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This Canadian helped write some of Carrie Underwood's biggest hits – here's how he does it


If you write a number one country song, these days it can be worth a million bucks. If you write it with two co-writers, then that million gets chopped into smaller parts. But it’s still a good chunk of change -- enough to help buy a nice house in Nashville.

Canadian songwriter Gordie Sampson is from Cape Breton, N.S. and has lived in Nashville for 17 years. He has co-written a few of those number one songs and a slew of top 10 hits.

Songs such as Jesus, Take the Wheel (Carrie Underwood), Just a Dream (Underwood), Knockin’ Boots (Luke Bryan), Storm Warning (Hunter Hayes) and God, Your Mama and Me (Florida Georgia Line feat. The Backstreet Boys).

Even the non-hits are remarkable for the quality of folks who’ve recorded them. Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Bon Jovi, Faith Hill and Keith Urban. Did I mention Willie Nelson?

The rumour is that a lot of songwriters in Nashville burn out after five years. But Gordie has been pumping out hits for close to two decades. So how does he do it?

He has a theory.

“I haven't written a song by myself in at least 20 years,” says Gordie from his Nashville backyard studio. “You start writing with two or three other people and it just gets exponentially great because you have this common goal. If it’s a hit song, we can feed our families for a couple of years maybe.”

Gordie says when you find a great little group of songwriters, good things happen if you all “agree to suck.” That means, you agree that you can suggest anything -- even if sounds stupid -- and no one will shoot you down. You all try to polish anything into something stellar.

“For every ten things I say, nine of them are -- I'm going to look like an idiot,” he says. “And one of them is going to be right.”

Billboard Magazine writer Tom Roland suspects that collaboration is the key to Sampson’s longevity.

“Historically people would write by themselves,” he says from his home in Nashville. “Marty Robbins would write El Paso by himself or Tom T Hall - probably every song that he wrote - he wrote by himself.”

“But now … most of the time, the songs are written by three people and it's sort of a magic number. If you can make three people all relate to a topic … you have a much better chance than if one person had an idea that was really personal to just them.”

After Gordie won a Grammy Award back in 2007, the calibre of writers he could regularly work with increased. Songwriters such as Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges, who have a stack of Grammys, number one hits and even Oscar nominations.

Singer-songwriter and hitmaker Hunter Hayes has a theory as to how Gordie elevates songs into hits.

“Gordie is just one of the coolest guys to work with because there's no bad ideas,” says Hayes from his studio in Los Angeles. “That’s such a sacred thing in a writing room and such a rare thing where nothing is shut down. Nothing is laughed at. It's like a safe environment.”

“Everything we tried became something,” says Hayes. “There was no, ‘well, that's a bad idea - we shouldn't do that. That's not a hit.’ It was making art from such a pure and emotional place.”

Sampson is able to "get in somebody else's head and think about how a lady might say things,” country star Carrie Underwood tells W5, explaining Gordie Sampson's writing.

Gordie also has a knack for writing from a unique perspective – one that seems to come naturally to him, despite being a man: he writes a lot of songs for women and convincingly so. Or at least that’s what Carrie Underwood thinks.

“I'll listen to a demo that somebody sends me that is written for a woman and I'm like, ‘This was written by a man,’” she says from her Nashville home. “It's kind of easy to tell because a woman wouldn't talk that way.”

“That’s never been a problem with any of the songs that I've recorded that Gordie was a writer on, says Underwood. “That’s definitely an observatory skill: to be able to get in somebody else's head and think about how a lady might say things.”

“I don't know where that comes from. I just think I write better with girls,” says Gordie. “If I were to guess, I mean, I am a dude, so songs about dudes bore me. I already am one. I think girls think different. Artistically, they have a different recipe of intelligence when it comes to composing music. That's just more fascinating to me.”

Miley Cyrus, LeAnn Rimes, Serena Ryder – they’ve all recorded Gordie co-writes. Music writer, Tom Roland thinks that ability to write in a woman’s voice gives Gordie an advantage at catching the interest of female artists.

“Women are better than guys at being vulnerable,” he says. “When Gordie's taken a chance with the topic, I feel like female singers are often going to be very receptive to those just because it's more in their nature.”

"Gordie is just one of the coolest guys to work with because there's no bad ideas," singer-songwriter Hunter Hayes told W5.

Gordie writes about 120 songs a year. At least 10 per cent of those get recorded by an artist – which is a very good ratio. Especially when you consider that he writes them in less than ten months. Gordie always insists on taking two months off in the summertime. Two months to come home to Cape Breton and spend time with family and friends near his summer home on the Bras D’or Lake.

He says he mostly doesn’t work for those two months, but interestingly enough, a lot of the raw material for songs comes from that shut-down time. It’s where he gets a chance to eavesdrop on gossip, stories and the real dramas he hears at parties, on boats in drugstore checkout lines.

Makes sense that the places you’re most likely to hear music are the same places he gets a lot of his ideas. Top Stories

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