By Richard Friedman
I took everything I wanted in my life
Didn’t give a damn about no one
Not even my wife
Filled my empty house with fancy things
But none of that don’t mean a thing
‘cause I’d rather have a you and me
Eighty-seven-year-old Stanley Erdreich Jr. lights up when he hears these lyrics. They are from a newly-released country music song, “You and Me.”
There’s a reason they strike a chord — literally and figuratively. This long-time member of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El wrote them.
Erdreich has always had creative interests. He wrote poetry in college and, over the years, short stories and screenplays.
Part of a well-known local family, Erdreich had a 60-year career in international banking, venture capital and real estate. He held appointments related to the Pacific Basin during three presidential administrations. His younger brother, Ben, represented Alabama’s Sixth District in Congress for a decade.
In a soft, Southern voice, marked by succinctness and simplicity of language – traits of a good songwriter – Erdreich, in a recent interview, talked about his latest endeavor.
Having grown up in Alabama, with Muscle Shoals as a music center and Nashville not far, Erdreich has always loved country music. Country music is in his creative DNA. All this, coupled with the monotony of the pandemic, set the stage for him to take a crack at writing songs. “I found that songs and poetry were similar. All I had to do was make the songs rhyme.”
He didn’t write them to make money. But he hopes they will be well received — for his own creative satisfaction and wanting others, especially friends and family, to enjoy them.
His lyrics are powerful and, at times, haunting, mixing sadness and hope. They tell tales of lonely people looking back on their lives and mistakes. The two others that have been recorded are “So Many Miles” and “Sing Me a Love Story.” Like all good songs they capture universal emotions, through simple lyrics framed by compelling, narrative-enhancing music.
“My songs are not about my own experiences. Rather they reflect my interest in the genre. I gravitate to classic country themes — pickup trucks, old dogs, rocking on the front porch, sexy women, bars, lonely motel rooms…”
Those who have written songs know the joy that comes from writing lyrics never written before, playing and/or singing them yourself, or working with skilled musicians who bring your thoughts, emotions and words to life. “It is a magical experience,” said Erdreich. “It is surreal.”
The biggest challenge was learning how to compress core human truths and emotions into simple, tight lyrics and how to structure a song — for example, creating an effective refrain.
His songs, to borrow a phrase from a Willie Nelson classic, are always on his mind. “When I get into something, I get into something. I find myself thinking about lyrics constantly, even in my sleep. When something strikes me — be it just a word or phrase — I jot it down on the yellow legal pad I keep handy.”
This octogenarian songwriter even sent some of his songs to Dolly Parton, who along with Nelson, is one of his favorite singers. “I’m an old guy myself which, I guess, is part of the reason I like older country music artists.”
Getting recorded is not simple. It’s difficult to just take your songs and sell them. “I have a cousin in New York City in the music business. He connected me with Nashville. I had to pay to get them recorded but I retain the copyrights. Beyond that, the producers must like the songs.”
Once he had producers, one of whom was a five-time Grammy award winner, they reworked some of the words and phrases and lined up musicians. Erdreich spent three days in their Nashville recording studio. On his website video you’ll see him overwhelmed with emotion and excitement as he listens to the vocalists and musicians perform finished versions.
What’s next for this rookie lyricist as he eyes his 88th birthday this June? “I may just try to write a few more songs and see what comes of it.”
Of the 10 he has written, “You and Me” is his favorite. That’s because it reflects his love for his wife, Beverly, to whom he has been married for 61 years. “It is about the bond between a man and a woman and someone you truly love.”
The interview is over. His lyrics linger.
My fairweather friends
Always round my door
Draggin’ me to parties
And too much more
And all this runnin’ around,
Is gonna put me in the ground
Please tell me now, and set me free
I’m not the man that I want to be
I’d rather have a you and me