or a year later, and then, depending on the song, royalties can continue to come in for years.”
He added that he still gets a little money for “Hold On,” a hit he wrote for Gail Davies back in the 1980s.
He’s not worrying too much about it, but he does hope Jones gets a push from “My Baby’s Got a Smile on Her Face.”
Jones still tours and writes songs.
While more of a farmer these days, Marchetti isn’t out of the music business. He said Loretta Lynn liked one of his songs, “Lay Me Down.” “She recorded it, and Willie Nelson sings on it,” he said, excitedly. “It’s supposed to come out on a record in the spring.”
“I’m just blessed,” Marchetti added. “Truly.”
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150118/.../150119489/1117