Franklin Songstress Leslie Satcher Penning Hits for Country Music Royalty

Songwriting Legend Leslie Satcher
(Karli Pieropan Photography)

Nashville may be Music City, but it’s Franklin and Williamson County that many singers, songwriters, and musicians call home. Since 2006, hit songwriter Leslie Satcher and her husband/manager David Allen have made their five-acre Leiper’s Fork property their sanctuary. 

Some of country music’s biggest names and greatest legends have sung Leslie’s songs. It doesn’t get any bigger than George Strait. He skyrocketed her song “Troubadour” with Monty Holmes to a certified Platinum single, which has become an anthem for the “King of Country.”

In addition to Strait, Leslie has written songs for Reba, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Lainey Wilson, Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Kellie Pickler, Lee Ann Womack, Blake Shelton, Randy Travis, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and more. She’s best known for her “swampy, bluesy” style songs.

Leslie has received multiple BMI “Million-Air” awards recognizing a song’s one-millionth airplay. Contributing to countless Grammy, CMA and ACM award-winning projects, including two albums of her own, Leslie continues to write with music’s greatest talents across all genres. 

Follow along as we caught up with Leslie at the Harpeth Hotel as she shared her story about moving from Texas to Tennessee and why she especially loves her adopted hometown of Franklin. She’s as lovely and kind as she is talented. 

She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

Leslie is the on the right singing with her sister Jeannie on the left.

When she was 26 years old, Leslie Satcher moved from her hometown of Paris, Texas to Nashville to pursue her childhood dream of being a country singer. It was a big leap of faith to go from singing with her sister Jeannie as a young girl at home, and then in churches and schools to all the way to Music City. 

In those days, Barbara Mandrell Country, a museum dedicated to the Mandrell sisters, was located at 1510 Division Street near Music Row in Nashville. It even had a studio where you could record a song for $10 to popular tracks. It was there that Leslie heard herself sing with reverb for the first time. “I walked out of there with ten songs, and I was so excited,” she explained. 

A Chance Meeting with Naomi Judd

The same weekend she moved to town in 1988, Leslie wanted to go to church that Sunday. “I was raised Baptist, but I wanted to go to Christ Church,” a Pentecostal church near Brentwood. “When I went in, it was so jammed there were no seats. But it was rockin’. A man at the entrance said there was a seat left up front by the lady with the hat.”

As Leslie made her way toward the front and sat down, the lady with the hat turned to her and smiled and said, “Well hi, I’m Naomi, what’s your name?” That chance meeting was the beginning of a long friendship between Leslie and the one-and-only Naomi Judd. She was living with her daughters Wynonna and Ashley in a Franklin farmhouse off Del Rio Pike at the time. 

Naomi and Leslie quickly became good friends. “The reason I’m sitting here today is because every Saturday Naomi and her husband Larry Strickland took about ten of us aspiring singers/musicians under their wing. It was me, my sister Jeannie, Angie and Guy Penrod, who later sang for the Gaither Vocal Band, and some others. We became a family.”

The Making of a Songwriter

“Larry would take us for breakfast at Dotson’s and go to their farm in Leiper’s Fork. We would ride horses and have a cookout. The Judds were superstars and on the road a lot. Larry began shepherding us in our careers.” Leslie had no idea songwriting was a paid profession. 

“When I was out on the road with them to watch them sing, I started showing my songs to Naomi. She would make suggestions like cutting the lyrics in half. She told me, ‘Leslie, you have to catch them in the first couple lines, and you only have two minutes to change their life.’ Naomi really helped me a lot, even though we never wrote together. She would critique my songs, and that’s how I got started as a songwriter.”

The man who helped launch The Judds’ career, musician/producer Don Potter, and Larry began working with her. They were hoping to start a publishing company and wanted to sign Leslie. But Naomi’s diagnosis of hepatitis C changed their plans.

Chasing That Neon Rainbow

Never to be deterred, Leslie went on to make some money singing demos, typically $40 a song. One day, she showed up at Fireside Recording Studios in Nashville. It was built by Porter Waggoner so he could record Dolly’s music. Leslie sat down on a bench with two other singers. Leslie explains, “The first girl gets up and proceeds to peel the paint off the wall.” Leslie turned to the other girl, Ronna Reeves, and asked the name of the girl singing. Ronna said, “Oh, she just got here. Her name is Martina McBride.” Little would Leslie know, ten years later, Martina would sing one of her songs making it one of her biggest hits. 

Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, Martina McBride, Brett Warren, Leslie Satcher and Kayleigh Shoemaker. Photo: Courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

One of Leslie’s friends encouraged her to audition for the Bluebird after the publishing deal didn’t work out with Don and Larry. She made the cut and met hit songwriter Max T. Barnes who headlined that night. Max T’s father, Max D. Barnes is a member of Nashville Songwriters Association’s International Hall of Fame.

