Making it big in country music

Bob DiPiero, ’78 BFA

Bob DiPiero is a Youngstown State University alumnus who write country song hits for many of country music's biggest stars.

Bob DiPiero, photo by Ed Rode.

Bob DiPiero is a longtime rock ’n’ roller who’s making it big in the world of country music.

The YSU alum has written 15 number one hits and nearly 175 more hit singles for legendary country superstars, including Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Montgomery Gentry, Tim McGraw, George Strait, Faith Hill and Martina McBride. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007, was named Songwriter of the Year at the Nashville Music Awards in 1998 and 2000, and was nominated this year for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture.

The nominated song, “Coming Home” from the movie Country Strong, was performed by Gwyneth Paltrow during the 2010 Academy Awards.

All this and more from the Dana School of Music graduate who first started writing songs in the practice rooms of Bliss Hall.

“While I was going to YSU, I was working really hard at classical guitar, but I was terrible—just horrifying,” DiPiero remembers. “So after two hours of straight torture, I’d go write songs in the little practice rooms in Bliss just to get a break from all that hard work.”

Classical guitar may not have been his calling at the time, but rock ’n’ roll unquestionably was.

“I was the kid who saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and experienced a musical religious awakening,” said DiPiero, who lived, breathed and studied rock and jazz as a high school and college student and played in a succession of bands. “I was certain my life would be in music, for better or worse.”

It wasn’t until 1978, the year he graduated from YSU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, that DiPiero set off for Music Row. “A scuba diver lives near the water; a songwriter lives where people need songs. That was Nashville to me,” he said.

He spent his first two Nashville years working as a guitar teacher, trying to teach his students “Back in Black” and “Stairway to Heaven,” but when he soon found out that most of them preferred country music, he began learning the genre. In 1983, a few crucial connections and apprenticeships later, DiPiero had his first number one country hit: the Oak Ridge Boys’ “American Made.”

Before long, DiPiero added 14 more chart toppers to his credit, and he earned a place in the American Idol Songbook with the Montgomery Gentry hit “Gone” – it was clear the Youngstown native had come a long way from his days of recording at Peppermint Productions and playing the Tomorrow Club in downtown Youngstown.

DiPiero attributes his success to keeping an open mind. “The reason I think I have an ongoing career in music is because I keep the mind of a student; no learning is ever complete,” he explained. “On any given day, I just try to write the song that’s already in the room.”

When he’s not writing, DiPiero is a leader among top Nashville music organizations and a performer, playing in legendary clubs such as as the Bluebird Café. Occasionally, he takes time to relax with his wife, Leslie, at their Seaside, Fla., residence, but downtime moments few and far between. For 28 years, DiPiero has continued to define today’s southern songbook, with an estimated 1,000+ songs to his name.

But don’t be surprised if a Beatles-inspired riff appears in his country tunes every now and then. “I like to think that I brought some of my Youngstown rock ’n’ roll grooves with me to Nashville,” admits DiPiero. His fans don’t mind because, just like his number one hit for Restless Heart, “that rock won’t roll” without a touch of DiPiero country magic.

(Previously published in YSU Magazine, Fall 2011)