CLAYTON — Nashville-based, two-time Grammy-nominated songwriter Jamie Floyd has written tunes for movies, pop stars and Broadway. But at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel on Wednesday morning, she was looking forward to a co-songwriting session with a stranger, and which she said involves her most important and rewarding work.
Ms. Floyd joined three other Nashville-based songwriters/musicians for an Operation Song session at the hotel. The nonprofit empowers veterans, active duty soldiers and their families to tell their stories through the process of songwriting. Three veterans and one active duty soldier based at Fort Drum were matched with the songwriters.
“I’m convinced the main reason I was given my ability is to do this,” Ms. Floyd said. “These are the most important songs that I write. Kelly Clarkson (who has recorded Ms. Floyd’s songs) can take a back seat, because these songs are way more important.”
Operation Song was founded in 2012 by Grammy and Dove Award-nominated songwriter Bon Regan. He has also been a studio musician, a guitarist on the Grand Ole Opry and was a three-term president of the board of the Nashville Songwriters Association. He got the idea to create the nonprofit while performing on Armed Forces Entertainment Tours at military bases in the Middle East. On those tours, he met many service members with compelling stories and thought that pairing them with songwriters — natural storytellers — might create some very compelling music.
“We obviously want to write your story, the way you want to tell it,” Ms. Floyd told the soon-to-be-songwriters on Wednesday morning before they were paired with the professionals. “But these are the most special songs to us also. Some of the best ones we’ve ever been a part of are these songs. We play them live in our shows. There are songs I’ve written with our veterans that I choose over what people want to hear because they’re just more important and they’re really powerful.”
The two other songwriters/musicians at Wednesday’s retreat were Steve Williams and Skip Black.
Mr. Black was 2018 Canadian Country Music Association Songwriter of the Year, and reached number one on Canadian charts with Aaron Goodvin’s “Boy Like Me.” He’s also a sought-after producer.
Mr. Williams has written songs for George Strait, Craig Morgan and the Oak Ridge Boys. His “Redneck Yacht Club,” performed by Craig Morgan, reached number two on the Billboard country chart.
Army veteran Darren P. LeMorta, Carthage, said he was looking forward to the Wednesday song-writing session as the group made introductions. He was in the Army from 1994 to 2015, with four deployments to Iraq.
“I don’t really do too much of this because of the vulnerability portion and stuff like that,” he said. “But I felt comfortable enough in my ways now that I can get to the point where I try to get to these types of things. This is the greatest opportunity that I have to maybe get a story out.”
The others who worked with the songwriters on Wednesday were Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Brazinsky, Fort Drum, who has been in the Army for 19 years; Robert P. Loughhead of Watertown, a disabled Army veteran of Somalia and Haiti and Army veteran Del Rodriguez of LaFargeville.
Concert Thursday night
Operation Song has written nearly 1,500 songs with veterans of World War II to those currently serving. For the past two years, it has partnered with North Country Troopers Assisting Troops to bring the program to the north country. Last year, because of the pandemic, the songwriting retreat was held over Zoom, as was its concluding concert.
This year, the local Operation Song concert is at 6 tonight in the ballroom at 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, 200 Riverside Drive. Tickets for the concert are $35 each (includes light edibles) or $500 for a table seating up to 10 (includes light fare and drink tickets). All proceeds go to Operation Song and North Country Troopers Assisting Troops. For a ticket link, go to wdt.me/operationsong.
Operation Song spokeswoman Patricia L. Espinosa said concert-goers will experience a special evening tonight.
“They’ll see the veterans’ stories come to life and they’ll be able to relate to the human emotion that sometimes I think is lost when people think of a soldier or a veteran,” she said Wednesday as she helped to manage the retreat. “People may not understand the human emotion that they have to face every day, whether it’s PTSD or family issues.”
Soldiers and veterans, she said, often have to portray a “stand-up strong and keep going” aura, with many emotions hidden.
“But with Operation Song, you get to connect that human emotion and see a different perspective and a different aspect of a veteran’s or a soldier’s life that a lot of people don’t get to see,’’ she said. “So when you hear it in a song, you can connect to it as a human emotion and connect to the veterans.”
Troopers group assisting
New York North Country Troopers Assisting Troops was formed in 2013 by a group of New York State Troopers in collaboration with U.S. military members. The mission of this group is to raise local and regional awareness, as well as to provide local recreational activities and events for Fort Drum service members and others. Vice president and founding member Adam Swenson, a state police investigator based out of the state police’s Alexandria Bay barracks, said that Operation Song is another way for NYNCTAT to support its mission.
“I was so blown away by last year’s event over Zoom,” he said. “I couldn’t believe writers could do that and how personable it was, how quick it came together and how powerful it was.”
Earlier, during introductions, Mr. Swenson told the veterans and songwriters: “So many things we get to do are awesome, but this is the coolest thing that’s ever been a part of my life. I’m happy you guys are here.”
‘This is your story’
Operation Song Executive Director Michael A. Byer is a retired Army first sergeant. He served more than two decades with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. His tours of duty included Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Restore Hope Mogadishu, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He’s also a musician, songwriter and alumnus of Operation Song.
Mr. Byer suggested that the songwriting sessions begin with a casual conversation.
“You guys are the songwriters today,” he said. “It’s not just you talking about your stories. You are involved in the process. This is your story. We want it to be told, said and played the way you want it to be played. You are less than 7 percent of the American population. Be proud of that.”
Mr. Byer said that at tonight’s concert, a song that the songwriters created Wednesday with their partners will be performed.
“We’ll start the show by bringing up each of the veterans and tell a little bit about their story behind their song,” he said. “And then the songwriter will play their song.”
The songwriters, Mr. Byer said, will also perform some of their other songs and also tunes created from other Operation Song retreats.
“I look at it like we’re recording history, especially with our World War II veterans and our Korean veterans,” Mr. Byer said of Operation Song. “They came home from war and didn’t talk about anything. They went right to work. A lot of times when families hear these songs, they’re just blown away by it. It’s inspiring.”
Before they were matched with songwriters, Mr. Byer told the veterans that their songs could be about anything. He said previous songs at retreats ranged in topics from pet dogs to new homes. He noted that one veteran wanted to propose to his girlfriend and wrote a song about it. Mr. Byer then asked Mr. Williams: “Didn’t you write that song, ‘Down on One Knee?’” Mr. Williams said that he did.
“I didn’t tell you this, but last year, that guy, came up to me with his wife and said, ‘Hey! It worked!’” Mr. Byer responded.
Perhaps for new song inspiration about relationships, Mr. Loughhead, a Virginia native, told the gathering that he married a “Sackets Harbor gal.” But they divorced. “She stayed in my hometown, and I moved back to hers,” he said.
And naturally, on cue, that quote from Mr. Loughhead made a in room full of Nashville songwriters elicited the excited chorus of, “That sounds like a song!”
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