Born in Alexandria, LA; married Fran Kirkpatrick. Education: Attended Belmont College. Addresses: Record company--Rocketown Records, 401 6th Ave., Nashville, TN 37203.
Songwriter, producer, and singer Wayne Kirkpatrick has written five Billboard top ten hits, as well as more than a dozen number one Christian singles. He has won both Grammy and Dove awards, and has worked with a wide variety of artists, including Amy Grant, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Eric Clapton, and Garth Brooks. More than 200 of his songs have been recorded in genres ranging from country to contemporary Christian to pop and R&B.
Kirkpatrick grew up in Alexandria, Louisiana. As a teenager he admired the music of James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, and then began writing his own songs. His first, written when he was 14, was titled "Lady Wind." That was a difficult year for Kirkpatrick. His father, formerly a real estate agent, had left his business to follow a calling he felt to become a preacher, and the family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to start a new life. Kirkpatrick, who was rather shy, found it hard to adjust to his new school. His brother Karey wrote in Christianity Today that things began to turn around for Kirkpatrick when they attended a Bible camp in Florida with their father. "There was a guy there who had a guitar. He taught Wayne and me how to play this old Baptist hymn, "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," and I swear we must've played it fifty times a day." That lesson was pivotal for Kirkpatrick. When the brothers returned home, he took Karey's Sears guitar and spent all his free time teaching himself how to play it.
Lyrics Had Universal Appeal
When Kirkpatrick was in high school he met a girl named Fran, who would later become his wife. He spent much of his time during those turbulent years writing songs about her. Karey Kirkpatrick recalled in Christianity Today that his brother's songs "helped me navigate the turbulent emotional waters of teen dating and puppy love. It was comforting to know that someone out there was going through the same thing." This ability to write about deeply personal issues and make them universally appealing would become a hallmark of Kirkpatrick's style and a key to his success. Kirkpatrick told interviewer Sue C. Smith on the Write About Jesus Workshop website that writing songs became an outlet for his feelings, which he had trouble expressing in other ways. "I've always been a kind of quiet, shy person, and I found a way to let people know how I felt. It was very powerful." He also commented that his writing served both as a kind of therapy and as an ongoing journal of his life.
Although Kirkpatrick, like many teenagers, worked at a variety of jobs---waiting tables, cleaning movie theaters, taking inventory at a hardware store---it was clear to him and to his family that he had a gift for music. By the time he graduated from high school he had a portfolio of original songs, many of which he performed during services at his father's church. At the age of 18 he moved to Nashville to attend Belmont College.
Kirkpatrick planned to find work as a singer and songwriter, but soon after arriving in the city, he decided it might be better to focus his energy on his songwriting. This strategy paid off, and by 1984 he had an exclusive publishing deal with Merrit Music. His big break came in 1984, when his brother sent one of his demo tapes to Christian singer Amy Grant's manager, Michael Blanton. Blanton had a reputation for discovering new talent, and soon afterward Blanton arranged for Kirkpatrick's song "What a Way to Go" to be recorded by artist Billy Sprague.
In 1985 Kirkpatrick began collaborating with Grant on her Unguarded album. The album included several hits written by Kirkpatrick, including "Good for Me," "Lead Me On," and "Stay for a While." Grant told Smith, "Wayne's ace in the hole is the way he hears melody in his head. I hope we write together for a long, long time."
Won Grammy Award
In 1986 Kirkpatrick began working for Rocketown label founder Michael W. Smith, collaborating with him on Smith's The Big Picture album. Their relationship would prove to be both lasting and productive, as Kirkpatrick began to write songs for artists in many different genres. In 1996 Kirkpatrick and his cowriters won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for Eric Clapton's hit single "Change the World." Kirkpatrick had written the song several years earlier with Gordon Kennedy and Tommy Sims, and Wynonna Judd had recorded a version. Kirkpatrick had never thought that Eric Clapton would be interested in his work, but he was, and the result was a success for everyone involved. The song spent 13 weeks at Billboard's number one spot, and was popular in the United States and abroad. In addition to winning the Song of the Year award, Clapton's version also won Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Male Vocal Performance.
