The concept of the singer-songwriter is not a new one, with musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger being popular figures in the 40s and 50s. In fact, if you take a historical perspective, wandering bards and minstrels probably were a large part of oral traditions that were passed around and handed down from generation to generation centuries ago. The writer/performer really started to come to prominence in the mid-to-late 60s in the USA, when there was a huge wave of 'protest singers' that sprung up to comment on the Vietnam war and other social issues through their music. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were two among many who set their views to music and performed the result.
As Rock and Roll struck, there was still a lot of separation between writers and performers, although some of the bands were starting to write their own songs, either within the band or with outside collaborators. Lennon and McCartney wrote some massive hits for The Beatles, but so too did Leiber and Stoller. Jagger and Richards wrote many great Rolling Stones songs, but they also covered some classic American blues standards in their repertoire - songs written by black singer/songwriters half a world away. A band would still take a song that had a chance of being a hit and record it, and nobody would bother that much about who wrote the song. If the Stones released it, it was a Stones song.
As the music industry grew and more acts hit the airwaves, singer/songwriters found themselves as members of bands. This was driven by musical styles and public taste. Bands became the thing to listen to, and so the industry followed. Most of these bands wrote their own stuff, with the occasional exception - Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath all wrote their own songs, and were very good at it. There were still songwriters, composers and non-writing performers, but they were a rarity in Rock music. "Write your own songs and play 'em" became the expected norm for bands, to the point where performers who didn't write their own material were looked down on or frowned upon as 'not the whole package'.
That was in the recording industry, the charts and with the touring stars. While this was going on, in every major city of the Western Word and beyond, there were countless cover bands playing the hits and making a reasonable living at it. That's when I entered music, and that's what I did. There were plenty of my peers that were burning with the ambition to play their own songs, and some of them went on to have considerable success on the world stage. While I wrote my own stuff and enjoyed doing so, I didn't have the same need to have my music stand alone. Not at that point in my career, anyway. I was playing a heap of gigs, copping the licks and styles of some of the best guitarists on the planet, and making money. I was happy. Play 'Beat It'? Sure! That's Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen right there!
Today, I am now at a stage where I am working primarily on music that I write, either by myself (as is the case with my instrumentals), with my wife Donna (Resonance Project) or with Jac Dalton and Darren Mullan for Jac's releases. Until recently, Donna and I did regular gigs with Lady Zeppelin doing the Led Zep repertoire, and we had a blast doing it. We've recorded a couple of covers with the Jac Dalton Band. I'd dig to play a Jeff Beck piece in my solo set sometime. I still feel the same way about songs and music. If it's good and it's fun to play, I'll play it. It doesn't have to be mine. Having said that, I also respect the right of any artist to only play their own compositions. I do, however, object to them being assholes about it when it comes to criticising a person who is perfectly happy to play ABBA medleys at a yacht club. If you don't like to see musicians playing ABBA medleys, don't go to yacht clubs. Simple. Don't like covers bands? Tell that to the Berlin Philharmonic. To judge someone else's musical values and ambitions is to tread dangerously close to the path of the political or religious zealot. In music, that's just not cool, man.
In reality, not every person who plays an instrument or sings is a composer or songwriter. Not every gifted lyricist can sing or play an instrument, and not every wunderkind of music composition can string two words together, and maybe neither of them have the nerve to get on a stage. Some people just love to play music because it feels so good. If they can do that without having to write the stuff, then that just means that they'll achieve their goal a bit sooner than those who are still learning to write a good tune. Either way, if we all reach our goals, we all win. Especially those people who just love to listen to music and have been winning since the first composition was written. Whenever that was.
Bottom line? It's music. Love it, share it, write it, play it. Did I mention share it? That's important.