Behind the Song column: Brothers Osborne’s ‘It Ain’t My Fault’

Dave Paulson
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“Blame the whiskey on the beer/ Blame the beer on the whiskey/ Blame the morning on the night/ For who’s lying here with me ... but it ain’t my fault.”

“It Ain’t My Fault” was a standout track on Brothers Osborne’s 2016 debut, “Pawn Shop” - but Lee Thomas Miller, who co-wrote the song with brothers John and TJ Osborne, mistakenly thought it had been left off the project. Appropriately enough, he walked into his publisher’s office looking for someone to blame, until he was corrected. But it wasn’t his fault.

Miller told the story behind the song to Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

Bart Herbison: “It Ain’t My Fault” is the Story Behind the Song this week. TJ and John Osborne wrote it with you, Lee Miller. I just want to first of all say, I remember (when) you were playing this song (live) before the record came out. Even then it struck me: “I don’t know that I’ve heard a song like that - musically - in any genre”. You almost have two songs going on. Tell us about it.

Lee Miller: That’s a testament to a lot of people. A lot of times when we write, someone is in there making the track, loud stuff going on, making the record as you go. Those guys were writing professionally before they ever got their break. John was a studio musician. They were seasoned Nashville (players). TJ, too. He had tons of relationships and everybody knew TJ Osborne was a monster. TJ is also a good guitar player, too. He lets John be John, but TJ is great. We just wrote the song on acoustic guitar, sitting in the room. You can imagine it was cool, but we were worried about words and melody and getting it all down. It was the first thing I had ever written with them. I’d forgotten that I had anything to bring in. We’re always careful to take credit for anything, because we write a lot of songs and you don’t want to overstep.

BH: It’s collaborative, and we know that.

LM: I guess I had scribbled down the trick: “Blame the this on the this ... but it ain’t my fault.” I can’t imagine I had much more than that.

BH: By the way, I’ve seen that device a lot, but I don’t think I’ve seen it used better. Y’all just hit the center of the dartboard on this one.

LM: That’s also writing with veteran songwriters. They knew that if it would work, those examples had to be the best ones you could write. They couldn’t be weak. You had to see those images, right?

BH: “I remember you called me and said that you were going (to) a thing down at Marathon (Music Works) with Brothers Osborne. I think it may have been one of the first times they played it around Nashville and certainly the first time I saw (them). We go in down there and there’s 1,500 people in there and they start the hand clap. I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” I got caught up in it, Lee! I felt like I was in the ’70s, holding a lighter up at a stadium show for somebody. It was that kind of experience for me.

LM: They have a tremendous fan base that really, really, knew the record ... The first time I heard the record, I didn’t know they had cut it. We wrote the song and they already had a couple singles out. I assumed we were working on the second album. I never even asked. It was four or five months after we wrote it, and I had never heard back from them.

Riding into work, (radio DJ) Bobby Bones said the Brothers Osborne album was coming out Friday. I was irritated because my publisher didn’t even follow up! It seemed like that song we wrote was pretty good. Why don’t they ever follow up? I go into the publishing company and I’m grumbling, saying, “They just said the Brothers Osborne album is coming out. I thought it was already out. I wrote a song with them. Did anyone ever follow up on that? Why do these songs just go into the abyss? What are we doing? I’m writing the best I can, and nobody ever cares.”

She let me finish and said, “They cut it! It’s on the record!”

BH: Wow! These days, on an act like that, you’re (usually) gonna know and I hadn’t heard you say that before!

LM: I had no idea!

BH: Have you ever gotten to perform it with them?

LM: No. It’s so funny. I write a little bit with Gary LeVox (of Rascal Flatts) and those guys, and if I’m going to (sing) something (we wrote), I lower the key because no one sings that high. Well, with Brothers Osborne, to even make that audible, I have to raise it like four and a half steps and I’m still bottoming out. He has no bottom. He sings lower than Trace Adkins.

BH: Anything you want to add about it?

LM: Billboard Magazine called me one morning and said they were doing an article on the song and wanted to talk to me about the idea ... (The reporter) said that (Brothers Osborne) had said I had “the trick” and they wanted to add to the article about where the idea came from. He said, “Before you say anything, I believe I know.”

I said, “You do?” I knew he didn’t.

He said, “The first time I heard this, I thought it was a political statement. It’s you lashing out at the leaders of this country telling them what you think about the job they are doing and not taking responsibility and I think it’s brilliant. But, in your own words, tell me about where the idea for this song came.”

He had already written the article! If it has a little political juice, that’s what they want. I told him, “All right, here is the story. I have four kids. I’ve always been amazed when I walk in the house and all the stuff is broken, but nobody broke the stuff.”

Silence. He said, “That’s it?”

And I said, “Well, they break a lot of stuff.” (Laughing) It made for a boring article.