The Oak Ridge Boys, The Browns and guitarist Grady Martin were formally welcomed into the Country Music Hall of Fame during a gala concert in Nashville last night (Oct. 25). Their magnificent careers were celebrated not only with medallions, but also with loving words from family and friends, as well as memorable renditions of their best-known songs.
After opening remarks from BMI VP of Writer/Publisher Relations Jody Williams, the evening got underway in the CMA Theater with a salute to Martin, one of the most versatile guitarists in country music history. Martin, who died in 2001, is not remembered for one particular style of picking; instead he was being honored for his ability to give a song whatever it needed.
Vince Gill played Grady’s licks (and supplied tenor vocals) on a re-working of Marty Robbins’ 1959 classic “El Paso,” performed reverently by Marty Stuart & The Fabulous Superlatives. Next up, rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Duane Eddy revived the famous fuzz effect on “Don’t Worry” that made the song a huge hit for Robbins in 1961; chanteuse Mandy Barnett provided the sterling vocals.
And finally, guitarist Pete Wade – considered the heir to Grady’s guitar legacy – brought out the late instrumentalist’s famed “Big Red” Gibson 335 electric guitar to play “Fifteen Years Ago.” Originally a 1970 hit for Conway Twitty, the song enjoyed a terrific rendering by Buddy Miller. Although all of the selections were well-curated, Martin’s work can also be heard on country classics like “The Battle of New Orleans,” “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Satin Sheets” and “For the Good Times.”
Brenda Lee, who said that she demanded Martin to be booked on all of her hit-making sessions, tearfully remembered her friend while graciously acknowledging his legacy to the Nashville music community. He was inducted in the category of Recording and/or Touring Musician Active Prior to 1980.
“Grady Martin is in the songs we write, and he’s in the records we make, and he’s in the air we breathe,” Lee said. “He’s in the cranes we see around town, building skyscrapers, because people want to live and work here, and they want to make music here. Grady Martin is a big part of the reason why.”
She then introduced Martin’s son, Joshua, to the stage to accept the honor. Although Joshua said that he and his father shared a reluctance for the spotlight, he noted, “I know he’d want to be here, if he was still with us, because this is the highest honor you can achieve in country music. This is it.”
When it came time to recognize The Browns, who were inducted in the Veterans Era Artist category, Williams described them as the smoothest ensemble in country music history. A video montage explained the Arkansas natives’ long road to finding a significant national audience – until “The Three Bells” hit it big in 1959.
Texas swing musician Carolyn Martin and Nashville guitarist Chris Scruggs polished up a fun number, “Looking Back to See,” to honor the sibling trio. The Isaacs, a gospel group known for their family harmony, reprised their beautiful version of “The Three Bells” and received a standing ovation. Dierks Bentley concluded the tribute portion with “Pop a Top,” a 1967 solo hit for Jim Ed Brown after his sisters Maxine and Bonnie retired from the group.
Jim Ed Brown died earlier this year, but he did receive his medallion in his hospital room. Meanwhile, Maxine and Bonnie accepted their medallions from longtime friend, Bobby Bare. Jim Ed Brown’s widow, Becky Brown, was on hand to represent him.
Bonnie pointed out family members in the audience who made the trek to the ceremony, while Maxine told a few off-color jokes to the delight of the crowd. Becky took a thoughtful turn when she said of her husband, “He spent his whole life doing what he wanted to do, with people he loved, and for people he loved. He felt so blessed every day.”
As the final recipient of the night, The Oak Ridge Boys enjoyed a heartfelt version of their 1979-1980 hit, “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna. After that, Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks turned the Oaks’ 1978 No. 1 hit, “I’ll Be True to You,” into a gorgeous duet. The Martin Family Circus (comprised of Oaks member Duane Allen’s daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren) gave a cute update to “Elvira,” the group’s 1981 smash single.
Kenny Rogers spoke briefly about his close friendship with group members Allen, Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden, then turned the microphone over the Oaks. As inductees in the Modern Era Artist category, they all reminisced at length about their careers.
“The Oak Ridge Boys are family,” said Bonsall. “We’ve always been family. Family is what’s most important. We tried to run our group that way. Trying to do what’s right. Trying to be honest always, like our parents taught us. Treat people right. I really think that’s why we’re here today.”
After the Oaks spoke, the crowd joined all of the performers in the familiar refrain of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” before enjoying a VIP banquet.
Along with Bare, Brooks, Gill and Lee, other Country Music Hall of Fame members in the audience included Harold Bradley, Roy Clark, Ralph Emery, Emmylou Harris, Charlie McCoy, Randy Owen of Alabama, Connie Smith, Ray Walker of The Jordanaires, and E.W. “Bud” Wendell.
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