Mary Francis

Mary shares a little of her life story:

 

Writing it down is something that professional songwriter and native Nashvillian Mary W. Francis has been doing for years. From the time she could walk and talk, she had a book in her hand. She began writing poetry at age eight. She says she always loved performing and being on stage and took ballet from the time she was three until she was 13, but she couldn't "go on point" because she had weak ankles. After having a small part in the sophomore play at Harpeth Hall, she was determined to be an actress. During all this time she kept writing poems and stories as well as making notes in her diaries. Mary said, "I always wanted to write, and I wanted it to sound and look beautiful. Then, I wanted to do a 'dramatic' reading in front of everyone. I never had a problem with public speaking."

 

After college, she married and moved to Denver, Colorado, where her husband was in the Air Force, and she worked as a secretary to the Chief Test Engineer for Stanley Aviation, which had been chosen to design and build the ejection seat for the A1E fighter planes for the Vietnam war. Mary says she was one of the few secretaries who could take shorthand. Laughingly, she said, "My boss, Lou Nordine, would say, 'Mary, can you take a little note?' Years later when the George Strait song came out, I smiled thinking back to that time. After Tom and I divorced, I moved to Manhattan Beach, California. I still had a dream of becoming an actress. However, the Santa Monica Playhouse was THE place to take acting lessons, but extremely expensive. I found work as a secretary to Dr. Paul Cayley, head of the Advanced Systems Lab at TRW in Redondo Beach. As my acting dream faded, I began to get a little homesick and decided to come back home, but I still wanted to return to California one day."

 

In 1970, Mary did return, and lived in Santa Monica, California. There, she worked for Liberty/United Artist Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood as secretary to the Executive Vice President. She loved working for the record company and met such greats as Tina Turner, the Fifth Dimension, Johnny Rivers and many others, including Mac Davis, who was a close friend of her boss. After being there eight months, United Artists in New York completely took over the company, and most of the Liberty executives were terminated. The President of the company, Al Bennett, had always been kind to her, and when he discovered that Mary was moving back to Nashville due to her mother being ill, told her that he wanted to keep in touch. Al later started Cream Records.

 

In October of 1970, Al contacted Mary and asked if she would like to go to the DJ Convention, (now called the Country Radio Seminar), as he wanted her to get acquainted with people in the music industry in Nashville. That night was a turning point in her life. She met many of the movers and shakers in the business, however, the person that would change her life, was a songwriter by the name of Hank Cochran. She had no idea of who he was, but he decided to find out who she was. The following Monday, Al called and asked Mary to have lunch with him and someone that he wanted her to meet, before he was to leave to return to LA. When she arrived, there was Hank Cochran at the table with Al. According to Mary, Hank stood up, pulled out her chair, and was the perfect gentleman. She remembered him as the songwriter at the DJ party who had asked her to listen to one of his songs, which she recalled as being one of the best she had ever heard. She said she felt like an idiot at lunch that day after learning all of the hits that he had written. Al bragged on him to no end, but Hank was very unassuming and never one to toot his own horn “ except every once in a while. Shortly, after that lunch, Hank called and asked her out. Their first date was spent in the company of Roger Miller and Roy Clark. At dinner, Hank introduced her to Ronnie Millsap, who had just come to town and was already making a big splash. Mary said that her relationship with Hank was the most meaningful and important one of her life. She said that it was like meeting her twin, or soulmate. When Barbara Clark, Roy's wife, was in Nashville for a visit while Roy was in the hospital, she came to Hank's home in Hendersonville, and there she met Mary. She looked at them sitting on the couch and said, "Well, two peas in a pod if I've ever seen them. Mary commented, "I did not understand this as I was certainly not a songwriter and couldn't imagine why she had said that. Years later, I would recall that remark. Hank taught me a lot about songwriting and the Nashville music business. It stood me in good stead when I began writing years later in 1978. Hank and I eventually stopped seeing each other, but it was something that neither of us really wanted to do, but circumstances were such that we both realized going forward would be a mistake. Even when we weren't loving each other, we were loving each other. Only he and I understood this.

 

"In 1976, I went through an excruciating emotional upheaval which had me literally crawling around on my hands and knees screaming, ˜Help me, Jesus,' at the top of my lungs. Suddenly a great calm came over me, and I went and sat down on the sofa and turned on the TV. Johnny Carson was interviewing some movie star, and she said, ˜Well, you know, Johnny, laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.' Right then I began writing down that lyric. It was pouring out of me like a Texas gusher. The next day, at Kroger Supermarket in Green Hills, another lyric starting coming to me, and I had the cashier pull some paper tape out of her register so I could write it down while she checked out my groceries. From that time on, I have been a songwriter and nothing else gives me more happiness.

 

"When I wrote those first songs, I took them to Hank to listen to first and I asked him what he thought. He said, ˜Darling, you can do it; go for it'. When I wrote my first hit, a song called "Whiskey, If You Were a Woman on Christmas Day in 1980, I remember saying to myself, "How would Hank write this? In 1981, I wrote ˜Tonight the Heartache's on Me', (recorded by the Dixie Chicks), and asked myself the same thing. About a year before he died, I saw him at the Country Music Hall of Fame where he was doing a presentation about his life. I went in and sat where he wouldn't see me. After the show, I went up to him, and when he saw me, he jumped back like he had been struck by lightning, and said ˜Where have you been?' and gave me a big hug. Then, he told me how proud he was of me and what I had accomplished. Later, when he was signing autographs, I jokingly handed him a photo and said, ˜Hank, can I have your autograph?' He put down his pen, looked me straight in the eye and said, ˜More than that.' With those three words, much better than the old tired ˜I love you', he told me all that I needed to know. That was the last time I saw him.

 

Mary has now begun another phase in her writing career. After over 35 years, she is still writing songs and she is having what she calls a "rebirth.  Even though she had a "Job experience after she had to quit her day job at the end of 2013, she affirms that it was by the Grace of God and Jesus Christ, that she can finally see daylight at the end of the tunnel. Recently, Texas recording artist and longtime friend, Curtis Braly, from Houston, Texas, has been performing several of her songs at various venues in Texas with sell-out crowds and rave reviews. A little while back, while completing a recording session at Eddie Gore's Studio on Music Row, she had the honor and delight of meeting, and having her picture taken with, Steve Cropper, who wrote Otis Retting's famous hit, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.