By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
McKinley says she listened to the song before ever leaving the store, and that she immediately thought the songs were similar, aside from the title. She was "very upset" and took the tape home and immediately called her husband and a few other friends, at least one of whom thought the songs were more alike than different.
"I give tapes out all the time, so I don't think about it," she said during her interview with the Observer. "I don't even research who I give my tapes to. But when I was going after that Jimmy Buffett tape, I had this feeling to look at a Collin Raye tape, and when I saw the tape and saw 'I Think About You,' it just scared me to death."
The big question is: What happened in the interval between the alleged Kmart meeting and 1995, when I Think About You was released?
Well, according to Don Schlitz and Steve Seskin, they wrote themselves a hit single--without ever hearing McKinley's demo.
Schlitz--a Durham, North Carolina native who moved to Nashville more than 20 years ago to pursue his own songwriting ambitions--says he began working on the song in January 1993. "I had an idea to write a song about a father thinking about his daughter, and the effects of the world on her life," Schlitz explains in his July 24, 1997, affidavit. He says that he and Steve Seskin met at 10 a.m. on January 19, 1993, and completed the music and lyrics.
Ten days later, Schlitz and Seskin took two songs, including "I Think About You," into County Q Productions in Nashville to cut demos; according to a receipt from the studio, the songwriters were charged $315 for the session.
A few days after that, the pair had their publishing companies begin pitching the song to various artists around Nashville--among them, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Tanya Tucker, Neil McCoy, and Collin Raye. According to pitch logs provided by Schlitz for the lawsuit, Raye initially passed on the song, as did Brooks, Tucker, and most everybody else who heard it. Raye eventually took a copy of the demo on June 21, 1993.
Schlitz says Raye initially recorded the song for his 1994 album extremes, but it didn't make the final cut; he tried again a year later, and it became the title track to his fourth album.
Yet Schlitz insists that "while I am proud of the success Mr. Raye has achieved with my song," he has never met Raye or even Steve Cox, and that there was no way in the world he could have ever heard Suzane McKinley's "I Think About You" even if she had given it to Cox in 1992--which Cox denies.
Schlitz says the songs speak for themselves. Where his song is about a father thinking about his daughter ("You...eight years old/Big brown eyes and a heart of gold/When I look at this world, I think about you"), McKinley's is about a woman pining away for her husband ("Night coming on, and I'm in bed/Thoughts of you dancing in my head/I think about you").
"I was unaware of Suzane McKinley and her song entitled 'I Think About You' until this lawsuit was filed," Schlitz claims in his affidavit.
The Bronx-born Seskin, who now lives in Northern California's Bay Area, says much the same thing in his deposition, adding that he included 'I Think About You' on his 1993 self-released album To Be Who I Am, which he sold mostly at shows; in addition to being a songwriter, he's also a recording and touring musician (the first of his 13 albums was released in 1975).
Seskin and Schlitz maintain they have never met Raye or Cox--but Gerald Conley, McKinley's attorney, says that's unimportant. Rather, he contends in legal documents that the four men, longtime music-biz vets, know many of the same people, any one of whom could have passed along the song that McKinley says she handed to Cox in that Kmart jewelry section.
Conley points out that John Hobbs produced every single Collin Raye album and that Hobbs became a close friend of Cox's. Conley maintains that Seskin, in his deposition, says he wrote "two or three songs" with Hobbs--and "boy," Seskin adds, "they weren't very good." Nonetheless, Conley wants to connect the dots from Seskin back to Hobbs back to Cox back to his client. (Seskin has also performed at Kerrville numerous times, in addition to teaching some songwriting classes, and Conley is trying to imply that he might have heard "I Think About You" then, since McKinley had sent the tape to the festival--yes, it's a long stretch.)
In addition, McKinley says in 1991 she went to Nashville to meet with Mark Gray, a "music producer" who worked for Tom Collins Music Corporation, which handled such clients as Barbara Mandrell and Ronnie Milsap. (In reality, Gray was just a house songwriter for Collins; he was a former Columbia Records artist whose career never became much of one.) McKinley says she gave Gray a copy of "I Think About You" and insists it's possible he could have passed it along to someone else he knew on Music Row. Gray, who still lives in Nashville, no longer works for Collins and couldn't be reached for comment.