Arts & Entertainment

Tuned In: Inside the Mind of Tim McGeary

How the singer/songwriter taps into his personal life to produce such inspired music.

BY October 27, 2014


Naples singer/songwriter Tim McGeary starts his life story the way he might begin one of his songs—with a rush of tumultuous words that, despite their brevity, render something of a mini-character sketch.

“I’m the oldest of 10, got five sisters named Mary and grew up in New Jersey. My mother had a miscarriage; she said, ‘Dear Virgin Mary, if I have any girls I’ll call them Mary.’ So we have Mary Colleen, Mary Ann, Mary Joan, Mary Patricia, Mary Catherine. Irish Catholic. I’m the oldest and the black sheep.”

In that hectic household in hardscrabble New Jersey, McGeary discovered a love of music and a gift for song. Music propelled him to California to study at the College of Recording Arts in San Francisco and then on to a string of successful bands that became regulars at places like New York’s CBGB club, the self-proclaimed “birth- place of punk,” and that played opening acts for the big names of the 1980s: Billy Idol, Duran Duran, Modern English, Missing Persons, Stray Cats, Roxy Music.

In between, he toured the world with the Merchant Marines, met his wife, Carol, got married and had
three kids. Along with the adventures, though, he’s
been through his share of tragedy. He lost a 2-year-old brother when he was 3. The family never talked about
it. He fought addiction (and won). He and Carol lost everything in a failed business and rebuilt from scratch, in part with McGeary’s career shift to a firefighter/paramedic. He volunteered at World Trade Center following 9/11, and the images of death, destruction and grief still linger. His only son, Trevor, was killed in a crash in 2006.

Now, the punk rocker has matured into a songwriter favoring country songs and Americana sounds who’s working to capture all of life’s experiences—from light-hearted, slice-of-life moments to message-driven works to meditations on pain, loss—and ultimately hope. McGeary has become a regular on Nashville songwriting circuits. His work has appeared on the TV shows Smallville, One Tree Hill and Glory Days, as well as the made-for-HBO film The Girl Gets Moe. He has completed two solo albums, Authentic Memphis Samich and Twelve Steps, and is at work on another.

Here, McGeary tells Gulfshore Life about the evolution of his work, the origins of his lyrics and the principles that drive him.


On the discovery of his talent

I was 5 years old and taking piano lessons. I’d have the lesson and then I say to my teacher, “I wrote this.” She’s going, “You wrote music?” “Yeah.” It was always in me to do it.

Songwriting is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is you can write songs that actually touch people. The curse is I can never turn it off. I mean at 3:30 in the morn-
ing when I get an idea in my head, there is no way I’m getting back to sleep until I go out in the garage, into my studio, and I get something started. My head is always spinning.


On going to Nashville

My friends kept saying you’re always writing songs. They just come out of you. You should go to Nashville.

So I met this guy named Mike Kinnamon (a publisher) who back then was “music central.” I said, “Mike, I’m in Nashville. I’m playing a festival up here. C’mon, give me 10 minutes.” He agrees to see me. He says, “Get a guitar off the writers’ room wall and play me one verse and one chorus of one song. I played and he goes, “Well, that’s not bad. Play me something else.” And I play another song and he goes, “Hmph. Now you’re ready to start co-writing.” And I go, “Co-writing?” And he says, “You got a lot of potential but you don’t have a clue.”

Nashville is a different thing. It’s a different style of writing. I’m a rock writer. Rock writers write a lyric and you have to figure it out. Nashville, you write a lyric and they all got to figure it out. There’s no mystery to it. It’s pretty much straight in your face.


On finding the words

I always liked country music. I love the stories. I listen to a song like Gone or Turn It Up. It explains this guy who’s a Vietnam vet who’s got a gold tooth and a tattoo. In eight sentences, a couple of lyrics, you know this guy. You know he lost a brother, what his political aspirations are, his religion … his attitude. And that’s sort of a miracle. You can see him in your mind. And that’s the genius of it.


On the origins of his ideas

What I do every day and before I do my co-writes during the day (is) go to the park. I’m going up this mountain trail (one morning) and there are beautiful leaves of the spring, and what comes to my head? “Three shots of whiskey and two shots of gin,” and I’m thinkin’ where’d that come from? (That song was later recorded by singer Jason Bradley of South Africa.)