Max T. told Leslie, “I want to start writing with you, and I’ll help you get a publishing deal.” At the time, Leslie was working for Sparrow Records, a Christian label in Brentwood. Every night after work, she would drive to Music Row and write songs with him. He would then turn them into his publisher. The fourth song they turned in was put on hold by a new artist by the name of Jody Messina.

Publishing Deals and All the Feels

In 1992, Island Bound, a new division of MCA, signed Leslie to a publishing deal and gave her a corner office and a writing salary. She was off to the races! Within a couple years, Leslie went from having no cuts to having two to three cuts each on major artists’ records. “It snowballed at about the two and half to three-year mark, which was the industry standard at the time,” Leslie explained. People would say, “If you don’t have a publishing deal in five years, you’re not a writer. If you don’t have a record deal in ten years, you’re not a singer.”

“I got my publishing deal the fifth year I lived here. I got my record deal with Warner Bros. the tenth year I lived here. I was blessed.”

Her first cut was with Susie Luchsinger, Reba’s sister, for a country Christian album. Her first real country cut was on an album for Sara Evans.

Leslie was getting noticed by industry greats. Her first hit was with Pam Tillis with a song called “I Said a Prayer for You.” Pam went on to record several of Leslie’s songs. Then Patty Loveless and Joe Diffie began recording her songs. Leslie’s hopes and dreams were coming true. 

When God-Fearing Women Get the Blues

The next major hit was when Martina McBride cut her song “When God-Fearing Women Get the Blues.” The video was filmed in Frankfort, Kentucky where she met her husband David. Her song “Politically Uncorrect”, sung by Merle Haggard and Gretchen Wilson was even nominated for a Grammy.

“Troubadour” – The Song That Defined George Strait

The backstory for Leslie’s hit “Troubadour” is pretty fascinating how it all came to be. In 2007, she had a meeting in the Starstruck building with top producer Tony Brown at MCA to write some songs for Brooks and Dunn. Typically, she never plugged her own songs, and had a song plugger at Sony do it for her. It’s tough to have your songs turned down, she shared, so it’s easier to have someone be the middleman.

But she made an exception for her old friend Tony. While she was there, Tony said, “What I want you to do is write me a song for George. Everyone thinks he’s retiring, and he’s not. He’s still young and out there having fun. I want you to write something like that.”

So the next day, Leslie had a session at Sony with fellow songwriter Monty Holmes. He said, “What are we going to write today?” She told him the George Strait story. Monty said, “How’s that gonna go?”

Leslie strummed her guitar, and said, “How about this…’I still feel twenty-five most of the time.’”

“Monty sang, ‘I still raise a little cane with the boys.’”

“I said, ‘Honky tonks and pretty woman.’ Then Monty chimed, ‘Lord I’m still right there with them.’’

“We did it line for line, until we hit the chorus. Then I heard a whisper, and I said to Monty, ‘How do you feel about the word troubadour?’ He loved it!”

They went on and wrote the chorus, and in about twenty minutes, the song was finished. Monty demoed it. They pitched it to the record label and publishing company for George, and it got turned down. Then it went on hold for another artist. Leslie and Monty were shocked and disappointed.

“I was like, this is George Strait’s song. It has to get to George.” In a moment of serendipity, right before it got cut by another artist, song plugger Janie West played the song for George while they were in Key West. She asked George, “You’re goin’ cut ‘Troubadour’ right?” He didn’t know what she was talking about. She said, “You haven’t heard ‘Troubadour’, it was written for you!”

Janie played it, and George loved it. He called his office and asked them to call Sony and put “Troubadour” on hold. It became the title track, and he went on and cut two more of Leslie’s songs on Troubadour, his twenty-fifth studio album. It’s the kind of lyric that matches the artist and only comes around once in a lifetime. That’s why Leslie’s songwriting is truly inspirational. Her simplicity is genius and touches your soul. I feel Naomi would be so proud.

Troubadour became Tony Brown’s only Grammy for producing an album. Tony continues to be a good friend to Leslie having produced her songs for Reba, Vince Gill, and George Strait.

The Changing Times of the Music Business

The music industry has changed dramatically because of streaming services like iTunes and Spotify. Sadly, streaming has financially hurt the pocketbooks of songwriters. In the 1990s, a Top 10 hit could garner $250,000. Today, millions of streams may only bring $1,000. Songwriters make a lot more money playing shows and singing their hits these days, than the actual hit.

Careers for new artists in the business arch so quickly. They go up fast, and come down fast. When Leslie arrived in Nashville, singer/songwriters had four to five years to hone their craft and establish a career, and then ten years of recording. New artists today don’t have that luxury. There was also a camaraderie back in the day of knowing and socializing with all the industry people on Music Row. There is no place to gather, because so much of it has been torn down. “We were blessed to have our career begin when they did. Thankfully, there is a groundswell of new talent trying to build community in other places.”

