Singer, songwriter, guitarist
When country singer, songwriter, and guitarist Michael Peterson hit it big with his number-one single “Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie” in 1997, he seemingly became the toast of the Nashville music scene overnight. However, his ascent was far from meteoric. A well-seasoned musician with a good sense of himself by that time, Peterson had already performed his songs for over a decade and knew the kind of music he needed to write in order to make it onto country radio.
Peterson keeps his views about the music business and career goals simple. As opposed to many popular entertainers, Peterson has always remained most concerned about crafting a good tune rather than trying to sell millions of records. “John Bettis [a fellow songwriter] and I were talking one day, and he said, ’You know, you can either write songs or you can write records, ’” recalled Peterson, as quoted by Deborah Evans Price in Billboard magazine. “When he gave me that delineation, I realized what I’ve always wanted to do is write songs. And country is always the way I wrote—the way I thought melodically and the sentiments that moved me.”
In addition to developing music for his own records, the disciplined songwriter pens tunes for artists such as R&B singer Denice Williams and the Imperials, a contemporary Christian group. He also wrote the title track for country star Travis Tritt’s album Looking Over My Shoulder. Moreover, the award-winning recording artist stands as one of the few contemporary country entertainers who writes as well as performs his own original songs. In an era filled with singers who mainly record the works of others, Peterson sets himself apart as a unique talent in the country music industry.
Born on August 7, 1959, Peterson is a native of Tucson, Arizona, but grew up in Eastern Washington state along the Columbia River. As a youth, Peterson divided his time between his two passions: sports and music. When not busy with football practices or hanging out with his peers, he spent countless hours at his grandmother’s house listening to records. “She had this huge record collection, “the songwriter reminisced, as quoted by the Country.comwebsite. “She loved music and exposed me to the standards. It definitely wasn’t the kind of music my friends were listening to, but if it hadn’t been for her, I might never have found Cole Porter, Harold Arlen or Hoagy Carmichael.” He also drew inspiration from true country legends, namely Willie Nelson and Roger Miller.
By the time Peterson reached his teens, he was already accomplished in both football and music. As his high school graduation approached, he received scholarship offers for both from Pacific Lutheran University. But after learning that he needed to make a firm commitment to either football or music, Peterson for the first time found himself forced to make a choice and opted to play football. Oddly enough, his decision to pursue athletics and not music would eventually open the door for him and provide an initial shot at a recording career.
During his stint as a football player, Peterson started for two-and-a-half years for the Pacific Lutheran as left offensive tackle and helped his team win a national championship. More importantly, though, he developed a friendship with the quarterback, Brad Westering. After college, Westering would wind up producing for Denice Williams, and, in turn, enlisting Peterson to contribute songs to Williams’ R&B and gospel albums. Thereafter, the Imperials also cut a song by Peterson that became a hit among fans of contemporary Christian music.
Suddenly, Peterson’s other dream of writing songs as a profession looked promising. Once a month for nearly two years, Peterson traveled to Nashville to forge relationships with Music Row songwriters. “I can hardly explain to you how wonderful it was for me to be able to work with and, in a few instances, become friends with writers who had been my heroes, “he said, as quoted by Country.com. “People like DeWayne Black-well, Gene Pistilli, John Bettis, Jim Weatherly, and last but not least, Josh Leo and Robert Ellis Orrall. The education I received working with those people and many others created an explosion in my hunger and growth as a writer.”
Feeling more confident in his future, Peterson finally made a permanent move to Nashville. Collaborating with Leo and Orrall, who would later co-produce Peterson’s
For the Record…
Born on August 7, 1959, in Tucson, AZ; married to Tracey Jane; two daughters: Lauren and Amanda. Education: Attended Pacific Lutheran University on a football scholarship.
Relocated to Nashville to concentrate on songwriting, 1995; signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music, 1996; signed recording contract with Warner/Reprise, released self-titled debut album, 1997; released Being Human, 1999; signed record deal with Sony Music Nashville, 2000.
