A great song can be timeless. It can also be a time capsule.
Take for example Reba McEntire’s 1994 hit “Why Haven’t I Heard From You.” Thereupon, the Country Music Hall of Famer wonders aloud why a love interest didn’t call. He has no excuse because phones are everywhere.
“Now there’s one on every street corner, at the back of every bar,” she sings.
“You can have one in your briefcase, on a plane, or in your car.”
Ah, simpler times. Thankfully, the song’s fiery sentiment and bluesy soul haven’t aged a day. Sandy Knox, who co-wrote “Heard From You” with TW Hale, shared the story behind the song with Bart Herbison of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.
Bart Herbison: You have created a lot of success for Reba. Do you all know each other? (That song) and “Does He Love You” came at a time in Reba’s career. I’m not sure we say “Reba” as an iconic name in one word without these songs.
Sandy Knox: Oh interesting. I had four cuts on Reba. Three were single, in a row. It was a rarity. It was we’re talking about ’92, ’93, ’94. ‘Cause she cut ‘He wants to get married’, then ‘Does he love you’, then ‘Why haven’t I heard of you’ and finally ‘She thinks his name was John “.
But back to “Why haven’t I heard of you.” I am a big reader. And I think if you want to be a writer, you better be a reader too. It is important. And I loved devouring certain magazines: Smithsonian (Magazine), National Geographic, etc. And this song originated from an article in September 1988. National Geographic did, I believe, an entire issue on the contributions of Alexander Graham Bell.
It made me start to think (roughly) how completely the invention of the telephone had changed the way people dated, courted. Before the telephone, if someone wanted to call someone, they literally had to put down their calling card, which was the ancestor of business cards. And say, “I’d like to call you on Friday at six o’clock.” The phone changed that…and then I started thinking about trajectory. People could call from their car, from the corner of the street, from an airplane. So that’s where this idea comes from: there’s no excuse not to hear from anyone.
BH: So you take that on a writing date with TW Hale. Do you remember that day?
Sask. : “T Dub” and I used to meet at ASCAP. I just told him about the idea. I said, “I think it should be kind of a fun rhythm mix.” And I like to write with co-writers who are really good at their instrument. T Dub’s instrument is the guitar. So we went from there. I had already written some lyrics. I kind of knew the script and stuff, but T Dub and I worked really well together. It was pretty quick writing, I think. I also like to write the (background vocals). I like to incorporate them into the songs that I write.
BH: Now on to the video. I also have a theory on this. Reba has become a legit actress, she really did, and the first time I noticed it was in this video. Go back and check out some of his facial expressions. And I have to say, Sandy, if I didn’t know better, I would have said, “Did you all write that in the video script?” But the video script followed what you all wrote. I mean, you wrote Reba’s first mini-movie, in my opinion, and I love that video.
Sask. : Well, that was the one she was in the beauty salon – or the barbershop. I date myself when I say “beauty salon”.
BH: I saw him again this morning. I was dancing in the play, Sandy Knox. People have to go watch this. And it still holds today, all these years later.
Sask. : Apart from the fact that there are no (more) phone booths. There’s the line, “There’s one at every corner, at the bottom of every bar.” Everyone is on their own phone now. That’s the only thing. I try not to timestamp the songs in the lyrics. But anyway, it was a really fun video. But you know, they never spoke to us. When they’re making the video, they should come up to the writers and say, “Tell us where you got that idea from, where it came from, so maybe we can follow that in the video.” But I mean, all of Reba’s videos, like you said, are mini-movies. They are fantastic and she does a great job.
BH: ..she could play, and that’s when I saw her for the first time. So I’m also saying that Reba owes you her acting career.
Sask. : (laughs) I don’t…
BH: Stick to my side of the story (laughs). I like it better. And that, Sandy?
Sask. : I do not know. But you asked earlier if she and I were friends. Yes we are friends. In fact, she came to dinner in October (of last year). And so I see her from time to time. She’s pretty busy. But I see her.
…She’s easy to be with. She is funny. She has a great sense of humor. She will laugh at herself. She was wonderful with me.
About the series
In partnership with the Nashville Songwriters Association International, the “Story Behind the Song” video interview series features Nashville-connected songwriters discussing one of their compositions. For full video interviews with all of our topics, visit www.tennessean.com/music.