Birds of a feather, flock together.
It wasn’t until we had them all in the same room for the Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony (5/17) that I realized how much this year’s inductees have in common. Receiving their industry’s highest honor were Charlie McCoy, Roy Clark and Barbara Mandrell. All three began their careers in childhood. All three are multi-instrumental wizards. And all three furthered their fame by effectively using television.
Charlie got his first harmonica at age 8, recounted Kyle Young. “He is the most recognized harmonica player in the world, period,” said Kyle. “He re-established the harmonica as a voice in country music.” Charlie also plays bass, keyboards, saxophone, guitar, percussion, trumpet and tuba.
“I think of him as a complete musician,” said Harold Bradley, who did the official induction honors.
“Mom said there’d be days, but she never said there’d be days like this,” said a grateful Charlie McCoy. “I want to thank the Nashville A-Team for setting the bar so high. We made records that are still being played. And that’s cool.”
He told the audience that he divides his career into three parts. The first was as a session musician, who performed on “500 Miles Away From Home,” “Orange Blossom Special,” “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous,” “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” “Joshua,” “Delta Dawn,” “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine,” “The Streak,” “Play Guitar Play,” “Take This Job and Shove it” and hundreds of other hits during more than 1,000 recording sessions.
Charlie recorded “Desolation Row” with Bob Dylan in New York, prompting the legendary artist to begin recording in Nashville with other members of Music City’s elite musician corps in the 1960s. Thus, Nashville came to flourish as a recording center for all genres of music.
The second phase of his career was as a recording artist, largely for Fred Foster at Monument Records. Fred stayed with Charlie for eight long years before the musician began to turn a profit. Charlie also recorded as a member of Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry.
Charlie’s third career was as the musical director of Hee Haw, the most successful country television program in history. He thanked producer Sam Lovullo for giving him, “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Before the event, Charlie had strolled through the Hall of Fame and noted that he has played on records by 53 of the Hall’s members. “And I ain’t through playin’ yet,” he concluded.
Roy Clark was tutored on guitar, fiddle and banjo by his father. When he was only 16, he was excused from school so that he could back Hank Williams at concerts in Baltimore. He gravitated toward television while he was quite young, appearing on Town and Country Time and Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in the 1950s. He became a popular guest on The Tonight Show, as well as its occasional host. Like Charlie, Roy also became familiar to millions via Hee Haw, which he hosted for 25 years.
He was a pioneer in building Branson, Mo. as a country-music mecca. He was one of the first American musicians to tour the Soviet Union. Roy is considered one of country’s greatest showmen in that he can dazzle audiences with his instrumental dexterity and his vocal warmth, as well as his hilarious comic timing.
He was inducted by Jimmy Dickens. “You can’t say a few words about Roy Clark,” said Jimmy. “You just can’t do that, when he’s the ultimate country-music entertainer all over the world.”
Jimmy delighted the crowd with his quips: “I’ve been sick. I had two brain surgeries in one day. And they never did find it.” He told about the time when Roy and his band pushed a VW into a pool in Vegas to see if it would float. On a more serious note, he added, “Thank you for the nice things you’ve done for our industry.”
Roy recognized Jim Halsey and Jim Foglesong in the audience before stating, “What an honor it is to be a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Thanks to all of you. And thanks to God.”
Kyle called Barbara Mandrell, “Everybody’s Miss America….Few have been as multi-skilled or as determined as Barbara.” By age 10, she was playing accordion, sax and steel guitar, later adding banjo, mandolin and bass to her instrumental arsenal. As “The Princess of the Steel Guitar” she starred in Las Vegas at age 11. At 13, she went out on a country package tour with Johnny Cash, Don Gibson, Gordon Terry and June Carter. On it, she roomed with Patsy Cline and played steel backing George Jones.
She launched her hit-making career in 1969, was a superstar by the mid-1970s and in 1980-82 starred on NBC’s Barbara Mandrell & The Mandrell Sisters, network television’s last successful variety series.