Although several of Kirkpatrick's songs had achieved success, he had difficulty finding artists to record some of his other work. According to Smith, Kirkpatrick said that these songs "were too personal, or they were just things that a particular artist wouldn't say. I began to feel, 'If I don't do these, chances are no one will hear them.'"
Produced Debut Album
Kirkpatrick received negative comments from some Christian listeners and reviewers, many of whom believed some of his work was too "new age," most notably songs he had written for Susan Ashton, such as "Better Angels of Our Nature" and "Summer Solstice." The song "Kentucky Rose," which he co-wrote with Ashton, prompted one Christian DJ to call for a boycott of his work, because the DJ felt that the song was "new age," not Christian, music.
These issues drove Kirkpatrick to consider recording an album of his own. At first he thought he might do covers of several of his songs that had previously been recorded by others. But his desire to have his own voice heard, both as a singer and as a writer, won out. The result was his debut album, The Maple Room, which he released on the Rocketown label in 2000. Kirkpatrick told Smith, "The kind of stuff I want to do is really on the fringe of Christian music. Rocketown would work with me and not against me in that." He told writer Charlene Blevins at the BMI website, "A lot of things just lined up.... Rocketown understood who I was and the history I had in music, and they were willing to let me go off and do the vision I had for a record."
Partly in response to the claims that his music was "too new age," Kirkpatrick wrote the song "That's Not New Age," which appeared on The Maple Room. Kirkpatrick told Smith that the song describes a type of Christianity that "doesn't allow for uncertainty and questions, but it's also a song that urges Christians not to allow the New Age movement to appropriate the symbols that are sacred to Christianity." He added, "That's one of the songs I knew would never be recorded by someone else. I just wanted to say, 'What are you all so afraid of?'" Smith also quoted him as saying, "I don't mind if people disagree. I like songs that challenge you to think."
A reviewer on the Realmagazine.com website commented that in some of the 13 songs on The Maple Room, Kirkpatrick's "imagery is brilliant, such as in 'Kiss the Cheek of the Moon,' and he doesn't rely on trite pop standards, instead inserting 'crucible,' 'terminal insomniac' and other words that prove his writing ability."
Since releasing The Maple Room, Kirkpatrick has continued to write and produce. Although he has had a successful career both as a record producer and as a singer, his main focus remains on his writing. He told Smith, "If I couldn't do anything else, that's what I would do. I would write." He added, "It is like a painter standing before a blank canvas and not saying, 'I want to paint something someone will buy,' but instead saying, 'I want to paint something beautiful.'" In Christianity Today, Karey Kirkpatrick discussed his brother's music: "Some people call his songs spiritual, some call them observational, some call them poetry, others say they are just good catchy tunes. Me, I just think they're all very Wayne. And they're all filled with the same truthful quality they've always had."
by Kelly Winters
Wayne Kirkpatrick's Career
Began writing songs as a teenager; signed a publishing contract with Merrit Music, 1984; collaborated with Amy Grant on her Unguarded album, 1985; co-wrote Grammy-winning hit "Change the World" for Eric Clapton, 1996; released his debut solo album, The Maple Room, 2000.
Wayne Kirkpatrick's Awards
NSAI Songwriter Achievement Awards for "Every Heartbeat," 1991, and for "Change the World," 1996; Dove Award, Producer of the Year, 1994; Grammy Award for "Change the World," 1996.
- Selected discography
- The Maple Room Rocketown, 2000.
- "Wayne Kirkpatrick Biography," Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/artists/waynekirkpatrick.html (June 28, 2004).
- "Wayne Kirkpatrick Has Something He Wants to Say," Write About Jesus, http://www.writeaboutjesus.com/songwriterinterviews.html (June 28, 2004).
- "Wayne Kirkpatrick," Realmagazine.com, http://www.realmagazine.com/new/reviews/kirkpatrick1.html (June 28, 2004).
- "Wayne Kirkpatrick Speaks for Himself," BMI, http://www.bmi.com/musicworld/features/200009/wkirkpatrick.asp (June 28, 2004).