August 14, 2010 / 2:15 AM / 8 years ago

Songwriting trio in demand for its country hits

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Anywhere else, the name “Peach Pickers” might conjure up images of farmers or fruit-laden orchards.

But along Nashville’s Music Row, it quickly has become known as the name of country music’s hottest songwriting team.

“We’re all from Georgia — it’s known as the Peach State — and we all pick guitars, so it kind of fell out one day,” Rhett Akins says of the moniker he and co-writers Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip adopted.

The three friends scored their first hit as a songwriting trio in 2008 with Brooks & Dunn’s “Put a Girl in It,” which reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. They also collaborated on Jack Ingram’s 2009 top 10 hit, “Barefoot and Crazy,” and Joe Nichols’ “Gimmie That Girl,” which topped the chart in May.

The songwriting trio has three songs on the current chart: Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight” (No. 5), Josh Turner’s “All Over Me” (No. 12) and Nichols’ “The Shape I’m In” (No. 47). The trio also has seven cuts on forthcoming albums by Tim McGraw, Colt Ford, Craig Morgan, Frankie Ballard and Kevin Fowler.

Much as production/songwriting teams the Matrix and the Neptunes have done in pop and hip-hop, the Peach Pickers have established themselves as a hit-making brand name in country.

“Chicks, trucks and beer,” Akins jokes when asked what he and his colleagues tend to write about. “We used to set out an album of Hank Williams Jr. and we’d say, ‘If Hank wouldn’t say it, we ain’t saying it.’”

EARLY PARTNERSHIP

Akins and Hayslip first wrote songs together when they were teens in Valdosta, Georgia. Akins moved to Nashville in 1992, where he realized his dreams of becoming a bona fide country star with hits like “That Ain’t My Truck,” which peaked at No. 3 on Hot Country Songs in 1995, and “Don’t Get Me Started,” which topped the ranking the following year.

Hayslip moved to Music City in 1994 to pursue a songwriting career, scoring his first hit with Jeff Bates’ “Long, Slow Kisses,” a top 20 single in 2005. By 2004, Albany, Georgia, native Davidson had also moved to Nashville, where he quickly made his mark as a songwriter, co-penning Trace Adkins’ 2006 No. 5 country hit, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” and collaborating with writers like Akins, Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser. In mid-2006, Akins and Davidson, who already had co-written songs together, teamed with Hayslip.

“Our style started out really rural,” Akins recalls. “Everything we wrote at first was dirt roads, beer and trucks. When Dallas met his wife, the songs started becoming a little more romantic. But we don’t write the slow, romantic love songs. We still write about the dirt road and the truck — we just put the girl in the truck.”

Hayslip, a father of three boys who coaches his sons’ baseball, football and basketball teams in his spare time, doesn’t aspire to be a recording artist. Akins and Davidson just recorded an album together that will be distributed by Warner Music Nashville.

“We’d like to write them all together, but life gets in the way,” Akins says. “It has turned out that each of us has missed out on a cut because we were out of town and the other ones will (say), ‘Well, that’s about a half a million-dollar dove hunt you went on there.’”

The trio has developed a musical chemistry that’s paid off handsomely. “I realize that the hotter Dallas gets,” Hayslip says, “the hotter Rhett gets, the hotter I get.”

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