Everlasting Buzz: The Songwriting Life of Buzz Cason
Every year, typically in the first few weeks of January, Buzz Cason trades his native Nashville residence and recording studio for a condominium in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. The vacation retreat, beyond offering a tropical respite from the often harsh winter conditions back home, serves as a sanctuary of sorts. For Cason, 76, it’s a refuge from his most common distractions—the daily grind and obligations accrued from more than 50 years in the music business. An oasis where he can concentrate solely on his craft.
“I’ll set my little writing space up,” Cason says, “take my keyboards in there with me, and write down there and really get some things done.
“You’ve got to get settled in somewhere and get serious about it.”
Such discipline has yielded a truckload of great songs, some you know by name, others you know by ear, most of them courtesy of other artists. Yet the songs that comprise his most recent album, Record Machine (Plowboy Records), stack up to any number of classics he’s written throughout his career.
Cason came of age with the Casuals, widely recognized as Nashville’s first homegrown rock ‘n’ roll band. In the mid-to-late ‘50s, as big-time country artists like Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, and Patsy Cline headlined the Grand Ole Opry, the Casuals (rounded out by co-vocalist and co-writer Richard Williams, guitarist Johnny McCreery, pianist Chester Power, and drummer Billy Smith) paid their dues by performing R&B and pop covers at local schools and movie theaters around town. Regional hits like the Cason/Williams-written, doo-wop-flavored “My Love Song For You” soon attracted an audience well beyond Music Row, after which package tours and interminable miles of open road then beckoned. When they weren’t sharing bills with the likes of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Eddie Cochran, the Casuals were the backing band for Brenda Lee—Little Miss Dynamite—as she sparkled across the country.
As the ‘60s dawned, Cason sought new opportunities beyond the concert stage and behind the scenes, including those as a producer. Networking decades before the Internet forever cemented the connotation of the term, Cason was turning chance acquaintances into business associates, securing publishing deals, co-running a label, and operating a recording studio. Irrespective of whatever plot twists and sidetracks he followed in his profession, Cason never stopped writing songs—either by himself or with collaborators who likewise shared his enthusiasm for the craft.
With two of his best-known and beloved songs, Cason ultimately achieved something akin to musical immortality.
The first, “Soldier of Love,” which Cason composed with erstwhile Casuals guitarist Tony Moon in 1962, was originally cut by soul extraordinaire Arthur Alexander, whose own compositions proved favored cover material among bands of the British Invasion: Both the Rolling Stones and the Hollies tackled his man-to-man ultimatum, “You Better Move On,” while the Beatles embraced “Anna (Go to Him).” Unbeknownst to Cason for many years, however, the Fab Four—during a July 1963 appearance on Pop Go The Beatles at the British Broadcasting Company—also recorded “Soldier of Love.” The recording wasn’t released until 1994 as part of the double-disc set, Live at The BBC, a multimillion-selling smash. Singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw and Seattle rockers Pearl Jam have released notable covers of the song as well, in 1982 and 1999, respectively.
Then there’s “Everlasting Love,” which arguably ranks as Cason’s most famous song of all. Composed with slide guitarist and singer/songwriter Mac Gayden in 1967, it was initially recorded by Philly soul man Robert Knight before it was covered by a seemingly endless plethora of artists from the Love Affair to Carl Carlton to Gloria Estefan to U2.
“Bono actually sang almost every line wrong.”
“Bono actually sang almost every line wrong,” Cason quips with a Southern chuckle, recalling the Irish band’s hit version, which was released as a B-side to the 1989 Rattle and Hum single, “All I Want is You.” “I just perceived them in the middle of the night, saying, “Hey, why don’t we do ‘Everlasting Love?’” And he just takes off on what he can remember.”
Not that Cason doesn’t appreciate the effort. “It’s got a great acoustic sound on the guitar,” he concedes. “It’s not a very produced, overdubbed type thing. It sounds like a one-take cut or something.”
It shouldn’t surprise that so many different artists have embraced his songs with their own interpretations. Since his earliest days in the Casuals, Cason aligned himself with rock ‘n’ roll’s original instigators, all the while boasting a purist allegiance to R&B as well as an insider’s appreciation for the country music of his native Nashville. Such an eclectic foundation couldn’t help but inform his creativity. “I’ve always been influenced by so many different genres of music,” he says, “that I just kind of cut loose on a song and let the songs dictate what the records sound like.”
Like on Record Machine, moments of rockabilly nostalgia (“Memphis Friday Night”) dovetail into ones of freewheeling insouciance (“Don't Worry Mama”) and bluesy despair (“Dodgin’ Bullets”), all of them hanging together without a hitch. In other words, the album’s versatility works because Cason has spent most of his lifetime embracing such disparate influences.
“I try to take each song and discipline myself into finishing it,” Cason explains. “I do little tape recordings. I’m old fashioned. I still use a shoebox recorder, or else I put it on my phone if I’m somewhere where I can’t get to the recorder and just put down different ideas or little licks that I think the song should sound like in the end.
“But you have to be careful,” he adds, “that you don’t get carried away with working on the production and leave the song behind and not get the best lyrics you can get.”
Is it a challenge, then, to acknowledge when any given song is finished?
“I don’t know whether it’s a challenge,” says Cason. “I think it comes pretty naturally. I think you feel… You say, ‘Now that feels right.’ Sometimes you’ll push down on the tape and listen back to it and say, ‘Hmm, that’s not quite there,’ or something like that. But you kind of know when it’s finished. Then again, you may get to the studio for the final vocal on it and say, ‘Man, that just doesn’t flow right. Those words don’t sync up properly or that doesn’t make sense,’ or something like that.
“Not that rock ‘n’ roll has to make sense all the time.”