Leslie says these artists have to “learn the art of reinvention.” She is playing more shows and corporate speaking with topics like how to be your authentic self. “Authenticity is sustainable because it makes you an original,” says Leslie. 

David Allen and Leslie Satcher

Back in the day, publishers would pitch songs to the artists. But today, oftentimes, artists write with the songwriters. So the relationship is much closer between singers and songwriters.

“There are good and bad points with fewer barriers. The good points are you get to know the artist and what they want to sing about, you don’t waste any time writing songs they wouldn’t sing. 

The bad points are sometimes originality gets crushed down because you’re custom writing something for someone that you don’t let something just “fall out of you that God gives you” and turns out to be something wonderful, like “God-Fearing Women.”

“All Good Songs Come from God”

Leslie jokes, “All the good songs come from God, and the bad ones come straight from me. He gives me inspiration, and then there’s skill in how to craft a hit song. Naomi taught me that along with greats like Roger Murrah and others who taught me how to craft a commercial song.”

Keith Stegall & Roger Murrah - Nashville Songwriters Harpeth Hotel
Songwriters Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall

Leslie looks up to fellow Franklin songwriter Roger Murrah. “We revered Roger, he was king! We tried to write like them. You can write songs for years, and then one day, you write something that resonates and it takes off like a brush fire.” Read our backstory on Roger Murrah and Keith Stegall.

For some artists like Taylor Swift, her success came early. Other incredible songwriters like Chris Stapleton came later. He had been writing hit songs for other people. Then in an instant, one person on television says, “The best writer of country music is a guy named Chris Stapleton.” 

In 2015, Leslie signed a new multi-year publishing and administration deal with Notting Hill Music. One of her latest projects “2 Days In Muscle Shoals” features her band “The Electric Honey Badgers” and includes vocals by Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Trisha Yearwood and more.  One of Leslie’s songs “Prove You Wrong” was the 2019 single release from Sheryl Crow’s final studio album and featured Stevie Nicks, Maren Morris, Joe Walsh and Vince Gill.

Life in Franklin

Downtown Franklin (Trenton Lee Photography)

Even though Leslie did not move to Franklin until 2006, she has been coming here since 1998 when she moved to Tennessee. When she and David found their home in Leiper’s Fork, it was a little over budget. But another hit songwriter friend Paul Overstreet told her, “Buy a little more than you can afford, and you’ll work harder.”

The Franklin streetscape is beautiful. The roundabout is so beautiful at Christmas, and there’s even sparkles in the trees. Franklin is magical! We thank the Lord every time we drive through it.”

Leslie’s favorite restaurant is Merridee’s along with Puckett’s. Gray’s on Main is Leslie and David’s favorite date night restaurant. They love the vibe along with the fried chicken and mashed potatoes. She went into Gray’s back when it was still a drug store.  

“I miss some of the shops like Magic Memories and restaurants like Dotson’s. Thankfully, our friend Andy Marshall has revived that with Puckett’s, and we love Andy and the Marshall family and what they’ve meant to Franklin. Read our backstory on Puckett’s.

Her favorite shop is The Iron Gate. “Every time I go in there, it’s like my dream come true. The first time I went to a Martina McBride Christmas party, I recognized all these Iron Gate chandeliers.”  Both Leslie and her mother also love Hester & Cook

The Iron Gate

The Airbnb over Walton’s Jewelers is stunning. What Franklin is doing with those upper spaces above the shops is incredible. I love that the Historic Zoning Commission is strict. The overlay helps protect these historic houses, businesses, and churches. 

Our friend Aubrey Preston helped preserve Leiper’s Fork. They were literally going to plow through the town. Then they put in all the land covenants to protect it from huge developments. Now look at that little jewel we have out there. Everyone gets to enjoy it now.  

Buffie Baril, Lovely Franklin, and Songwriter Leslie Satcher

Songwriters of the Harpeth 

On Thursday, March 21st, we invite you to hear Leslie perform live in Songwriters at the Harpeth. She will join hit songwriters Roger Murrah, Pat Terry, and Mark Alan Springer for an incredible show featuring the stories behind the songs. Get your tickets here! 

Leslie continues to perform and share her angelic voice, funny stories, unique playing style, and her uncanny ability to connect with audiences. She stays busy with 150 songwriting sessions and 65 live performances annually all over the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Leslie’s albums, “Creation” and “Gypsy Boots” are available on iTunes, CD Baby and all major digital distributors.

We adore Leslie and wish her continued success. She makes all of Franklin so proud!

Sharing the backstories of historic Franklin with love,

About Buffie Baril

About Lovely Franklin

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Lovely Franklin is an exceptional publication….. appreciating, documenting,
    and celebrating people, places and things that make our community a great place to live.

Comments are closed.