Jewish Journal

Songwriter Allen Shamblin on “The House that Built Me”

by Orit Arfa

April 24, 2012 | 3:49 pm

When I was covering the forced expulsion of 9,000 Jews from their beautiful, established homes in Gush Katif, the “Harvest Belt” of Gaza, in the summer of August 2005, it amazed me how supporters of the “Disengagement” plan were so glib about the destruction of these homes, despite what they viewed as humanistic reasons for supporting it. Couldn’t people realize a happy home is the lifeblood of a person, the roots of someone’s character?

No political argument, no logic, no plea really worked to make the majority of Israelis empathize with the happy homes of the families in Gush Katif—the memories they lost—although the predictions of the Gush Katif “refugees,” as they have come to be called, have been vindicated by the turn of events in Gaza.

But maybe a song will have an impact, almost seven years later.

When a friend forwarded me the video of the Grammy-award winning country song “The House that Built Me” written by Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas that solidified Miranda Lambert’s career, I cried. The song is about a young woman knocking on the door of the home she had left as a child, occupied by another family since. Since leaving, she’s not the same, and by returning to the “house that built her”, to “touch or feel it,” she hopes to heal the brokenness inside her. Watch it here.

I always think of the people of Gush Katif when I listen to it, only they can’t go back to the house that built them.

Allen Shamblin, a successful Nashville songwriter also famous for “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, understood the universal power of music from a young age. At a master session he gave the ASCAP “I Create Music” Expo, a weekend conference for music creators, that took place from April 19-21 at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel, Shamblin recounted his rise to success, and the theme of returning “home,” spiritually and literally, is a constant in his life, a message the resounds beyond songwriting.

A petite, modest, unassuming, man, his Southern roots quickly became apparent with his “y’all” greeting. Raised in Austin, Texas to a Christian family (the impact of his faith he discusses here on the Christian Broadcast Network), he realized at age 25 that he wasn’t destined for his then career as a real-estate appraiser.

“I prayed the shortest prayer ever: ‘God, would you please help me be a songwriter.’”

The prayer worked. A series of “chance” encounters with music industry professionals brought him to Nashville, but when he got to the capital of country music, he no longer wrote from authentic raw emotion, but from authentic fear that he wouldn’t make it.

“The initial impulse was love—love for music,” he said on stage, in a talk sprinkled with evangelist-like wisdom.

That’s when “The House That Built Me” might have been born, at least subconsciously. A friend told him to go back to Austin, to remember the man who wrote the songs that initially got him noticed. So he took that advice, and upon returning to his Nashville apartment, he penned “He Walked on Water,” his first number one single, cut by Randy Travis.

But again, success soon expelled him from his spiritual “home.”

“Having a hit song is probably the most powerful drug you can experience….you’ll do almost anything to have another hit—to your detriment..”

He was a hotshot in the music world, but a terrible husband and father, living a stressful, unhealthy life.

“Music will ask you lay your children on the altar.”

He took a step back and noticed how the hitmakers around him weren’t necessarily happy.

“I thought if I ever do get inducted into hall of fame, or reach my pinnacle, I don’t want to be standing there without my kids. So I pulled away. People were confused….I honestly thought there was a strong possibility my career was over because I wasn’t playing by the games, the rules.”

So he made building his house—his home—a priority.

“An odd thing started happening, I kept getting cuts—not as a many—but good cuts.” Today, his oldest daughter is a freshman in college; his twins are juniors in high school. “I can look back and say, I didn’t miss my life. Music comes from life….Don’t miss your life.”

“The House that Built Me” is like a tribute to Shamblin’s life, but he’s lucky he could visit his old hometown, and still does, sometimes, as he explains in the video below.

The people of Gush Katif can’t return to their home—ever. Their houses have been bulldozed, and even if they were still standing, the people living in Gaza now wouldn’t dare let them come back inside to “touch or feel it” or “take a memory.” Today, many “refugees” continue to live in government “caravillas,” just scraping by, desperately trying to remember where they came from, holding onto faith of the “house that built them.”

So as we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day on April 26—yes, we should celebrate Israel’s major achievements—its thriving hi-tech industry, the economy, its contributions to art and Hollywood. But let’s also remember what’s most important about Israel—the reason it was created—for the freedom for Jews to build their homes—and keep them—on ancestral land they love and earned. And as Israel rises up the ladder of success, let her not forget her foundation—those embodied by the Zionist pioneers of Gush Katif who built their homes with a deep tie to Jewish heritage, ethics, and the land of Israel—the House that Built…Israel.

And for all you songwriters (and creators) out there, here are a few inspiring quotables from Shamblin:

“Live from a place of abundance….God’s got all the good ideas.”

“Run to the roar. Whatever you’re afraid of, run to it.”

“Don’t get mad at the people that reject you. There are so many reasons that come into play that day.”

“You have to be absolutely tenacious learning your gift and your craft, but sometimes the final thing that pushes everything over to where the dominoes start falling, is when you’ve give everything over. Then God steps in.”

“Songs are written. Great songs are rewritten.”

“When I have blocks in my writing I’m usually avoiding something that emotionally big.”

“Great songs in my opinion are not written by willpower. Great songs are written by yielding and serving the idea.”

“If your baby needs a diaper changed—embrace that moment—that’s where the songs are.”

“Love music, but don’t make it your idol.”


Tracker Pixel for Entry


View our privacy policy and terms of service.




Orit Arfa’s ZOA blog

Read more.