Teea Goans went from little opry singer to renowned songwriter. Why she's headed to Henderson

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Ten months ago, Teea Goans fulfilled a little Midwestern girl’s dream.

“I think from the time I was really young, singing on little (small-town) opry shows, the goal became, ‘I want to go to Nashville and sing on the Grand Ole Opry,’” Goans said in a recent interview. “I think it was second grade, on career day, when I told my class what I was going to do.”

Decades would pass before her dream came true, and when it did, she did it in an astonishing manner. On the evening of Sept. 17, 2021, she stopped into the famous circle on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry — a six-foot piece of oak and maple cut from the stage of the old Ryman Auditorium — and not only sang, but performed a song that she co-wrote.

What’s extraordinary about it is that just two years earlier, Goans wasn’t even a songwriter.

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But she is now, and she’s returning to Henderson to be one of the country songsmiths performing in the 12th annual Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriters Festival, Wednesday through Saturday.

How she got here is itself worthy of a country song.

Goans grew up in little Lowry City on the plains of western Missouri. “I started singing when I was very young,” following in the footsteps of her grandmother, who had been a singer performing in local and Kansas City-area venues.

Little Teea performed at “little talent shows and fairs around where I lived,” she said.

When she was just 8 years old, she was invited to join a country music band named for tiny Tightwad, Missouri (population 56). It often performed at the nearby Truman Lake Opry.

“It seated about 600 people,” Goans said. “From eight to 19, I was pretty much doing the opry show circuit every weekend. It was really good training” for a future career in country music.

“For a number of years, I didn’t know any other kind of music existed,” she said. “In grade school when people were talking about Madonna, I’d say, ‘I don’t know who that is.’”

In junior high, she was introduced to Frank Sinatra. A year later, she first heard The Beatles. “So my music world opened,” Goans said.

After earning an associate’s degree in human services to provide her a backup plan, she moved to Nashville in 2002 to pursue Plan A.

A songwriter’s journey

“When I got here, I didn’t know anyone,” Goans said. She started networking and meeting people.

“Everyone said, ‘You’ve got to write (songs), you’ve got to write,’” she said. “For a few years, that’s what I did. At the time, it didn’t feel like a thing I should be doing. I think it was because I was writing for other people: So-and-so needed an upbeat love song. To me it felt kind of forced. So I kind of got away from writing.”

The hazel-eyed blonde “started singing and recorded some albums — mostly other people’s songs, covers. For 10 years, that’s what I did.

“Then this pesky pandemic in 2020 sort of shut everyone down, especially those of us in the entertainment industry.

“When everything shut down, I was at a crossroads: Is this the end?” Goans said. One day, “I was in my car driving — I can show you right where I was — when I heard God say, ‘It’s time to write.’ I thought, well I don’t do that, I tried that and don’t like it. I fought it for a while.

“Within about two weeks of from that moment, I got message from Jim ‘Moose’ Brown, who I had never met.”

But she knew who he was. Everybody in the music business in Nashville knew who Moose Brown was. He was a record producer, a sought-after studio musician, a member of Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band and a songwriter who, with Don Rollins, won a Grammy for penning the Alan Jackson-Jimmy Buffett 2003 No. 1 hit, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”

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Brown was also aware of Goans. “Four or five years ago I was flipping around on YouTube and I saw her singing and I thought, ‘Who is this? She’s amazing. Why do I not know her?” he recalled.

She by then had four albums of cover songs; maybe he saw the segment of her singing Merle Haggard’s “I Didn’t Mean to Love You” on Country Music TV (Vince Gill was in the audience for the recording of the video).

“She is one of the most amazing singers I ever heard,” Brown said. “That’s what first caught my ear. I was hoping she was a writer.”

They became Facebook friends. Then, during that pandemic shutdown, Goans said Brown sent her a message to the effect of. “Hey, I’d love to work with you, even if it’s just writing.”

