Irving native Liz Rose has spent two decades writing songs for Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift. Now the Grammy-winning tunesmith is finally starting to write for herself.
"I'm not trying to get on the radio or be an artist," says Rose, 59. "I'm just trying to have fun and tell my story."
Mission accomplished. Rose's debut album, Swimming Alone, is an amusing and often poignant collection of true-life stories about her Texas childhood and family.
The youngest of six kids, the former Liz Wagner attended Irving High School in the early '70s and worked weekends at her parents' Ben Franklin store in Oak Cliff -- a job that inspired her new song "Five and Dime."
But teenage Liz was less interested in work or school than she was in learning how to become a hippie. She laments being "too young for Woodstock" in one song from Swimming Alone. In another, she sings "I was a California dreamer in a hot Texas town / I was too young to drive but I still got around."
"I was sneaking out all the time, hitchhiking to Lee Park," she says, referring to Dallas' ground zero for hippies and LSD in the Age of Aquarius. "I was pretty wild. It's kind of a miracle I'm still alive."
Rose didn't start writing tunes until the mid-'90s when she moved to Nashville with her second husband, songwriter Johnny Rose, and their two daughters. When her marriage crumbled, Rose picked up the pieces, found a job at a publishing company and discovered she had a knack for songwriting in her late 30s.
"I never dreamed of songwriting -- never," she says. "But at the time, I was divorced, I was a single mom, and I was like, 'I need to support myself ... They're gonna pay me to write songs? Cool! Let's go!' "
In 2003, Rose co-wrote "Songs About Rain," a Top 20 hit for Gary Allan. Two years later, she teamed up with an unknown high school freshman named Taylor Swift.
Rose co-wrote seven songs on Swift's eponymous 2006 debut album, which sold more than 5 million copies. Before Swift went in a pop direction in 2014, Rose co-wrote 20 songs with her, including the Grammy-winning "White Horse" and the chart-topping "You Belong With Me."
"It's weird for me, because I'm a lyricist, but it had to be her words to work -- it couldn't have been a 50-year-old's words," Rose says of co-writing with Swift, who is 32 years her junior. "Honestly, I just brought a good ear and I was a good sounding board for her. She's brilliant ... I stayed out of the way and I made sure it was her voice."
Since then, Rose has written for dozens of artists, including Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town, for whom she co-wrote the Grammy-winning No. 1 hit "Girl Crush." Despite her success in the music biz, Rose takes a hands-off approach with her 29-year-old daughter, country singer Caitlin Rose.
"Someone asked me if I was a 'Mom-ager' and I said, 'Oh my God, no -- 'cause she won't let me,' " Rose says with a laugh during a phone interview while driving from her Nashville home to the publishing company she owns, Liz Rose Music.
"I'm very supportive of her music, but I didn't open any doors for her. She's got to go her own way, and we're completely different, musically. She's a true artist, and I'm just a songwriter."
Not anymore. Swimming Alone marks the arrival of Liz Rose as a singer and performer, although she admits that she feels uncomfortable in those new roles.
"The hardest thing has been having the confidence to stand up and sing when I'm not a great singer," she says. "But I try not to be too self-conscious. I tend to do things without thinking about it, which is kind of how I made this record: I just looked back and said 'Wow, I've had a pretty cool life. I have stories to tell ... OK, I'll make a record!' "