Music Spotlight: Skip Ewing

May 03, 2024 at 10:52 am by Bethany Bowman

Donald Ralph "Skip" Ewing is a musician’s musician. To say that his singing and songwriting are brilliant is an understatement. And he can play almost any stringed instrument.

He advised, “I don’t remember when I couldn’t play a guitar. I took a woman's pink foam curler, took the plastic out of it, and stuck it up under my strings so I could play late into the night without the guitar making a sound.”

Growing up he listened to The Police, Genesis, Dan Fogelberg, and Merle Haggard. But it was James Taylor who made the biggest impression on the young musician.

Originally hailing from California, Ewing left for Nashville after graduating high school. He could play any style of music, from bluegrass to classical and he got a job playing at Opryland USA, a music-based theme park that existed until 1997.

It wasn’t long before Ewing was discovered by Acuff-Rose Music and was offered a publishing deal, eventually leading to a record deal with MCA and Capitol Records. His 1988 debut, The Coast of Colorado, produced the number 3 hit, "Burnin' a Hole in My Heart" and four other top 20 country hits including the acclaimed “The Gospel According to Luke.”

After Ewing’s success with his debut album, he played music that he truly wanted to record. He recalled, “I was told they were terrible. And that's putting it nicely. But what happened was the songs that I played for them, that they wouldn't let me record, were the songs that I was having big hits on.”

In 1991, Collin Ray recorded his song, “Love, Me” that Ewing wanted to record but was denied. It was number one for multiple weeks, was nominated for song of the year, and became Ray’s signature song.

Ewing was frustrated trying to be the artist the label wanted while others were recording his songs and having big hits with them.

Ewing’s The Will to Love record included the top 5 hit "It's You Again". Although none of his subsequent chart entries made the Top 40, he released eight more albums from 1990 to 2009.

In the meantime, Ewing continued writing songs. Besides Colin Ray’s “Love, Me,” he has had songs recorded by Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band, George Strait, Keb Mo, Kenny Rogers, and Willie Nelson. He wrote Diamond Rio’s “I Believe,” Kenny Chesney’s “You Had Me from Hello,” Clint Black’s “Something That We Do,” and Bryan White’s “Rebecca Lynn,” “Someone Else’s Star,” and “I’m Not Supposed to Love You Anymore.” However, as great as those cuts are, there’s something achingly poignant about hearing Ewing sing one of his compositions.

But even with all this success as a songwriter, Ewing found it difficult to make the kind of living he was accustomed to. He told me, “I couldn't make a living as a songwriter, writing songs that I believed in.”

In the meantime, he began making regular trips to Wyoming where he fell in love with horses.

Ewing stated, “I began to kind of open my awareness to what horses were showing me that I wasn't recognizing. And I would go and spend more and more time with them. And it became a bit of a spiritual journey for me to realize how much differently a horse looked at the world than I did.”

In 2014, Ewing sold everything, his house, and his furniture. He just kept his instruments and art and put everything else in a storage unit in Nashville.

It was not his intention to never play music again but to spend time doing things that would “nourish” his life such as working with his horses. He took his wife, Linda, a videographer from Texas, and they relocated to a remote log cabin in Wyoming. Subsequently, in 2020, he put out the poetic and beautifully produced album, Wyoming, a record complete with 12 tracks that he wrote by himself and provides insight into his renewed consciousness. The title track “Wyoming” exemplifies this newfound freedom.

In 1996, Skip Ewing and Dean Dillion wrote the heartfelt song “Would If I Could” that Lainey Wilson recently recorded for Apple Music's Lost & Found project. When newcomer, Ernest, heard the track, he wanted to include it on his new album and Wilson accompanied him on the track. In the two weeks that it has been out, the lyric video has had millions of streams and nearly 300,000 views on YouTube which illustrates the timelessness of a well-written song.

As a songwriter, Ewing continues to be influenced by James Taylor. He explained, “He was what he was, and just gave what he had.”

Released in April, his latest album, Road to California, highlights his transformative journey. The Grammy-nominated songwriter's new album takes on a variety of topics including depression, love, loss, heartbreak, and everything in between. And while his music has always been authentic, this album is more personal.

The album was written by Skip Ewing and produced by Kyle Lehning who has created records for Randy Travis, Dan Seals, George Jones, Bobby Bare, Alexis, Anne Murray, Neal McCoy, Bryan White, Restless Heart, and Miranda Lambert to name a few.

To record his new album, Ewing recruited Nashville greats like upright bass player, Jeff Picker, dobro player, Josh Matheny, keyboardist, Steven Nathan, percussionist Eddie Bayers, and world-renowned fiddler, Jenee Fleenor. 

When they went in to make the record he said, “Hey, I've got I've got this idea. It's musically different. Here's what we here's how we might approach it.” They were able to come up with musical moments that were unique and would add to the musical tapestry of the album.

Besides the contemplative title track “Road to California,” the album includes the inspired songs, “Knots” and “Windmill.”

The lyrics in “Knots” address the inner struggles we’re all challenged by in life—the ones we see and the ones we might not see, even in ourselves. His prayer is that we’ll look more closely, be more present, judge less harshly (or not at all), and remember to treat ourselves compassionately as well.

In the haunting song “Windmill,” the guy likens himself to a windmill and the woman is the wind that blows by. The meaning of the lyrics is "You can come and go. But me, I'm built to stay. I'm going to be devoted.”

“It fulfilling as an artist to make a connection [with the listener]. It brings me joy,” he confirmed.

One thing that connects with many humans is their love of pets. “Road Dog” is about going on a trip with your dog and the pleasure that brings you both. The fiddle-soaked, ragtime tune “Wag More” encourages us to be more like our favorite friend and “wag more and bark less.”

And while “Wreck of My Heart” is more light-hearted than some of the other tunes on the record, he still puts the same thoughtfulness in creating the words and melody.

“With the chord changes and the melody, it’s not typical. He’s a bit disjointed. He’s a mess,” Ewing shared.

Whether joyful or heart-wrenching, Ewing takes his time crafting each song, paying close attention to detail like no artist I have ever interviewed. Much of what he does musically may only be appreciated by a seasoned musician.

But even the ordinary listener will be able to relate to the overall theme of keeping the wheels turning, whether you are working or relaxing. Fans will marvel and the complete freedom Ewing exudes in the meaningful Road to California record. New listeners will be impressed by the music and lyrics of this genius songwriter. Everyone will have the record on repeat as they discover new things to like about it each time they listen.

You can see Skip Ewing in person at the Cactus Theater in Lubbock, Texas on June 7th and at the Music for Mustangs event at the Texas Troubadour Theatre in Nashville on June 18th.

You can follow Ewing on his website, Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube, TikTok, and all streaming platforms.

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Bethany Bowman is a freelance entertainment writer. You can follow her blogInstagram, and X(Twitter).

Road to California Track Listing: 

  1. Wreck Of My Heart - (Skip Ewing)
  2. Windmill - Skip Ewing
  3. Road Dog (Radio Mix) - (Skip Ewing)
  4. Road To California - (Skip Ewing)
  5. The Highway Won - (Skip Ewing)
  6. Always You - (Skip Ewing)
  7. Lightning - (Skip Ewing)
  8. Knots - Remix - (Skip Ewing)
  9. Wag More - (Skip Ewing)
  10. Not Afraid To Love - (Skip Ewing, Wayne Kirkpatrick)