When singer/songwriter Craig Bickhardt joined forces with Thom Schuyler, Fred Knobloch and Don Schlitz to comprise the original group doing Writers in the Round at the Bluebird Cafe, it was as a casual gathering amongst friends.
But now, many years later, Bickhardt understands he helped create something that’s now an institution.
He returns to the Bluebird Tuesday night for one of his periodic shows with Terri Hendrix, Peter Cooper and Lloyd Maines.
“At the time we kind of envisioned it as an opportunity for us to try out some of our songs and just do them in front of people,” Bickhardt remembered. “The Bluebird always had a reputation for being very good to songwriters and attracting audiences who really were serious about music. We didn’t even think about the fact that this might turn into something special or be a regular event, just that it was an opportunity for us to work together and perform our songs.”
Bickhardt has written more than 800 songs during his lengthy career, including tunes that have been covered by B.B. King, Martina McBride, Ray Charles, The Judds and Dianne Schuur. He made his first major impact in 1982, when a pair of his compositions were featured in the Oscar-winning film Tender Mercies starring Robert Duvall.
Bickhardt subsequently moved to Nashville, where he stayed 23 years and became an established part of the city’s songwriting community.
“I really loved my time in Nashville and still consider this home in many ways,” Bickhardt said. “But I had a son with special needs and the medical facilities and insurance programs back in Pennsylvania [his native state] were more extensive than what was available here. But I still really love performing here, keep in touch with a lot of my friends, and always love performing at the Bluebird.”
Bickhardt has a new CD that provides authoritative evidence of his versatility and prowess as both a vocalist and instrumentalist. Brother to the Wind features his strong, gritty voice and intense playing performing his pieces that in many cases have been done by others.
Such performers as Johnny Cash, Charlie Louvin, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood and Tony Rice have done some of the numbers on Brother to the Wind. It’s also a showcase for Bickhardt’s popularity among the Nashville musical universe, with such guests as Janis Ian, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Terri Hendrix, Lloyd Maines, Darrell Scott, Maura O’Connell, Rusty Young, Jack Sundrud and John Mock joining him at various times.
While some songwriters aren’t always happy about what others do with their original work, Bickhardt says he learns something from every rendition of his music that’s done by someone else.
“I know that people like Irving Berlin used to complain vehemently about what some people did with his songs, but to me it’s a learning experience every time someone covers your work,” Bickhardt said. “They may do something with the melody that you hadn’t thought about or they may take out something from a chorus or just phrase words differently and it makes you really take a second look at what you’ve done.
“I know there are times when someone did a song of mine in a different way and it influenced me when I went back to the song. I don’t think there’s anything bad that can possibly come from people covering your work.”
What: Singer/songwriter Craig Bickhardt along with Terri Hendrix, Peter Cooper and Lloyd Maines
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Bluebird Café, 4104 Hillsboro Road
Info: 383-1461, bluebirdcafe.com