I hadn't heard of me either before I stumbled upon this page and read my bio...found out I have a family too!

Biography and Stories Written By Family Members

During a career of more than thirty years, Rory Michael Bourke has had songs recorded by Anne Murray, Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Phil Vassar, Dolly Parton, Tom Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Julio Iglesias, Tim McGraw, and many others. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1989 and has been named ASCAP Writer of the Year three times: 1976, 1979, and 1983. He is a four-time Grammy nominee and the recipient of two CMA triple play awards. He served on the Board of Directors of the Nashville Songwriters Foundation for many years.

Rory was born on July 14, 1942, in Cleveland, Ohio. As a boy he loved watching movie musicals. “When I was seven years old,” Rory says, “I started going to the movies with the little girl who lived next door. Her father was manager of the Lowe’s MGM theater. I saw every MGM musical they made. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, I watched them sing, and dance… they were romantic, and they always got the girl. In that darkened theater a dream was born. Seeing all those musicals is a big part of the reason I am a songwriter today.”

Rory graduated from Mount Saint Mary’s College in 1964 and married his college sweetheart, Rita Welty, shortly after. His first job was tracing lost railroad cars for the New York Central Railroad. His true calling, though, was songwriting. When there were no lost cars filled with cabbages from Mexico or pig iron from Alabama, he wrote songs. He spent his lunch hours writing lyrics on yellow slips of paper. When work was done, he brought those slips of paper home with him and set the lyrics to music.

Rory came to Nashville in 1969 as head of Sales and Promotion for Mercury Records Country and Western Division. Shortly afterwards Henry Hurt signed him to Chappell Music as a songwriter. There he met Don Gant who became a mentor. Rory later signed with Polygram Music.

In 1973, Rory’s “Most Beautiful Girl” became a worldwide hit. In 1979, he began a long and successful co-writing career with Charlie Black.

Rory left his position as staff writer with PolyGram in 1994 to form his own publishing company, Rory Bourke Music Company. Since then he’s had hits as a BMI writer/publisher with Phil Vassar (“Carlene”), Collin Raye (“Little Red Rodeo”), and Jo Dee Messina (“Bye Bye”). “Bye Bye” was named ASCAP’s Most Performed Song of the year in 1999. He also is writer and publisher of “Eyes of a Woman,” a cut on Tim McGraw’s CD, A Place in the Sun.

Rory tells aspiring songwriters, “I learn from every person I write with, and I hope they learn from me. Songwriting is an art whose lessons are never completely learned.”

It’s still a thrill to hear Rory’s songs on the radio, even after all these years.  I used to listen to the car radio on my way back from Oak Hill in the morning, and if one of his songs came on, I’d calculate if I had time to get home so I could run in the house and tell him to come quick and listen. One measure of the success of a driving trip is whether we hear any of his songs while we’re traveling.

I still remember some of the folk songs he used to sing at the Purple Onion when we were in college. The Joes girls used to flock there to hear him sing and play his guitar. Fifty cents and all the coffee he could drink: that was his pay for performing.

The songs he sang in that dark little coffee shop were his first efforts, and honestly, I thought they were wonderful. Songs like “Jump Up My Honey” seemed every bit as good as what we were hearing on the radio. It just seemed like a matter of getting the songs to the right people. Much of the first part of our marriage was spent trying to figure out how to do that, and how to protect the songs. We discovered early on that some nice Catholic boys from Darien, Connecticut, Danny and Phil, had copyrighted several of the songs in their names. Supposedly they had connections in the music business. It was a good lesson in a way. It meant that someone thought the songs had potential, and it alerted us to the necessity of protecting the songs. We bought a piano and I learned to do lead sheets. We sent out demo tapes. One day a producer named Frank Slay heard one of Rory’s songs and wrote him that he had potential. Frank Slay was a very successful independent producer; this was the kind of affirmation that meant the world to him.

Yet these were hugely frustrating times. I remember those yellow slips of paper he brought home in his shirt pocket every day; they contained bits of lyric he’d written down when he was supposed to be tracing lost railroad cars. I remember how he would beat his fists on the metal kitchen cupboards and how the glasses inside would tinkle.