Awards: Male Newcomer of the Year, Country Weekly, 1998; Male Star of Tomorrow, TNN Music City News Awards, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Sony Music Nashville, c/o Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., 31st Floor, New York City, NY 10022, phone: (212) 833-8000, fax: (212) 833-5780. Fan information—The Michael Peterson Fan Club, 1012 16th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, (615) 255-4795.
debut album, his songwriting blossomed. During a concentration of activity between October of 1995 and June of 1996, Peterson wrote and/or co-wrote some 70 songs. In fact, most of the songs off Michael Peterson were culled from this fruitful period. “It seems like songs just showed up when I needed them to, “Peterson told Price.
In December of 1996, Peterson, who had already seen several of his songs cut by other artists, signed an exclusive publishing agreement with Warner/Chappell Music. The organization, he said, fully supported his efforts and offered a creative atmosphere. However, Warner/Chappell realized early on that Peterson had a good chance of making it himself as a solo performer. Therefore, rather than channeling his songs to others, they allowed Peterson to hold onto his compositions while he tried to land a record contract.
With the help of Orrall and Leo, Peterson recorded some of his music and set about looking for label support. Soon, his voice, as well as his songs, caught the attention of Warner/Reprise. “His songs are really to the everyday man, “Warner/Reprise executive Paige Levy explained to Evans. “He can relate.” After signing with Reprise, Peterson set about recording his debut album. Around Nashville, expectations were high, and Peterson was dubbed the new artist to watch in country music.
Peterson exceeded the buzzing predictions with his self-titled debut, released in June of 1997. Preceded by the clever “Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie,” Michael Peterson contained two other top-five country hits—“From Here To Eternity, “one of the year’s wedding favorites, and the infectious “Too Good To Be True.” These successes resulted in Peterson being recognized as the top-selling new male country artist for 1997 and 1998, while his popularity on the radio led Billboard to honor Peterson as the Top New Airplay Artist of 1997 and Country Weekly to deem Peterson Male Newcomer of the Year in 1998. Then, in 1999, country music fans voted the rising singer-songwriter Male Star of Tomorrow at The Nashville Network (TNN) Music City News Awards.
Soon after his debut hit store shelves and even before touring, Peterson began the writing process for his follow-up. In 1999, Being Human, featuring nine songs that explored the intimate nature of human relationships, was released. It, too, was produced by Orrall and Leo. “It’s a very emotional record, a very intimate record, “Peterson told Price in a 1999 Billboard feature. “It really moves from the joy of taking better care of yourself to the joy of taking care of someone you love. You go from ’Laughing All The Way To The Bank’ to ’Let Me Love You One More Time, ’ which is taking care of somebody else, then to ’Slow Dance, ’ which is sort of reminiscing about the time you’ve had together and saying thank you.”
Despite Peterson’s enthusiasm, Being Human faltered in comparison to his debut. As USA Today critic Brian Mansfield wrote in a column listing the biggest disappointments of the year: “Peterson’s relentlessly upbeat lyrics made him sound like country’s answer to Huey Lewis, or worse, a male Shania Twain wannabe.” Peterson’s record label also agreed, and decided to drop the country singer from its roster.
In limbo after the release of his second album, Peterson was eventually picked up by Sony Music Nashville and signed to an exclusive agreement with the Monument Records imprint in October of 2000. In February of 2001, he entered the studio to begin recording his third album. Peterson continues to reside in a Nashville suburb with his wife, Tracey Jane, and the couple’s two daughters, Lauren and Amanda.
Michael Peterson, Warner/Reprise, 1997.
Being Human, Warner/Reprise, 1999.
Billboard, June 7, 1997; August 9, 1997; July 24, 1999; September 4, 1999; October 14, 2000.
Country Music, August/September 1999.
People, September 1, 1997.
USA Today, December 28, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 28, 2000).
Country.com, http://www.country.com (December 28, 2000).
The Michael Peterson Page, http://www.maries-country-music-island.com/mpinfo.html (December 28, 2000).
New Media Music, http://www.newmediamusic.com (December 28, 2000).
Warner Brothers, http://www.wbr.com (December 28, 2000).
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