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Ten years ago, Dana Hunt Black and Danny Wells lived the typical lives of not-yet-established songwriters. In other words, both held down day jobs - Dana was a swimming instructor, and Danny owned his own moving company.
They were able to leave those day jobs shortly after writing "Check Yes or No," a No. 1 smash for George Strait in 1995. But the song they started on a summer day back in 1994 started out resembling anything but a hit.
"We were trying to write a slow ballad," explains Dana, "and it just didn't work. We literally crumpled it up and threw it away."
Then, like clockwork, Danny began playing a catchy melody, and Dana caught fire. "I just started singing along: Do you love me? Do you want to be my friend?" laughs Dana. Her words and phrasing fit the melody perfectly.
"I had wanted to write a cute song that talked about grade school love for a long time," she continues. "I remembered things like passing notes in grade school."
Dana also recalled another important detail - the song's reference to Emmilou, the girl who "got caught" passing a note. "I really did sit beside a girl named Emmilou Hays in the third grade in Durham, North Carolina," she laughs.
Dana and Danny polished off the first verse in about an hour before rushing off to their respective jobs. A few nights later, they finished the second verse over the phone.
Another month went by before Dana got the news that's music to every writer's ears. "I was coming into my publishing company," she says, "and noticed some flowers on the front desk. The next thing I know, they tell me George Strait is cutting my song!"
Not only did George cut it, he took it to No. 1 in November of 1995, where it stayed for an impressive four straight weeks. What's more, "Check Yes or No" took the CMA Single of the Year award in 1996.
"That was the first cut for both Danny and me," says Dana, still smiling in amazement. "We found out later that it had actually been pitched to Clay Walker first. I don't know how it got to George," she adds with a laugh, "but I'm glad it did."
George has since recorded several more of Dana's songs, including "Write This Down," a No. 1 in 1999. "But 'Check Yes or No' paved the way," says Dana. "It really opened up a lot of doors for me."
-- Jill Carlson