Rory Bourke ’60

The list of country music legends who have recorded the songs of Rory Bourke ’60 is exhaustive. You’ll surely recognize the names: Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich, Anne Murray, Ronnie Milsap, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw.
 
With hits like “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Shadows in the Moonlight,” Bourke’s songs are some of country music’s most enduring favorites. And considering that Bourke himself has made a living writing songs in Nashville for more than 40 years, by now his talent and reputation have just as much staying power as his tunes.
 
“It’s a bigger crapshoot than anyone can possibly imagine,” he says of making it big in Nashville. “I mean, you come in and you don’t know anybody. You have to find a way into the system somehow, and you have to work 10 or 12 years before you might even make a dime. Most people come here, they get off a bus, and when they hit the ground they’re looking around saying ‘What do I do next?’”
 
Bourke himself did not have to take that route to songwriting success. When he arrived in Nashville at age 27 to do national promotions for Mercury Records, he had already been with the company several years. By the time he left Mercury to pursue songwriting full-time a few years later, “I knew just about everybody in town,” he says.
 
Most importantly, he had an influential mentor in music publisher Don Gant, who told Henry Hurt, VP and general manager at Chappell Music, “You need to sign this guy.” So he did. Bourke became a staff songwriter at Chappell Music and at PolyGram Music.
 
In 1989 Bourke was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, something he calls “every songwriter’s dream.” “I was elated,” he says of the honor. “I felt relieved.”
 
But for all his success, the most meaningful song Bourke’s ever written is one that hits closer to home – the one he wrote upon becoming a father for the first time. It’s about his oldest daughter, Allyson, and it’s called “Your Love’s Been a Long Time Coming.”
 
“Elvis recorded it,” Bourke says. “And that song really means something to me, because she’s 40 now and she’s a terrific woman.”
 
And that’s Bourke, a family man first, a music man second. This is a man who married his college sweetheart, Rita Welty, six months after he met her. She shared his love of music, and in the early days of their marriage she told him, “We’re going to buy a piano and I’m going to write your lead sheets for you.”
 
Bourke’s daughters, too, recall a father who could make a tune out of anything, such as passing potatoes at the dinner table. For Bourke, it’s all been part of an amazing life.
 
“I just have to pinch myself sometimes,” he says. “When I look back at this incredible journey I’ve had, I can’t help but feel gratitude.”
 
At what point did you know you wanted to be a songwriter?
Music was always a great outlet for me. After I learned to play guitar “a little bit” in college, I started writing songs. By the time I graduated from college I knew I wanted to write songs.
 
You have been married to Rita for 50 years. You have three daughters, Allyson, Kelley and Leslie. What impact has your family had on your career?
They’ve always been there for me. They’re the ones I come home to. Their encouragement, through both good times and hard times, has been so important to me.
 
Who was your best teacher at Gilmour?
John Gale had a tremendous influence on me. I was a kid in a weird place, and he was very helpful. He busted my butt sometimes, he encouraged me, he was just a great guy.
 
What’s your favorite thing about Nashville?
The people. They’re so friendly. Nashville is a friendly place.
 
I read that, as a kid, you went up to the roof and shouted, “I am Rory Bourke! I am Rory Bourke!!” Why do you think you did that?
I haven’t the slightest idea. I never felt like I was going places. All I knew was that I wanted to go places.
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