Leslie reminds me that when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he said I was the first person to tell him that I believed in him. Honestly, if anyone had taken the time to get to know him, how could they doubt that he would one day be a great songwriter? I’ve often said that he reminded me of Howard Roark in “The Fountainhead.” It wasn’t hard to believe in him: how could you not believe when he was willing to stand alone against everyone we knew and fight for what he wanted and never give up?

I’ve never quite gotten used to the effect his music has on people. It constantly amazes me that so many people from all walks of life have been touched by his music. One of Charlie Black’s claims to fame in Port St. Joe is that he’s the co-writer of “Shadows in the Moonlight.”

One story that always touched me was something Cynthia Hackett told me.  We were at a soccer game at Oak Hill, and someone mentioned that Rory had written the Jennifer Warnes hit, “I Know a Heartache When I See One.” Cynthia was so impressed, and she told a story about her niece who lived in California.  The girls’ parents had divorced, and the lyrics of the song perfectly described her father, who had walked out on them. The girl learned the song and used to sing it to her father when he came around.

Look at through the winds blowin’ up the road
Shining like a northern star
Actin’ like the answers to all my prayers
But, baby, I know what you really are

It’s amazing to think that something Rory wrote would give a voice to a child, a voice she might not otherwise have found. She let his lyrics tell her father how she felt about him. That’s really pretty spectacular, when you think about it. I give Rory credit for teaching me most of what I know about writing.  The same principles apply whether you’re writing a song or a story. Even people in my Tuesday writing group listen when he speaks. Martha worries that she’s turned down too many invitations to the table (the writing table). If you turn down too many invitations, he told her, one day they won’t come anymore. Writing is re-writing. Writing is a muscle; if you don’t use it, it will atrophy. Rejection comes with the territory. If someone asks you to rewrite, it’s generally because they would have written it differently, and you won’t ever be able to satisfy them. Show up at the appointed times.

He still amazes me with his wisdom, his insight, his talent, even after all these years. Maybe especially after all these years.

The poet Sara Teasdale wrote a poem called “A Prayer” which has always reminded me of Dad. The poem’s main character looks back on her life and says that she “sang as children sang / Fitting tunes to everything.” That sums up Dad in a nutshell—enlivening the most proper of dinner parties with his silly songs, such as “Paassss the salt on down the table.” In short, Dad turns the mundane into something musical.

The story of my life is closely intertwined with the story of Dad’s love of words and music. Even the unusual spelling of my name, Allyson, was Dad’s invention. He named me after one of his favorite actresses, June Allyson. Every time I hear my name, I picture how Dad surely said it over and over, almost 32 years ago, listening to the music behind the vowels and the consonants.

In honor of my name, Dad wrote a song about me called “Allyson Blue.” Its lyrics go:

Allyson, blue looks so good on you,
You brighten the colors of my world.

That phrase “Allyson Blue” has become a Bourkeism in our family’s vocabulary. Growing up, Mom would keep Kelley’s and my clothing and accessories separate, by chanting “Allyson Blue, Kelley Green” like a mantra. Even today, I always buy blue toothbrushes in honor of my dad.

My tiny role in music history is thanks to Dad. He wrote another song about me called “Your Love’s Been a Long Time Coming” which was recorded by Elvis Presley. The song was about how happy Dad was to finally have a baby daughter. Of course, Elvis thought he was singing about some hot 17-year-old, but that’s our secret!

I always knew Dad was a fabulous songwriter, but I really learned this lesson the year before I got married. I had been to the Bluebird Cafe a few years before and had heard Dad’s dear friend Charlie Black sing a song Charlie had written called “Lights of Home.” I absolutely fell in love with the song’s words and message about the magic of love and family. When I began planning my wedding, I really wanted to dance to one of Dad’s songs, but Charlie’s song kept playing itself in my mind, and I didn’t want to hurt Dad’s feelings by dancing my first dance with my new husband to a song Dad hadn’t written. It just seemed that with as many hits as Dad had written, I could come up with one song out of the Rory M. Bourke catalog that was as good as Charlie’s “Lights of Home.” This dilemma ate at me for a couple months until I finally mentioned it to one of my sisters, and she said, “You idiot! Dad co-wrote that song WITH Charlie!!” I should have known that a song as beautiful as “Lights of Home” would have Dad’s fingerprints on it. So at my wedding, Charlie played his and Dad’s song as Chris and I danced our first dance to this chorus:

Show me the lights of home
And tell me what could ever shine as bright
Only the love that’s in your eyes
Could make me feel the way I feel tonight.
I’ll take the times we’ve known
And the lights of home.

