Volume 6, Number 2, 1997

Facing the music

Talk about your split personality. During the week, Frank Larry, Delaware '75, patrols the halls of justice, advising the federal judiciary on criminal sentencing and related issues. On weekends and some evenings, Larry's often sequestered in his suburban Washington, D.C., home crafting the lyrics that he hopes will burst into the mainstream of Nashville's country music scene.

In the words of one noted country song, the relationship between his two vocations, is, well... "It ain't all love, but it ain't all bad."

"I give a lot of seminars around the country with my criminal justice job," explains Larry, from Herndon, Va. "Once in awhile, I'll bring my guitar to the programs and perform on break. Initially, I think a lot of participants were shocked but most everybody seems to like it. They seem interested in the idea that I'm an aspiring songwriter."

Larry was more than a little bit uncertain where his criminal justice major would take him. After graduation, he worked as a U.S. probation officer in Wilmington, Del., from 1977 to 1991. Transferring to Washington, he currently serves as a senior training specialist for the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The bulk of his work consists of training and consulting on the federal sentencing guidelines and related sentencing issues.

In addition, Larry works with the commission in the development and refinement of sentencing policy, traveling extensively throughout the United States to meet with defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officers and others interested in federal sentencing.

Larry grew up in Besco, W.Va., and was first introduced to the world of music when he traveled with his coal miner father to country music shows. When he received an inexpensive guitar as a present, Larry began his picking and strumming to the sounds of bluegrass and country music legends. After his family moved to Newark, Del., in the '70s, his passion grew as he played in several rock bands in high school and at UD. "I remember playing at Pencader Residence Hall when I was a student," says Larry. "Later, I was the music director for the First State Force, a rock band made up of police officers devoted to teaching Delaware children to be drug free. I guess I've never been able to shake that music."

In 1988, Larry decided to seriously pursue songwriting. He teamed up with Garrick Alden to produce a demo tape of his song, "Next To You," at Aldens' Washington recording studio. At a local bookstore, Larry stumbled across a copy of a musician's guide to writing and selling songs. On a whim, he sent a letter and a copy of his demo tape to Randy Travis' office in Nashville.

"A couple of weeks later, I got a letter from his manager saying they were putting a hold on the song," explains Larry. "Well, that means they intend to record it. I went down to his Nashville office and met everyone there. Unfortunately, the song didn't make the cut for the selections on his album. Even though it wasn't recorded, it turned out to be a great experience and it just spurred me on."

Currently, Larry is writing songs for three publishing companies: Al Jolson Enterprises (run by Jolson's son), the Marty Robbins Group and the Cornelius Co. He estimates he's submitted about 30 songs to Nashville publishers since 1988.

"One of my best shots is a song called 'Blue Heaven,' which I co-wrote with Rick Bowers, whom I know from Washington," says Larry. "It's a tribute to a police officer who was slain in the line of duty, and it's been recorded by Chris Bynum, a very popular disc jockey in Mississippi. We think we have a good chance to land a major artist to record it this year. Of all my songs, I think it has the best 'legs,' as they say in the business."

Larry says he enjoys the experience of co-writing since he feels the creativity level is doubled. With his guitar as accompaniment, he writes at home, where he also has a small studio to record tapes. He says his wife, Janet, and young sons are his biggest fans, but he himself truly admires Mary-Chapin Carpenter.

"I think her songs come from deep inside her," maintains Larry. "She captures a lot of feelings and emotions that a lot of people experience. I think the best reward of any songwriter is to connect with his or her audience, and that magical bond is something I strive for.

"On another level, the biggest thrill would be riding down the road and hearing your song on the radio. I get excited when I receive a CD from an up-and-coming artist who has recorded my songs. It's truly an honor to have a song sung by one of these very talented singers," he says.

"Life has dealt me a good hand. I have a job in the criminal justice system that's challenging and rewarding, and I have the passion of my songwriting that continues to grow. I count my blessings every day."

-Terry Conway