When Nashville songwriter Aimee Mayo surveys her life, you might think that she’s amazed by all of her success. After all, she’s written hit songs for superstars like Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Mark Wills, Sara Evans, Lonestar, and many others. The only thing she’s genuinely amazed by is that she’s alive and loved.
Few people that encounter the bubbly country girl with the thick Alabama accent would think she’s one of Music City’s best lyric craftsmen. After all, pulling people’s emotions off their sleeves with three chords and the truth is hard.
In 1990, at the formidable age of 19, Aimee tried to take her own life. She still carries the scars to prove it. Eleven years earlier, on Christmas Eve in 1979, her rambunctious, dare-devil father almost succeeded when he fired a bullet into his chest. The event sent the small-town girl into a decade-long downward spiral. Like father, like daughter, both survived.
People sometimes talk about growing up in unstable home environments. Aimee would have taken “unstable” any day. Most of her days could be described as a living hell. Mental illness, neglect, and substance abuse are some of the situations that dominated her childhood. When you throw in a physically abusive first marriage, being raped as a teenager, and a few other crappy outcomes, living anywhere close to normal is a pipe dream.
Talking to the Sky: A Memoir of Living My Best Life in a S--t Show is an engaging capsule of Aimee’s roller-coaster life. The manuscript took 15 years and thousands of soul-searching hours to complete.
“Writing this book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Aimee, in a southern drawl.
Like the masterful songs she creates, her captivating memoir peels back multiple layers of emotional scars. Today, the permanent marks serve as a blueprint for overcoming obstacles instead of surrendering to them.
Writing about her most profound experiences and thoughts for the world to know has allowed most scars to heal. Forgiveness handled everything else.
Sweet Home In Alabama
Growing up in Gadsden, Alabama, Aimee’s life and memoir may be described as a southern version of J.D. Vance’s bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy. The difference is Aimee’s story is rawer, revealing internal flaws that in many cases might drive a permanent wedge between blood kin if discussed outside the family.
“My mom and stepdad found out that it was me that burned our house down. That was a secret I had been keeping since the eleventh grade. It really was an accident, I promise,” said Aimee with an expression that moved from terror to laughter in a split second.
Aimee’s father, Danny Mayo, was a rebel-rousing songwriter. He didn’t play a musical instrument, but somehow created compelling lyrics between mostly unsuccessful gambling binges, girlfriends, and successful business ventures.
One of her best childhood stories is when her dad purchased two of Elvis Presley's cars a couple of years after the entertainer's death. He rented them to various auto dealerships to entice weekend crowds. Often he took Aimee along to take a few lucky folks for a ride in the King's custom Cadillac station wagon. Those were a few of the "good" days.
A Songwriter Is Born
Her dad gave Aimee an unexpected gift when they saw the movie, The Buddy Holly Story. Aimee decided that very day to become a songwriter. On the way home, she told her dad about her future aspiration. She even came up with a song title, “If Only I Could Hold You Now, I Would Never Let You Go.”
Using the first part of the title, her dad finished the song, adding it as the B-side of a 45 record he recorded in a Nashville studio. More importantly, his daughter’s name appeared on the songwriting credits. Aimee Mayo was officially a songwriter. The next several years would provide a plethora of material.
The joy of co-writing with her dad didn't last too long. After a karaoke-style recording session at a Nashville venue, Aimee fumbled a few lines. Her dad informed his little girl that she was tone-deaf and shouldn't sing in public. His comments cut further into Aimee's emotional wounds.
After her parents divorced, Aimee’s mom quickly married an abusive man that poured more salt into those wounds between whippings and bone-cutting comments. The physical and emotional pain was nothing new because previous generations throughout her fractured family tree endured the same. Aimee’s small bedroom became a refugee. “I felt like a hamster on a wheel. Running, but going nowhere.”