Thanks, Dad. That’s pure poetry. Oh, and by the way, Dad and I danced the Father-Daughter Dance to “Allyson Blue.”

A final sentiment: The year I studied in England, I got terribly homesick on several occasions. This was homesickness the way only England can dish it out, with its cold nights, drizzling rain, and empty streets. To cheer myself up, I would pick a new record shop, go to the small country music section, and look for Dad’s name on an artist’s CD. Invariably I could locate a George Strait Greatest Hits CD or a Country Music Greatest Hits CD, and there I would find what I was looking for: A tiny “R.M. Bourke” typed under “You Look So Good in Love” or “The Most Beautiful Girl.” Instant homesickness relief. It was like Dad was right there with me. So if anyone is looking for a unique tour of the British Isles, I recommend the Rory M. Bourke’s-Name-on-Music Tour. He can be found from Bath to Inverness, London to York. And I would know.

So that’s my story of growing up as the daughter of a world-class songwriter. I wouldn’t be who I am without Dad’s career and passion for music. Thank you, Dad, for always “Fitting tunes to everything.” You wrote the soundtrack to my life.

My memories of Dad as a songwriter are mostly little tiny bits and pieces.

I remember Dad writing with Charlie Black, probably when I was about six or seven. I used to love giving Dad verses for songs, basically anything that rhymed. I came up with some rhyme about “God above” and “all he does is love love love.” And Dad would tell me that I couldn’t give him verses, that a song needed a solid idea behind it, not just a catchy phrase. A song must have substance.

I remember going to Cleveland, Ohio, for Dad’s family reunion in about 1994. Dad had made tapes of his music to give to family and friends. One copy made it into the men’s room (boy’s room) at his grade school. He left it on top of the paper towel dispenser, just as a message to possibly inspire younger generations. Or as a statement of some of the things he had accomplished until that point in his life. It reminds me of a story he told me, how when he was a little boy growing up in Cleveland, he went up onto the roof of his parents’ house and yelled to the whole neighborhood, “I AM RORY BOURKE! I AM RORY BOURKE! I AM RORY BOURKE!” over and over again.

I remember being maybe about eight years old, and Allyson and I were home with a babysitter while Mom and Dad were out at an awards show. Honestly, I don’t know if it was the Grammys or what. But you know how during those shows they’ll be just about to go to commercial, and they’ll flash a shot of some celebrity sitting in the audience? Well, right before they went to commercial, they flashed a shot of Mom and Dad, and actually had their names there at the bottom of the TV screen! They were both beaming, Dad there in his tuxedo and Mom in her sequins. Well that pretty much thrills any eight year old to death, let me tell you.

The whole family will attest to Dad’s ability to make any statement into a verse of a song. “Pass the potatoes and gravy” acquires an interesting country twang when transposed into a country song at the dinner table.

I remember being ten years old, and I had complained about not having a song written about me. So Dad got together with Mike Reid one day and wrote “Beautiful (All That You Could Be),” and gave it to me for my tenth birthday. One of Dad’s best songs in my opinion, which is saying a lot considering how many great ones he’s written. I remember it got cut in Germany, which I thought was cool—they were singing a song there that was written about me. Later on Kenny Rogers cut the song, and called Dad on the phone to tell him how glad he was that people are still writing this quality of material. Dad didn’t mention that the song had been written eighteen years previously. Even after Kenny cut that song, I still felt that the best rendition was the original that Mike sang, with only piano for accompaniment. And nineteen years after the song’s inception, I danced with my Dad (and my whole family) at my wedding to the same song. How many daughters get to do that?

I’d say the best thing about my Dad being a songwriter is not the fame, it’s the hours. Dad could work any day or time he pleased. What this means to his family, is that I don’t remember an event or time he wasn’t able to spend with us, whether it was a play, a sporting event, going to get a Christmas tree, or parent’s weekend at college. What I remember is that my Dad was around a lot all while I was growing up, and I loved that.

Dad’s got the kind of creativity that doesn’t dry up. I once asked him if he thought there were a finite number of songs to be written, that if one day all the song ideas would be used up. He said he didn’t think so. And with his talent, I understand why.

I love you, Dad!!!

