The year was 1992, early summer, and Harlan Howard had an appointment to write with Kostas at Shoney’s Inn on Demonbruen. After forty plus years of professional songwriting, Harlan preferred to write early in the morning, so off he went. By this time, Harlan and Kostas were friends and had co-written several songs that were being well received on Music Row. Harlan arrived to find a frazzled Kostas who had been up most of the night and was on a roll. Kostas sang Harlan part of a song he was working on and said he was stuck. Harlan loved the idea but told Kostas he didn’t need his help to finish it. Kostas disagreed, and they proceeded to finish the song.
Harlan returned home shortly thereafter, and I questioned him about the co-write session. Since he was only gone about an hour, I figured they didn’t have an idea to write. Wrong. Harlan casually flung a cassette tape in my direction; and said, we wrote this song. Then he mentioned that he was going out to “check his traps” which was code for drinking and hanging out at a bar listening to stories from patrons and bartenders. He got many ideas and song titles from this type of research and development. It was a way for him to stay current as a writer. His life was pretty comfortable by this point, and in order to write blue collar songs for blue collar folks, he immersed himself in that crowd.
I put the cassette in the player and hit play. I listened to the work tape on repeat all day long. When Harlan came home I was singing along to every word. I had memorized the chorus and gushed when Harlan asked me what I thought of the song. It’s a smash, I said! He smiled and said yes, it is a catchy little tune.
Fast forward a few months and many song meetings later, Emory Gordy, Jr. who is married to and produced Patty Loveless said he was cutting the song on Patty. I love Patty Loveless; I’m a fan, so I was thrilled that they loved the song. Patty had left MCA Records and this was to be her first release on Sony Records. The only problem was one of the guys at Sony didn’t particularly like the song. He told Harlan it was a ditty. Harlan laughed and said so was “Achy Breaky Heart” and look what it accomplished.
Then, my friend, Renee Bell, who was still doing A&R at MCA was out one night with River Phoenix. After a night of revelry, they ended up playing songs and she played him the demo of “Blame It On Your Heart.” At about 3AM that morning, the home phone rang. I answered it convinced something awful had happened. What I heard was a drunken slur of “I love this song, I’m going to record it for the movie.” I said, who is this and finally figured out the connection of why River Phoenix was calling me at the ungodly, pre-dawn hour. Emergency avoided, I told him to call back when he was sober.
River Phoenix did cut “Blame It On Your Heart” in the movie he was staring in called, Thing Called Love. Patty had also cut the song. Emory called and mentioned they had shipped out the first single to radio and our song was to be the second single. When I mentioned to Emory that the movie soundtrack had the right to release the song as a single, he asked me to fax him that page of the contract which I did. Later that day, Emory called back saying Sony was pulling the first single and releasing, “Blame It On Your Heart” as Patty’s first single on her album Only What I Feel.
“Blame It On Your Heart” was a number one hit for Patty. It also received BMI’s Robert J. Burton Award for the most performed country song in 1994. It is still one of my favorite Harlan Howard songs. Thanks Kostas for including Harlan on such a fantastic song, you really didn’t have to, but I’m sure glad you did. Thanks to Patty and Emory for their belief in the song. Patty’s vocal along with Emory’s dynamic track is still appealing to listen to twenty five years later. Thanks Renee for championing the song…it really does take a village to make a song a hit song.
Respectfully written June 10th, 2019
Blame It On Your Heart Video
Harlan's own words on how "Blame It On Your Heart" was written:
Harlan, Patty Loveless and Kostas at #1 Party for "Blame It On Your Heart".