Simon Hale, the British arranger, does all string and wood arrangements on my records.
I wouldn't say that I've had a tough life by any stretch of the imagination.
But I can't really say there is too much modern music that I'm blown away by at this moment.
Happy music doesn't tend to move me much.
I'd have these weird experiences where I'd just be walking down the street with this chord progression in my head, this happened more than a few times, and I'd walk home and find a fax in my machine and it would match the music in my head.
A real foolproof way to do it is play your stuff by hook or by crook and build up a grass roots following.