My dad’s steadfast commitment to writing amazes me. He sometimes endures years without having anything cut, but he continues to make writing dates. He contributes to demos, and he waits to hear from labels that put his songs on hold. The music business can be cold to newcomers and experienced professionals alike. But my dad keeps writing! My family and I have witnessed all his achievements and shared in his hard times. We continue to ask him about his co-writers, pray to the Music Row sculpture when an artist puts a song on hold, and listen with adoring ears to his demos. Our stories may shed some light on what it is like having Rory Bourke, songwriter extraordinaire, as a father.

* * *

Just last night someone asked me, “So what was it like growing up with your dad?” Well…it was fun! Throughout grade school, I felt like there was something special about me; my dad was famous except not in an over-obvious or ostentatious way. Just every now and then, you’d hear one of his songs on the radio. That kind of famous.

In fourth grade, my class completed a unit on songwriting. As part of this unit, my dad traveled to Oak Hill one day to teach us how to write songs. He began by asking us for topics. Some little boy raised his hand. “Well today is teddy bear day – everyone brought their teddy bears.” Hmm…I wasn’t so sure about the topic, but my dad approved.

“That’s a good idea. Now how will we start it?” He began pulling ideas from the fourth grade audience. Some lines he would reject after a thoughtful moment; others he would accept. He’d write them down on his yellow memo pad.

I now wonder if this is how Ms. Hasselbring wanted him to teach this lesson. He wasn’t telling us anything directly. He hadn’t given us instructions on rhyming. Instead, he was showing us by example. I think he did a great job. He showed us how to come up with ideas, and he showed us how to treat co-writers with respect.

* * *

During my junior year at Harpeth Hall, I again remembered how proud I was to be Rory Bourke’s daughter. One morning, all the students gathered into the auditorium. After noticing several guitars, a keyboard, and drums on stage, we realized we wouldn’t have to sit through a lecture that day.

The principal, Ann Teaff, thanked all the students for their hard work that year, and a band walked onto stage. The girls immediately reacted to the up-tempo pop songs. Some ladies jumped out of their seats and ran to the foot of the stage. They cheered and sang along, while others stood up from their seats and clapped. Though I was a bit wary of cover bands, I appreciated the break from droning voices. The band obviously chose songs which would please the crowd, so there was nothing slow, nothing old. Nothing frumpy. When the group broke into the opening of “Bye Bye,” my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe they were singing a song my dad wrote. I stood there in amazement for a while, and then I started to look around. Did anyone know my dad wrote this? Nobody was looking at me, so apparently not. I began to inform the people around me. “Really?” they asked. I had thought that nobody in my class listened to country music, but everyone was singing along. Yeah my dad’s a star, I thought to myself. Of course I already knew that, but it was a thrill to receive some reinforcement from my peers.

I was smiling for the rest of the day. Word of the song’s importance spread around the school. In French class, Mackenzie McCracken confided to me, “I can’t believe your Dad wrote ‘Bye Bye.’ I love that song! I sing it so loud while I’m driving!” She had just broken up with her boyfriend. “Bye Bye” was the perfect mantra.

The very next year, a similar event occurred. A band performed “Fly” while we were in another assembly. I couldn’t believe it. Two years in a row. And yet, why not? My dad provides singers and bands with excellent material. Unexpectedly hearing his songs reminds me of his amazing talent. I am so proud of him and everything he does!

* * *

As I’ve collected the various materials that make up this site, I’ve come across a unique side of my dad. The video footage has in particular surprised me. Besides his appearance (wow, that beard), he seems a bit more hesitant than I know him to be today. Perhaps it is the nervousness that accompanies a performance. What strikes me even more is his charisma. He seems genuinely happy and eager to make a connection with his interviewers and comrades. He is quick to laugh at himself. If somebody insulted my singing voice as in the Ralph Emery clip, I wouldn’t be able to immediately laugh it off. I imagine that this quality has helped my dad in many situations. He brightens a room with his humor and makes everyone feel at ease.

While watching all these videos, I pondered the beginning of my dad’s career. The music business is indeed hard for anyone, but it must be especially hard for those without any experience. I believe that because of my dad’s work-ethic, consistency, and solid self-esteem, he was able to write songs every day. He wasn’t going to give up, and he had my mom’s enduring support. I also know he had some important mentors along the way. And awesome co-writers! Because of all these factors, my dad has become a musical success. This website is my tribute to him.