By Kevin Zimmerman
Rob Hatch’s Serendipitous Success
By his own telling, Nashville-based songwriter Rob Hatch – who recently scored his first #1 hit with Justin Moore’s version of “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” -- came to his vocation completely by accident.
“My parents didn’t really listen to a lot of music when I was growing up,” he says. “Music was not really on my radar all that much; I was into writing poetry in high school, but not music.”
Indeed, Hatch didn’t even pick up a guitar until he was 19 and attending the University of Florida. “A frat brother of mine showed me a few chords and I just lost my mind,” he laughs. “I went out and picked up some chord books by Willie Nelson and Alabama, and really taught myself how to play.”
While his first crack at writing a tune was on an unsurprising subject – “It was about a girl,” he readily admits – he continued to hone his craft, and started playing in bands around the state, opening for the likes of David Allan Coe.
“I ended up spending about six and a half years at the University of Florida,” he chuckles, “and most of my time was spent playing music. That was the only thing I really wanted to do.”
Soon he was convinced that to make it as a country songwriter, he needed to move to Nashville. “I still had two more classes to go before I graduated,” Hatch says, “and my Dad owned a car lot and kind of always thought I’d go into that business. Instead I called him from the drive to Nashville, somewhere around Atlanta, and broke the news to him.”
And how did the senior Hatch take that news? “You already know the answer to that question,” Hatch laughs.
Seeing “how the pros did it” was an eye-opening experience for Hatch, who continued to try to write songs while working as a bartender at the city’s famed Wildhorse Saloon. He and his songwriting/playing friends hooked up with Jamey Johnson, who in 2001 was working on his debut album, They Call Me Country. Working with pal Jerrod Niemann, Hatch went on to place some songs on Johnson’s second album, 2006’s The Dollar (BNA Records). “That got us some attention,” Hatch says, “and I started working with other writers and artists.”
Credits starting getting racked up with the likes of Gretchen Wilson, Jake Owen, Terri Clark, George Jones (“a real thrill, even though I was scared to death”), and Rhett Akins. In fact, it was a YouTube clip of Akins performing “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” that first brought the tune to Moore’s attention.
“That was another lucky accident,” Hatch affirms. “They’d actually finished recording the album [Outlaws Like Me, The Valory Music Co.], but when Justin heard it he said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve gotta have that song.’ They went back into the studio and cut it, and it was out in three weeks.” Not bad for a song that he notes was already seven years old before Moore recorded it.
When writing, Hatch says, “There’s no on/off switch for me. I’m really never not writing. I might save an idea here and there, but when I’m home – which isn’t all that often; I’m on the road a lot – I’m always cooking something, and that’s when me and my friends will start throwing some ideas around.”
The key to working with recording artists, he says, “is getting on their wavelength. You can have the best song in the world, but if it doesn’t fit with them in a personal way, it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s about finding what they want and what they need.”
Hatch is currently working on tunes for a number of projects, including forthcoming recordings by Niemann, Johnson, Craig Campbell and Josh Kelley. “I feel real fortunate and I’m having a great time,” he says.