Sometimes songs – even those that seem pre-ordained to reach the artist for whom they’re meant – take awhile to get their destination.
Such was the case with “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” written by SOCAN members Laura McCall Torno and Earl Torno. Pop and country music superstar Kenny Rogers – who sold more than 100 million albums prior to his death in March 2020 at the age of 81 – first promised the Toronto-based duo that he’d record the song back in 2009.
Fourteen years later, that promise was finally kept: “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the third single, and the epicentre, of Rogers’s first posthumous album of all-new material, Life Is Like A Song. It’s a 10-song effort that includes classics written by Lionel Richie, Eric Clapton, and the Motown tandem of Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and Rodger Penzabene, as well as fresh numbers by the likes of Kim Carnes, Gary Burr, and “Straight Into Love” by SOCAN members Jimmy Rankin and Patricia Conroy.
“I feel gratitude,” says McCall Torno, who initially birthed the song and wrote the lyrics. Her husband chimed in to help with the melody, chord progressions, and musical composition, creating a guitar-and-piano demo, with McCall Torno singing the words into their iPhone and TASCAM digital recorder.
“We’ve got a nice little set-up at home,” says Earl. “Laura’s got a really nice writing room here, with a piano, and that’s where our ProTools rig is. When she writes, it’s her thing – playing the piano and coming up with ideas. When we get to the point where she’s got the idea, a good general outline of the story, and a good sense of the melody, she’ll bring it in. I might pick up the guitar, sit down, and start jamming together.
“Then we’ll build it from there. I will say that Laura, from that point on, is the wordsmith. I might make a suggestion, but it’s Laura who puts words to paper and comes up with the actual lyric. My strength is more on the melodic, arrangement, and production side.”
McCall Torno took a trip down memory lane for “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “For me, it was a look back on at my childhood and some of those wonderful, cherished memories, and wishing that there were more of those,” she says. “And then thinking about how life changed so dramatically. As I started, I immediately envisioned Kenny. I was thinking about what life must have been like for him. In a career that can be consuming, being able to find time with his kids. I wanted it to be a song that inspired fathers – and I hope it does that.”
The five-times married Rogers had, in fact, five children. When U.S. publisher Rex Benson, who’d previously sent Rogers his 1999 chart-topping comeback hit “Buy Me A Rose,” pitched him “Catchin’ Grasshoppers,” he took to the song like a duck to water. So, the Tornos adjusted the lyrics slightly to reflect he and his wife Wanda’s relationship to their own twin sons, Jordan and Justin.
“We were thrilled to modify the lyrics,” says McCall Torno. “To have the twins woven throughout the song, tailoring the lines to reflect on the heartwarming relationship Kenny had with his boys, and his deep devotion to his family. Then, much to our surprise, we found out that the sons’ fifth birthdays fell within days of this song landing into Kenny’s hands. Pretty amazing!”
In 2009, Rogers invited the Tornos to a show, and onto his tour bus – where he surprised them with his recorded version of “Catchin’ Grasshoppers.” “He told us how much ‘Catchin’ Grasshoppers’ meant to him personally; how greatly he valued it; and that the song is a legacy to his twin boys Justin and Jordan,” says Earl Torno. “That was the most fulfilling moment that we as songwriters could ever experience.”
Rogers promised to place the song on an album, but his passing seemed to indicate a premature end to fulfilling that mandate. Then, in the summer of 2021, the Tornos received a call from Vector Management, which was handling Rogers’s estate. They shared the news that a posthumous album was in the works, and that “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” was likely to be included on the project, curated and executive-produced by Rogers’s widow Wanda, and Vector’s Jason Henke and Ken Levitan. The official release became a reality on June 2, 2023.
The Tornos are no strangers to the music business: Earl has engineered and edited projects for Platinum Blonde, Triumph, and Glass Tiger – as well as being busily involved with animated and live-action TV series, including Odd Squad, Race Against The Tide, and Numb Chucks. Laura, meanwhile, has had songs placed on Degrassi: The Next Generation.
Still, to this point, “Catchin’ Grasshoppers” is the biggest feather in their cap. “What I love about this story is that it’s inspiring to all of us as songwriters,” says McCall Torno. “I know writers who have amazing songs, really believe in them, and end up shelving things if something doesn’t happen the way they expect it to happen, when they expect it to happen. Don’t give up hope.”