It all started with a cat.
Ocean Springs songwriter Taylor Craven said he and his wife brought a cat home from the animal shelter that had been declawed.
“My wife said she wanted a pet and we weren’t going to have a dog — I was trying to hold out for the goldfish,” Craven said. “The cat was 6 years old and declawed and around Christmas in 2014, I started thinking that one day this cat isn’t going to be able to do much since she doesn’t have claws.”
Craven took his thought about his declawed cat and two years later, he, along with Tommy Crawford of Moss Point, had written a Christmas song.
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And that song, “Claws (A Cat’s Letter to Santa),” found its way on to the latest Christmas album recorded by the legendary Ray Stevens.
Craven and Crawford have written about 25 songs in the three years since they started writing together.
“I put some stuff down and I went to Tommy’s house one morning — they had just buried their cat of 15 years and it kind of came together,” Craven said.
Crawford said he has a certain skill set that Craven sought in a co-writer.
“Taylor writes with a lot of people, but he came to me with this song because I’ve done a lot of comedy songs,” Crawford said. “I call it ‘insanely ridiculous non-religious songs’ — I’ve written songs about rent-house roaches and stuff like that — but he came to me with that idea and that’s what we did.”
“Claws” is a first for both of the Jackson County songwriters.
“We’ve both had people cut our songs, but they’ve been local people, you know, independent stuff,” Crawford said. “But we’ve never had anything nationwide and for us to get a song cut by Ray Stevens — he’s a genius and icon.”
Getting to Nashville
After the song was written, Craven said “Claws” found its way to Nashville the same way any good song does these days — through connections and email.
“Someone told me a long time ago that there’s no shortage of talent, only connections,” Craven said. “I had a friend who had a friend who had a connection to Ray Stevens, so we emailed it to him.”
And then the waiting began.
“We emailed the song and we didn’t hear anything for a while, and then someone asked us to send it again and then we got an email telling us to be patient, that Ray was working on his best cat voice,” Craven said. “That was in June and I followed up in September and it was already on the record and we didn’t even know it.”
Stevens brought the duo to his studio in Nashville to meet them and let them be a part of the recording process.
“He let us watch the background singers do their part,” Crawford said. “He said, ‘You boys can stay, but we’re done working on your song.’ ”
What Stevens said
Stevens said the connection was actually his daughter, Suzi.
“They got the song to Suzi and she said, ‘Take it over to my dad, he may want to do something with it,’ ” he said. “It’s a cute song and I wanted to cut it.”
The song found its way onto Stevens’ latest Christmas album, “Mary and Joseph and The Baby and Me.”
“Everybody is commenting about the song,” Stevens said. “It’s a little bit off the beaten path and a lot of people have cats and love cats — it’s about a cat that gets declawed because he tears up the new couch and he’s having a lot of problems and he writes a letter to Santa and asks him to bring him some more claws for Christmas.”
Stevens is no stranger to Jackson County. For it was, after all, the setting for one of his most famous songs and biggest hits.
“ ‘The Mississippi Squirrel Revival’ was set in Pascagoula,” he said. “I just love Mississippi.”
The next ‘Rudolph’ or ‘Frosty’?
Craven said the duo has big plans for their letter-writing feline friend.
“We’re hoping to get a children’s book on ‘Claws’ done by next Christmas,” he said. “We’re hoping it will be a big Christmas song like ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.’ ”