Aimee’s “Rick” Obsession
With her dad bouncing in and out of her life, Aimee needed an outlet. She wasn’t engaged in school activities, and dreaded hearing other girls chat about weekend sleepovers and talking to boys. Her home life bordered on horrible. Aimee desperately searched for an outlet and found one in a guy named Rick.
Rick was 23 years older, tall, with chiseled features and long black hair. Aimee promised herself — and later Rick — the two would marry and live happily ever after. There was only one problem. Rick Springfield, the 1980s rock star, was already married to another woman. To make matters worse, he didn’t know the 12-year-old, small-town Alabama girl existed.
Nonetheless, Aimee maneuvered a way to physically touch the superstar as he exited the stage one night. She was lucky to even be in his presence. Hours earlier, concert security guards kicked the young girl to the curb when she was caught backstage.
No tongue lashing or whipping could remove the fact that Aimee got Rick's sweat on her hands and clothing. Heartbroken that she may never marry her teen idol, Aimee's licked her wounds yet again. Years later, Aimee co-wrote a song with her former heartthrob. For a long while, she treasured a Starbucks coffee cup with “Rick” written in black marker that he left at her home. Aimee finally threw it away when it molded over.
Moving From Bad to Worse
Everyone has an occasional bad day. Aimee occasionally had a good day. The day she tried to kill herself was another bad one.
Laying on the bathroom floor, both wrists bleeding from self-inflicted wounds and surrounded by paramedics, all Aimee could do was tell her mom how sorry she was. Life had worn her down; so much so that nothing mattered anymore. Hours earlier, Aimee yelled at the sky like a madwoman, cursing God and asking him why and how. Life couldn’t get much worse until it did.
Aimee slowly recovered from her physical wounds. She loaded up an old car her dad bought her with most of her worldly possessions. A few hours later, all she saved was her cat, Curtis. The car caught fire 80-miles outside of Nashville and burned everything else.
She moved in with her dad, yet his life consisted of a revolving door of girlfriends and songwriting buddies. Once again, Aimee needed a fresh start and thought she found it when a singer-songwriter meandered into Brown's Diner, where she worked as a waitress.
Months later, they married in a quick ceremony in Gatlinburg, TN. The honeymoon didn’t last long. Although they co-wrote several songs together, the couple’s home life became unbearable, Aimee left again in search of her dream and true love.
The Intersection of Truth & Three Chords
Three years after moving to Nashville, Aimee found her first success after signing a songwriting deal with AMR. What began as the excitement of a new band cutting one of her songs soon turned to disappointment. Vowing to achieve her goal, Aimee kept writing.
Not long afterward, she met the man that would change her life at Nashville's legendary Bluebird Cafe. Aimee walked up and introduced herself to Chris Lindsey, a tall and talented songwriter who performed that evening. A four-year friendship eventually blossomed into true love. Chris and Aimee married in November of 1999.
Since then, this incredible duo has written such monster hits as “Amazed” “Let’s Make Love,” “Every Time I Hear That Song,” and “This One’s For The Girls.” Some of Aimee’s other song credits include, “Who You’d Be Today by Kenny Chesney, “Three Chords and the Truth” with Sara Evans, “My Best Friend,” by Tim McGraw, as well as her first top-ten hit, “Places I’ve Never Been,” by Mark Wills.
Talking to the Sky
Today, Aimee Mayo’s life resembles more of a dream-come-true than the highway to hell. She and Chris have four children.
The award-winning songwriter can now add another notch to her writing belt with the publication of her memoir. “I think my story is perfect for a movie,” Aimee said during a recent Southern Americana podcast interview.
Recording artists such as Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney offer praise for her book. Bart Herbison, Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, summed up Aimee's recent project best in a phone interview.
“It’s the most honest book I’ve read. Aimee’s led one of the most interesting lives I’ve ever known and I just finished reading the book for the fourth time. Great songwriting is honesty, and it’s hard to beat when you’re putting it into a book or song. Aimee pulls it off better than anyone I’ve seen.”
Both the print and audio versions of Talking to the Sky are available on Amazon.