This was probably as enjoyable a movie to make as it was to watch. Willie Nelson plays Doc Jenkins and Kris Kristofferson plays Blackie Buck....oh, who are we kidding....they just basically play themselves. Songwriter was directed by Alan Rudolph, who had previously directed Roadie (also a movie with music as part of the plot) and was written by Bud Shrake, who just a few years later would help Willie write his autobiography.
Willie and Kris are a couple of songwriters/performers who are on the road singing and making money. Willie always winds up investing his part of the proceeds in some type of failing business venture. One day Willie decides the real money is behind the scenes and he quits the road to be a writer/producer. Of course, even this doesn't work out good for Willie since, him being a trusting soul, he signs a contract giving away all of his writing royalties to a music executive.
Willie comes up with a scheme to circumvent his contract and get the proceeds from his songwriting. He finds a talented newcomer, Gilda (Lesley Ann Warren), who he will manage and put her name on his songs. He'll take most of the proceeds from the writing royalties and in return he'll make her a big star. There's a little inside joke when Willie is promoting Gilda. He takes her record to a radio station and asks a DJ to play it. The DJ says sure, as soon as the current record finishes. Willie asks him what he's playing and the DJ says The Geezinslaw Brothers, the joke is that the DJ is Sammy Allred, one-half of The Geezinslaw Brothers
At the same time Willie is managing Gilda, he is also managing Kris, who finds out about the scheme. Kris wants Willie to give him a song also, mainly to help Willie screw the music executive back in Nashville. Gilda becomes a big hit but she has never been comfortable on stage, and now she is also having a hard time with people thinking she wrote her own songs. She eventually turns to drugs and alcohol resulting in her OD'ing. After her brush with death, she gets clean and marries her longtime boyfriend/harmonica player (Mickey Raphael). Gilda getting clean is a plot point that really helps Willie get his revenge on the music executive at the end of the movie.
While Songwriter is classified as a drama, I really think it was more comedic than anything else. Sure the basic background plot is about musicians getting cheated by the men in charge of the music business, but the interactions between Willie and Kris are always playful, and Rip Torn as a shady concert promoter has a lot of great comic moments. Even the crooked music executive is portrayed more as a big boob, than someone that really knows what he's doing.
In my opinion, Songwriter should have used someone different in the role of Gilda. I had a hard time buying Lesley Ann as a country singer. Too bad they couldn't have cast someone else, maybe Tanya Tucker for example, to give the role more authenticity. For all you womenfolk, Kris, in most scenes, seems to either have his shirt off or mostly unbuttoned, and for all you menfolk, there's two scenes with women baring their breasts.
Besides the musicians mentioned above: Songwriter features members of Willie's band and Kris' band; Johnny Gimble has a small speaking part and Steve Fromholz can be spotted as a recording engineer. Booker T. Jones of Booker T and The MG's has a nonspeaking part as a member of Gilda's band and I even spotted Ray Benson in the background at one of the several parties featured in the movie. I'm sure I missed some but perhaps you'll catch them when watching Songwriter.