How Fly Fishing Led to Nashville Songwriter Phillip Lammonds’s Big Break

The hit songwriter for Craig Morgan and Hootie & the Blowfish breaches the surface with Cowboy Things, his solo debut

A black and white portrait of a man holding a guitar

Photo: Vincent Musi

Phillip Lammonds.

Like many musicians who aspire to turn pro, Nashville songwriter Phillip Lammonds had been casting his line into the music business for years when he finally got the bite he was looking for. 

As a co-founder of the Blue Dogs, a Charleston, South Carolina–based Americana group known for blending bluegrass and jam rock, he spent a decade performing in dives up and down the East Coast. But an invitation to a music festival in Virginia put him in the water—literally—next to a songwriting legend and changed the course of his life.

“I get there and see this guy with a fly rod in the creek right by the cabin, just trying to figure it out,” says Lammonds, a lifelong fly-fishing aficionado. “I stepped in the water and said, ‘You’re Paul Craft.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, I am. You know how to fly fish?’ And I said, ‘It just so happens I do.’ So we sat there and caught a couple of bream, and that was the start of it.”

Lammonds stayed in touch with Craft, whose songs had been recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, and the Eagles, and began to send him the tunes he was woodshedding. He kept a day job in Georgetown, South Carolina, where he sold boats and real estate, and slept on Craft’s couch when he made the occasional songwriting trip to Nashville. After the 2008 housing-market crash left him reeling, though, he was ready to make the move. And an unexpected phone call was the final push he needed.

“I’m just looking for something to do,” he remembers, “and I get a phone call from a friend of mine, Tiffany Goss, who I have known for years. I hadn’t heard from anybody hardly in Nashville for three or four years, and she said, ‘Do you think you would want a publishing deal?’ I said, ‘Well, hell yeah.’” 

In the spirit of songwriters like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Townes Van Zandt, Lammonds can spin one heck of a tune—and country artists and groups like Craig Morgan, Kip Moore, Josh Turner, the Infamous Stringdusters, and Hootie & the Blowfish have made ample use of his talents. 

But when Lammonds stepped up to the mic himself on Cowboy Things, released April 5, he used the opportunity to say things he couldn’t as a songwriter for hire. 

Opening song “Love Is Love,” cut with pal Darius Rucker, had been a non-starter in mainstream Nashville for pointing out that people are free to be and love whom they choose, regardless of race, gender, or politics. “That song got shut down for pitching I don’t know how many times,” he says. “There are so many insecure people in country radio. They can’t say the things that people really want to say. And,” he adds, “I never played that without a standing ovation.”

The album is full of other lyrically and musically poignant moments thanks to guest appearances by friends like Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, comedic actor and Charleston bon vivant Bill Murray, and country star Lee Brice, who all surface throughout the collection of eleven heartfelt Americana tracks.

For Lammonds, catching the inspiration to write songs is no different from dipping a line in a swift-water river. “The river is always flowing; that environment is changing every second,” he says. “A trout, he’s gonna sit behind a rock, every day, all day. When he sees something, he’ll slip out, take a look at it, raise his nose up.” As with his music, the goal is to always have a fly in the water when the fish is ready to bite.