Dan Navarro, Grammy-nominated songwriter, performed in Opelika on Friday as part of the Sundilla Concert Series.
An intimate crowd gathered at Bailey Jones' house, executive producer of Sundilla Music, where guests were welcomed to enjoy a potluck dinner while they waited for the show to begin at 7:30 p.m.
The house, with an eclectic style, had hanging globes above where Navarro was set to perform under colorful lights. Filled bookcases lined the living room which had been cleared out to make room for seating.
Navarro, who had just got into town from Mobile, began to prepare for his performance in a separate room.
"I've done the Sundilla Acoustic Series twice before a couple of years back," Navarro said. "I've known Bailey for years, and it's really these type of performances that are my favorite."
Navarro said he hardly ever sticks to a planned setlist.
"I kind of feel the room and just kind of go with it to see where it leads," he said.
Navarro dreamed of being a singer as a kid, but it wasn't until he was 15 years old that he developed a love for songwriting. He grew up admiring The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, the artists spoke to him and, ultimately, inspired him to become a singer-songwriter.
"I liked that the songs were about something meaningful, I liked the poignant edge," Navarro said. "It really resonated with me, and I found that the music I was listening to was helping me get through tough times growing up, tough times being an adult through challenges and heartbreak, so that's where I write from."
He wanted to create music and songs that spoke to someone's soul like the musicians he looked up to did.
"So I just kind of dove," he said.
It took time for Navarro to find his voice and skill, as it does for so many artists.
"I only wrote lyrics because I didn't know how to play guitar, but I picked up that and piano in college and a couple of years out an artist recorded a couple of my songs, but they didn't amount to much," Navarro said.
A hit wouldn't come until 1984, when Navarro said he got lucky by co-writing the Grammy-nominated Pat Benatar song "We Belong."
"That was my biggest song, and it was a big, old accident," Navarro said. "[Eric Lowen and I] wrote it just to write it and started taking it around, and someone said let me run with this. And then it happened."
After that, he started writing songs full-time and put out a record with his partner, Lowen, in 1990. As a duo, Lowen and Navarro recorded and toured together for 19 years until 2009.
Navarro said he's found that age does not correlate with success.
He said he was kind of older when he was really immersed in the business. He was over 30 when 'We Belong' happened and in hislate 30s when he made his first album.
"It's all about work, the commitment and taking chances," Navarro said. "Do what you want to do, and do it a lot. Repetition is what created the depth of contacts, the depth of experience and, in particular, the good luck that has to be an element of succeeding. We all have skill and goals and ideas but without luck – and it's weird to work hard on a skill and have luck be a deciding factor – but you can control luck by being persistent."
His advice for anyone trying to do anything is to keep going and learn from your environment.
"Instead of getting mad if something doesn't go somewhere, see where the validity is and try to absorb it, and then move on and try again," he said.
Navarro went on writing for artists from all genres, including The Bangles, The Temptations and Dave Edmunds. Now, as a solo artist, he'll soon release his first studio album in January.
Going from working within a duo to working as a solo artist is as different as night and day, he said.
"Working by myself has made me improve in some ways because there is nowhere to hide," Navarro said. "Working with a partner is definitely more fun, you have shared duties and someone to bounce ideas off of."
Navarro said it can get lonely when recording solo and touring solo but that the experience is both liberating and heartening to realize that it is his vision not just a shared vision.
Navarro and Lowen toured together even after Lowen was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease in 2004. Lowen passed away from ALS in 2012.
"I can never get those days back that I spent with Eric, but those were the best years of my life," Navarro said.
After waiting around for the show to begin at Jones' eccentric home, people began to shuffle to their seats to watch Navarro.
Lisa and Phil Belcher came in support of Sundilla and have been longtime attendees.
"We've seen lots of artists that I would have never gone to on my own, but after going to a lot of these concerts I love the variety and being more exposed to music," Lisa Belcher said.
Navarro, who was introduced as a friend of Sundilla Music, opened the show with "All is Quiet," a song from when he performed with his friend and partner Lowen.
In between songs Navarro spoke to the crowd about the stories behind his song choices, creating an intimate environment.
"When I was younger I wrote a lot about loss," he said. "But now I write about change."