Ralph Emery inducted Barbara, recalling that Merle Travis recommended her for his Ralph Emery Show on Channel 4, long before she became famous. “Her favorite prayer is, ‘God give me patience…and could You please hurry,’” quipped Ralph about the famously driven Barbara. “You are an absolute inspiration to us all,” he concluded.
“This is just an emotionally charged evening,” said Barbara. She saluted husband Ken Dudney, mother Mary, sisters Louise and Irlene and her children, adding that Irby, her father/manager, lived long enough to know she would enter the Hall of Fame. He died on March 5.
“Tonight, I thank you with my entire being,” said Barbara Mandrell. “I thank God for taking me on this amazing journey. God bless you. And God bless the Country Music Hall of Fame.”
The evening was one musical thrill after another. Dawn Sears & The Medallion All-Star Band kicked it off with an electrifying “Old Rugged Cross.” The group included Eddie Bayers, Michael Rhodes, Brent Mason, Paul Franklin (who was brought to town by Barbara and Irby when he was 17), Deanie Richardson, Jeff White and bandleader John Hobbs.
Rock Hall of Famer Duane Eddy saluted Charlie McCoy with “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” With Jim Hoke on harp and Sam Levine on sax, Rodney Crowell sang a grooving, grinding “Candy Man.” Jelly Roll Johnson followed with a sweet instrumental of “Today I Started Loving You Again.” Charlie’s Barefoot Jerry co-horts P.T. Gazell, Russ Hicks and Wayne Moss offered “Summit Ridge Drive.”
Then Charlie concluded his segment of the ceremony with a version of “Shenandoah” so tender it brought tears to my eyes.
Roy Clark’s first salute came from Josh Turner, who did an outstanding job on 1970’s “Thank God and Greyhound.” Roy’s Tulsa neighbor Garth Brooks sang the 1973 ballad “Come Live with Me” backed by The Carol Lee Singers. Roy, himself, offered a poignant take on his immortal 1969 classic “Yesterday When I Was Young.”
Honoring Barbara, Alison Krauss was sensational on 1973’s “The Midnight Oil.” Sister Louise Mandrell bopped through 1978’s “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.” Michael McDonald steamed the place up with a soulful “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to be Right,” a Barbara smash from 1979.
Backed by Charlie McCoy, Reba McEntire nailed 1981’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” and George Jones appeared to recreate his cameo on Barbara’s original hit record.
As is the custom, all of the Hall of Famers present gathered to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as the event’s finale. In addition to Foglesong, Dickens, Emery, Jones, Bradley and the three new inductees, they included Phil Everly, Jo Walker-Meador, Charlie Louvin, Emmylou Harris, Earl Scruggs, Sonny James, Bud Wendell and Jordanaires Ray Walker, Louis Nunley and Curtis Young.
The pre-induction cocktail supper featured strolling waiters bearing stuffed mini-potatoes, crabcakes, cheese sandwich bites, puff pastries and other tempting morsels. Tables held tortellini and veggies, avocado-and-grapefruit salad, roast beef sandwiches and more. I always love the catering at this gig.
Heading a stellar cast of attendees was Mayor Karl Dean and Nashville first lady Ann Davis. Schmoozers included Ken Levitan & Gloria Dumas, Mary Ann McCready & Roy Wunsch, Jett Williams & Keith Atkinson, Christy Sutherland & Matt Dudney, Kitty Moon & Pat Emery, David & Susanna Ross, Gary Scruggs, Randy Scruggs, Lane Brody, Rose Lee Maphis and Rodney Lay.
Industry titans Denise Stiff, Bob Doyle, Jody Williams, Tim Wipperman, David Conrad, Billy Deaton, Tom Collins, Clint Higham, Dale Morris, Rod Essig, Don Light, Mike Milom, Dick Frank, Chris Horsnell, Tamara Saviano, Jeff Walker, Chet Flippo, Tammy Genovese, Ed Benson and Lon Helton mingled with “civilians” Seab Tuck, Keel Hunt, Donna Nicely, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Steve Turner and other Hall of Fame boosters.
WSM’s Bill Cody hosted the red-carpet arrivals. Considering how cool the evening was, a surprisingly large crowd of fans lined the sidewalks of Demonbreun Street.