Songwriting. Goans had given up songwriting. Moose Brown himself had very nearly retired from writing as well, at one point saying he was too old to be writing about, say, tailgating or other things young folks do.

Nonetheless, “Moose and I met a couple of weeks after that and just talked for about an hour,” she said “He’s from Arkansas, I’m from Missouri, so we had similar upbringings.

“That day we started and finished a song, and it came out so naturally and freely, we were both kind of like, did that just happen?”

Ironically, that first song was titled “Easy.”

Lyrics came easily

“Every time we sat down to write, we started and finished a song,” Goans said. “… These songs were just coming out of me. This was 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. These songs, honestly, it was therapy for me.”

Goans and Brown were meeting every few weeks at his studio (“The Moose Lodge”) and came up with a song each time — “10 songs we wrote in 10 days” spread over about nine months, according to Brown.

“Every time we did it, a song poured out,” Brown said. “She’s a great writer and she inspired me.” He said Goans drew inspiration from a cross-country road trip on Route 66 she had taken with her husband “and she saw a lot of things she had never seen.”

“When we would get together,” Goans said, “he would say, ‘What do want to say?’ A lot of people in his position would say, ‘Here’s what I would say’ or ‘Here’s how you do it.”

“I think she had a lot to say, a lot on her mind,” Brown said. “… She had this particular way of looking at life. I just kind of felt I steered her a little bit, helped her say what she wanted to say.”

At one point, Brown took Goans to the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to write with singer-songwriter James LeBlanc (who helped penned “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” a Top 10 hit for Travis Tritt).

After about nine months, Brown declared, “We’ve got enough of these, we could put something together.”

To Goans, it was an astonishing declaration. “We had no intention of doing an album,” she said.

But an album — a very independent album, produced by Brown — is what they proceeded to create.

A departure

Her fans have praised Goans for singing traditional country. But working with Brown, she found herself exploring new territory.

They had written “What’s a Girl to Do” about a woman jilted and alone in a bar. They needed a melody.

“Willie Nelson had just put his Frank Sinatra album out,” Goans said. Brown sat down at his baby grand piano and played “One for My Baby,” the Sinatra standard that begins with the lyrics, “It’s quarter to three.”

“I said, ‘Damn, I love music like that,’” Goans said. “He said, ‘Let’s write the music.’

“We sat down at his piano and that song just fell out” — transforming “What’s a Girl to Do” into a sort of cocktail lounge torch song.

“We had nothing to start with,” she marveled, “and we started and finished it that day.”

In “Untangled,” Goans explored profound pain:

You use ‘I love you’

Like a weapon

You draw me in then cut me like a knife”

But she finds strength in “Story Telling Time,” giving a lover who has laid down lies like blacktop the bottom line:

“So listen up

Lean in

I’m out

The end”

“It’s kind of dark,” Brown told her.

“I said, ‘It’s real dark.’” Goans said. “There were tears shed.”

She goes perhaps even darker in “Untangled,” singing almost in desperation:

“Gotta find a way to get … untangled”

Said Goans: “That song is probably the most meaningful on the whole record.”

At one point, Brown asked her who she would like to sing background vocals on “That’s What I Know.” She hesitated.

“Well, what about Vince?” Brown said. As in, Gill.

“Well, if you want to start at the bottom!” she joked.

“Do you want me to call him?” Brown asked.

To her surprise, “He called and (Gill) was like, ‘I love her,’” Goans said later.

She was practically pinching herself. “It’s unreal. I’ve been a Vince Gill fan forever,” Goans said.

“Not only is Vince Gill going to sing backgrounds,” she thought at the time, “but he’s going sing on a song I wrote.”

Spreading her wings

Still, with this project, Goans — who as a little girl heard nothing but country music — was straying a long way from her roots.

“As we were going, this was unlike anything I had performed,” Goans said. “Honestly, I was a little afraid. The audience that bought my records in the past are pretty hard-core country.”