I’m sittin here as you’re settin up
You say what can I get you my friend
Pour me a glass and I will pour out my past I’ll tell what I’ll need before I begin

Three shots of whiskey
Two shots of gin
One horse town where I came from I’m never going back again
To fix the way I’m feeling
Forget where I have been
I need three shots of whiskey
Two shots of gin

My friend got married, and his grandma says (to the bride), “Honey, you want to have a long and happy marriage?” And she says, “Yes, Ma’am.” “Well, I’m gonna tell you the secret: You got to be good to your man, because if you don’t feed your dog at home, he’ll be digging in the trash.”

That’s the best line ever. So we wrote a song called Feed That Dog (with writer Buddy Brock).

Grandma knew about life and livin’ and what makes the world go around
What she told my mama when she and daddy took their wedding vows:

Be good to your man and he’ll be good to you. It’s all about a little give and take, it’s a simple gospel truth You got to show your man you love him or honey it ain’t gonna last.

Cuz, if you don’t feed that dog at home, he’ll be diggin’ in the trash.

Right now it’s crazy: the Russians, Palestine and the Israelis, Ebola. Whoa! What are we doing here? All these people are getting killed. It’s posturing, and innocent children are dying and it just drives me crazy.

When I was 15 years old and I was in that Jesus move- ment, the rock and roll band (he and his friends had a Christian rock group), we’d have prayer meetings and we’d have Muslims come to our prayer meetings who would say, “We just want to be around people who are close to God.” They didn’t care that we were Christian. They knew we loved God, and it’s all the same guy. It’s not different. But there’s this 15 percent radical crazy group. … All the people I knew were peace-loving, hard-working regular folks, loving their kids.

We need to talk about love. We need to make a change and it starts with us. You can do all the commandments and all that stuff, but it all comes down to one big one: Love everyone. That’s it.

Make A Change

We could use a little peace down here on Planet Earth. Put that ego in a drawer and keep it shut.
Let go of pride and grab on to forgiveness.
It’s God’s business

We’re only here, just for a minute, doing the best that we can.

Show some love to each other, it just might be enough to make a change.
To make a change, make a change, make a change. Because it starts with love.


On the death of his son

I’ve had some wonderful, spiritual things happen
to me that I can’t deny. One was the flowers. We went out about a week after (Trevor) passed away. We had the celebration of life and this single white flower grew up, and it came up overnight. We’d been there (in our home) for about 12 years, and we knew everything that grew there, but we had never seen a flower like this, growing all by itself. It was white, you know, the color of hope. We called it “Trevor’s flower.” A couple days later, we went out and the original flower closed up and there were five flowers just like the original one. As I was going outside the phone rang and it was the lady from the organ donation and she goes, “We just wanted to tell you that five people’s lives were saved from your son.” Then (the flowers) went away and never came back.

I always think about how beautiful that was—God’s love. So I wrote this song called Miracles, and it’s being cut by a band called Cash Creek up in Nashville.

They buried their son on a Saturday. He barely turned 18. The next day one white flower grew that they had never seen.
It never should have grown there in the cold and stony soil

But they took it for a miracle
A message from their boy.
Sometimes we don’t know why the things that happen happen like they do
Sometimes we cannot find the rhyme or reason hidden in the ruins
Sometimes it’s not for us to know. Sometimes the

mystery is shown.
Sometimes out of rocky ground, miracles are found.


On gratitude

I’m really about being positive. People say, “You’re so calm, you’re so happy, how do you do it after you lost a son?” For me, I’m grateful for everything.

So many things have happened to me, and you have to be grateful for all of it—the good and the bad. It teaches you compassion and what’s really important.

I’ve helped a lot of people with addiction. They’ll come up to me later and say, “You saved me…” I’ll say, “I didn’t really do it. I just helped you get started…” If I hadn’t lived through my addiction, I wouldn’t be as a compas- sionate toward those people and know what to say or not to say. So I’m grateful for that experience, and I’m grate- ful because I had come to such a low point in my life I needed to go through that to feel that. Drug addiction, my brother, my son, losing everything.”

Never met a man so unblessed buried deep, in deep regret. Living in a broken, promised land. Oh, lord have mercy on a wounded man.
His old man lived by the gun. He was shot by sheriff down in ’91. Way too young to understand, left his boy a wounded man.
Mama was an eggshell ready to fall. Found her one day in a bathroom stall. Blood on the floor and knife in her hand. Left her son a wounded man…
Laid him down in a box of pine. No one came and no one cried.
The angels came and took his hand and welcomed home a wounded man.
Peace at last.

I think sometimes they are tough stories, but the whole thing at the end … There’s light at the end of the tunnel.


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