Story Behind the Song: ‘Where’ve You Been?’
“Where have you been?” That question follows a married couple through a 60-year love story in “Where’ve You Been,” an award-winning country song released by Kathy Mattea in 1989. her husband, Jon Vezner and co-wrote. Don Henry – Nashville musician. In the last sentence, both are in the hospital. The wife can no longer speak and has forgotten the names of family members. But one day, after her husband took her hand, she asked, “Where have you been?” That comes from the same experience Vezner had with his grandparents in the hospital. He and Henry told “The Story Behind the Song” to Bart Herbison of the Nashville Songwriters Association International.Bart Herbison: This song (follows) a couple going through three stages of their lives: before marriage, during and during their adult years. It’s inspired – it’s personal to you, Jon.Jon Vezner: Yes, I was the one who brought my grandfather – my grandmother was in the hospital and she really didn’t know anyone. They weren’t apart, really, for 66 years and then my grandfather had epilepsy. Turns out he had a brain tumor so they took him to the hospital. I went down there and said, “Did someone take him to see her?” And that didn’t happen to anyone. So I brought him in and rolled him around the bed. He held her hand and stroked her hair and kept saying: “Look at your hair, no one has hair like yours”. And she just looked at him. She was a little German woman, and at the end she said, “Where have you been?” But it still has me, you know.BH: The way you remember, when (Jon) presented this idea on co-writer day, he didn’t really enjoy writing.Don Henry: No, not that day. He told me the story just like he told you, and I laughed just as much as you did. I thought, “That’s funny,” and I said, “Hey, how about this, I’ve got this scam.” After I played that, he went this way, he did that with a beard, and he said, “Play it again.” And I played, “Where have you been?” and he fills in, “I’ve been looking for you forever and one day.” And I said, “Where have you been?” and he said, “I’m not myself while you’re away.” We looked at each other’s arms. Goosebumps.BH: Now, your wife, Kathy Mattea, record it. … I don’t think anyone else could be the first artist to record this song and make me feel what she makes me feel.DH: I agree.BH: There is a particularly moving story in your life later, after your grandparents, involving your father and the great Patti Page.Venture: My dad was in World War II and he went to Nagasaki and Hiroshima – the first people went in after the bomb, they just took them there – and told me how you go in there and you’ll touch a tree and it will fall to powder. Apparently, they don’t really think or care about radiation. In the end he got tuberculosis. … He often says that he was in the hospital for six and a half years and in bed for “four years, 10 and a half months”. He knows exactly. And he shouldn’t have survived. But tuberculosis is actually very contagious. … A person has passed. And if he’d told me this story, he’d have told it a hundred times. He said, “The Patti page passed.” So turning the clocks ahead, I was making a record for Victoria Shaw and one day she called me and she said, “Hey, do you want to do another record?” So… (Patti and I) met. She wanted to do a country record, and she was about 75 years old at the time. Sang amazing. She wants to record “Where’ve You Been.” So we recorded it and she sang beautifully from it. We all went to dinner, and I brought my dad. My mother is sick. We were all sitting there, and there was my dad sitting across from Page Patti. He had a chance to tell her how much that meant to him. And remember – that was right after she sang and recorded a song about his parents.BH: OH.Venture: And every time she comes to town, she wants to see him. … She called him and sang “Happy Birthday” every year on his birthday until he passed away at the age of 90.
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In partnership with the Nashville Songwriters Association International, we will interview a musician about their work weekly.
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