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Back Stories: Chiseled In Stone

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Whenever I'm asked what is my favorite country song of all-time, my answer is always the same "Chiseled In Stone". Though the song does not include any references to trains, momma, trucks, dirt roads, prison or For me it is truly the quintessential country song rooted in a real-life altering experience best understood when you are in the trenches.

Some grief takes longer to confront, process, and heal. In 1975, Max D. Barnes lost his oldest son Patrick in a car accident. Max remembers looking at the tombstone, and feeling a gut-wrenching type of pain that was unbearable, and real. Max D. Barnes from Hard Scratch, Iowa started to write a first draft of the song with his younger son Max T. Barnes. If that is a name you recognize, it's for good reason. Max T has penned Colin Raye ("Love, Me") and Vern Gosdin ("Way Down Deep". The Barnes also have the distinction of being the first father, and son to be nominated for CMA Song of the Year.

Vern Gosdin, and Max D. Barnes knew each other from Ovation Records,where both had recording contracts. Max is said to have written songs every single day, and Vern was always at Max's house writing with him. Their output was tremendous, and generated many accolades. Though you might be thinking that the song is not representative of losing your 18 year old son in a car accident. But that in itself is the rub. It is the well of emotion that you draw from in order to write about pain that can barely be spoken about. But if you change the narrative just slightly it isn't exactly the same situation. By doing so, you retain the emotion, without having to relive the situation again. It sounds like Max D. Barnes knew how to do that. And Vern at the time having weathered two failed marriages, and the death of his dear brother Rex knew how to deliver a highly charged emotional song.

Vern was a walking heartache, there's a reason why he was called "The Voice".

The song is about a man who goes to a bar after arguing with his wife. There he meets an old man who tells him how wrong he really is. The old man shared that his wife has passed on, and how he misses her terribly. He goes on to tell the sad man that he should be thankful that he has someone to go home to.

My favorite lyric: "Another piece of heaven gone to hell"

Those words make the protagonist think about what a fool he's been. He buys flowers for his wife, and goes back home to ask for forgiveness. I think one of the reasons the song hits hard is because we would feel horrible, if the last words we uttered to a loved one was in anger. We always think we'll get a chance to make things right, but sometimes that's just not the case. And you never want to be in that position..never..

Bob Montgomery had told Vern to write a knocked out ballad song for the album. Max didn't want to, but Vern convinced Max. Bob Montgomery produced the record. You might not know that Bob was one of Buddy Holly's early songwriting partners, and also wrote "Back In Baby's Arms" for Patsy Cline.

But Bob Montgomery might be best known as the Vice President of CBS Records where he signed Joe Diffie, Doug Stone and Collin Raye. The record also featured Nashville A-Team Session musicians Mark Casstevens on acoustic guitar, and Jim Vest, and Sonny Garrish on steel.

Vern believed so much in the song that he named his album after it. The song was a game changer for Vern in the same way that "He Stopped Loving Her Today" was for George Jones. Many refer to the song, and album as Vern's career record or his comeback. Tammy Wynette once said that, with Vern's rich baritone voice, he was "the only other singer who can hold a candle to George Jones".And I do think she was right.

Awards & Accolades

1989 CMA Song of the Year

#6 Billboard Hot Country Songs

1988 Grammy Nominated Country Song of the Year

1989 ASCAP Award - "Chiseled In Stone"

1988 Nashville Songwriters Association Song of the Year - "Chiseled In Stone"

1988 CMA Album of the Year - "Chiseled In Stone" (Nominated)

1988 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year (Nominated)

#70 CMT 100 Greatest Country Songs

1990 RIAA Certified Gold

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