Mantachie songwriter takes top prize in Nashville contest

Mantachie’s Shay Guess has been writing songs since he was a kid.
“I’ve always made up songs, but at 12 years old I just started writing them down,” Guess said, adding this initial step lead to countless others. “When I started writing them down, it just seemed like one song would lead right into another.”
Now, more than two decades and dozens of songs later, Guess is finding some measure of success. In fact, his song, “They Think I’m Strong,” was recently named second place winner in the eighth annual Nashville Songwriter’s Festival. The song was played before a crowd of music lovers and studio executives on Music Row in Nashville and has earned its author a chance at a national prize.
Guess said it was his first attempt at submitting one of his song’s for competition even though he’s been penning and recording them for years.
“You can look around the county and find a lot of people who are gifted that nobody will ever know about,” Guess said. “I was satisfied being one of them, but on a whim I just decided to see what will happen.”
The songwriter said he was extremely surprised at the results of the contest.
“I really wasn’t expecting much, to be honest,” he said. “I’ve tried to shop this song to a couple of artists before entering it into the songwriting competition, and it just really wasn’t in their mode of what they were doing.”
Inspiration
“They Think I’m Strong,” like most of Guess’ songs, pulls its inspiration from real-life events. It’s a mid-tempo, country/folk piece with a focus on piano and emotional vocals performed by the author himself.
Guess said the song was inspired by a family member’s struggle.
“You’ve got people in your life who you know are strong; anything that hits them, they can pretty much take it. But, at some point they just reach a breaking point,” Guess said, adding that a painful phone conversation with an uncle who was emotionally drained by a loved one’s sickness inspired the piece.
“As soon as I hung up the phone, the only thing I could do to kind of gather myself was sit down at my keyboard. I wrote this song in about 25 minutes, word-for-word.”
Guess said it actually took years to sit down and cut the vocals, however, because it was such a difficult, emotional song to sing. Personal and powerfully stated, the song is an important one to its author, even if it hadn’t performed well at competition. Guess said he writes because he loves it not because of any lust for fame.
“Songwriting was just something I could do that seemed to come easy to me,” Guess said. “Then people started taking notice and now here we are: second place in the first songwriting contest I’ve ever entered.”
Sharing songs has provided Guess with innumerable rewards. He said there’s something special about hearing someone else perform a song you wrote, a kind of spark that lights an internal fire.
“I’ve traveled with some of these groups who have recorded my music. You show up, don’t know anyone from Adam, and they start singing a song you wrote and everybody in the building is singing along with them because they have the CD,” Guess said. “You remember where you were and what you were thinking when you wrote the song, and to have this whole congregation singing along with you … it’s pretty awesome.”
To hear Guess’ prize-winning song “They Think I’m Strong,” visit americansongspace.com /shayguess or itawamba360.com.

Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times