The 10 songs Teea Goans and Moose Brown had written and recorded are so diverse in their genres that they named the album, “All Over the Map.”

For her earlier cover albums, “I always had an independent label” to handle distribution.

But this project was so independent, it was practically off the grid. “I put out the record via Google and YouTube,” Goans said. Today, fans can buy streaming versions of the album on platforms such as Spotify, iTunes and Amazon; orders for CD versions through her website, TeeaGoins.com, are fulfilled out of her living room and come autographed by her.

“Almost a year to the day (that they first met), we put an album out,” Goans said. “It was the first time I put out something original; everything I did, I was co-writer on.”

It didn’t go unnoticed.

“I had had the opportunity to sing on the Opry at the Ryman,” the old tabernacle off Lower Broadway in Downtown Nashville that was the longtime home to the Grand Ole Opry before the Opry moved to its current cavernous home out in the suburbs.

But, she said, “I had had never sung at the Opry House. The first time I got to sing at the Opry House inside the circle of wood that came from the Ryman was, Sept. 17, 2021, the day the record came out. I sang songs I had written inside the Opry circle.

“It was life-changing.”

She opened with “The Detour,” a country “story song” inspired by her long road trip with her husband — 13 states in 11 days, much of it along Route 66 from Kansas City to Santa Monica. She followed it with “That’s What I Know,” in which she tries to make sense of the world by focusing on what’s truly important to her life.

Goans isn’t, however, getting radio play.

“Right now, that does not matter to me,” she said. “I haven’t even pitched it to radio. I did this pretty much out of my living room. I designed all the artwork, my husband took all the photographs. Radio probably doesn’t even know it exists. I’m not worried about radio. I’m worried about people and whether it will get into the hands of people that need to hear it.”

Singing in the round

Meanwhile, Brown was getting her opportunities to perform her songs at songwriting festivals.

“If not for Moose, I wouldn’t have known about the Sandy Lee Songfest,” which she played in 2021, Goans said.

“That was the first festival I ever played,” she said. “And it was absolutely incredible. The people who come to the festival so very welcoming, they’re really listening. This is what I want to do. I don’t want to do some big stage show.”

Goans (and other songwriters) appreciate that the Sandy Lee Songfest venues are intended as listening rooms, not cocktail lounges where the music is just background.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” she said. “People were really listening.”

At this year’s Sandy Lee Songfest, Goans is scheduled to perform with Brown at two sessions: at 7 p.m. Thursday and 9 p.m. Saturday, both in The Gatsby Room at Hometown Roots.

Her writing with Moose Brown and the release of “All Over the Map” has been transformative for Goans.

“Now I can say I’m a singer-songwriter and it’s changed my thinking about what music can be,” Goans said, “and as I’ve performed it at writers’ rounds (like the Sandy Lee Songfest), people come up and don’t compliment my singing, they compliment what I have to say.

“We have a common thread. It’s more than music. When people say, ‘I’ve felt that,’” she says she feels fulfilled.

For Goans, who is a person of faith, this journey is astonishing, but it isn’t a mystery.

“I know God’s hands was on it,” she said.

If you go

What: Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriters Festival

When: Wednesday, July 27 through Saturday, July 30

Shows: 7 p.m. July 27-28; 6:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. July 29-30

Where: Rookies. 117 Second St., and The Gatsby Room at Hometown Roots, 136 Second St., Henderson, Kentucky

Tickets: $20 per session or $100 for all six sessions at SandyLeeSongfest.com or at The Gatsby Room each night (if tickets are still available)

Free special events:

Songwriter’s Veterans Concert for vets, 3-5 p.m. Thursday, July 28, Homeplace of Henderson, 3104 Green River Road

Young Songwriters Showcase, 3-5 p.m. Friday, July 29

Songwriter workshop, 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, July 30, Hoffman House Venue, 703 Second St.

Info: SandyLeeSongfest.com

This article originally appeared on Henderson Gleaner: Teea Goans among performers at Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriters Festival