Local songwriter wins championship
Garry Bichelmeyer's dream is simple, yet complicated.
In June, the 58-year-old Tonganoxie man traveled north to Nebraska to win the Wahoo Country Music Show songwriting championship.
He hopes this win will give his sideline country music career a boost. For his day job, he's a meat cutter at Price Chopper in Bonner Springs.
But it's not glittering Nashville fame he desires.
When asked where he'd like to be with his music five years from now, Bichelmeyer's answer was quick:
"I'd like to have it so someday my kids could hear some of my songs when they're buying produce in the grocery store," Bichelmeyer said.
That's the simple part of Bichelmeyer's dream -- hearing his songs played on the radio.
The complicated part, of course, is getting there. But the Wahoo win can't hurt.
"I'd been trying to win that for a long time," Bichelmeyer said. "For eight years I've been in the contest. I finally did win."
Building on words
Each year at the Wahoo competition, songwriters are given a word prompt. From a few words, they're expected to come up with a song -- lyrics and tune.
Depending on what the prompt is, it can cull the competition right off the bat.
"Most of them drop out when they see the phrase," Bichelmeyer said, joking, "I probably ought to drop out too."
But the prompt, "mud in the camper" didn't make him turn away.
And besides, Bichelmeyer was prepared.
"I'd been practicing on this for quite a while," Bichelmeyer said. "I came up with an idea and made it a country type heartbreak song."
While his song centered on a relationship that went sour, another contestant took a different angle, composing a song about a dog named "Mud."
Some people write their lyrics first, others write a tune that comes to them.
Bichelmeyer said he came to the competition with a tune in mind. He also prepared by studying books about songwriting.
"Things have to be metered and the rhymes have to be right and it has to stick to the subject matter," Bichelmeyer said. "It can't go off on something else."
Watching the clock
Contestants have 24 hours to come up with a song and perform it in front of judges.
That's where a bit of stagefright comes in. Bichelmeyer said the judges sit with an audience of up to 1,000.
But from the stage it seems more than that are watching.
"It looked like a million," Bichelmeyer said.
With him on stage were his wife, Mary, who plays bass, and De Soto resident and guitarist Larry Inman, whose stage name is Larry Dean. Though they couldn't help write the song, because he was a contestant, they were allowed to perform it with him. Garry, who grew up in Eudora and De Soto, plays guitar and banjo.
"I've been playing guitar since I was 20," Bichelmeyer said. "But I hadn't really gotten into it seriously until about 10 years ago."
It was a simple thing that rekindled his interest.
"My kids were raised," Bichelmeyer said. "I had time."
When he started back into music, it was small time. For instance, jam sessions at the grocery store Garry's brother, Mark Bichelmeyer, operated in Basehor. Another popular venue was Doc and Brutie's pizza restaurant for Wednesday night jam sessions and open mics.
It's drawn him out, Bichelmeyer said.
"A long time ago I couldn't hardly speak in front of people at all," Bichelmeyer said. "I thought if I could ever sing in front of people that would overcome the speaking fear. It helped a lot."
In fact, Bichelmeyer has emceed at the Kansas Old Time Pickers and Fiddlers convention in De Soto, something he probably would not have attempted to do a decade ago.
Bichelmeyer grew up in a musical family. He was the oldest of seven -- five boys and two girls.
His mother played the harmonica and piano. His brother, Matt Bichelmeyer, who lives in Tonganoxie, had a band at one time, and wrote music.
And, his interest in music is a passion shared by his wife.
"She likes the playing part and the singing part more than I do," Bichelmeyer said. "I'm more into the writing, she likes to go out there and push herself. She's really gotten good."
Though someone recently suggested that Bichelmeyer try his talent in Nashville, he's not planning to quit his day job.
"I could probably make $200 a week and have all the cat food I could eat," Bichelmeyer joked.
So instead, he plans to continue writing songs, perhaps just so other musicians can perform them. He said in the past year he's written about 20 songs.
And truly, he doesn't believe Nashville is the only ticket to marketing his songs.
He mentioned other songwriters who wrote songs that were snapped up by well-known singers.
So that's something to aim for, even though he admitted the odds of writing a hit song are about the same as getting struck by lightning.
But with a confident note of optimism in his voice, he added:
"I think if a person wrote a good one, he could probably get it published somewhere."