A cavalcade of A-list songwriters, artists, and music publishers turned out to the Music City Center in Nashville last night (Oct. 14) to celebrate as six top tunesmiths were given Nashville’s highest songwriter honor—induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
This year’s inductees for the 49th annual awards included Larry Gatlin, Dwight Yoakam, Marcus Hummon, Kostas, Rivers Rutherford and Sharon Vaughn. Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame executive director Mark Ford and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame board chair Sarah Cates were on hand to lead the event.
“Every year our organization has the distinct pleasure of honoring the best of the best songwriters in our community with induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame,” said Cates. “Our class of 2019 is an exceptional example of the high standards that have helped make Nashville the songwriting capital of the world. It is our distinct pleasure to welcome Marcus Hummon, Kostas and Rivers Rutherford in the songwriter category; Sharon Vaughn in the veteran songwriter category; Dwight Yoakam as our songwriter/artist and Larry Gatlin as this year’s veteran songwriter/artist.”
Trio Farewell Jane welcomed attendees before the ceremony’s opening, blending harmonies and performing songs including the Dixie Chicks’ “Ready To Run” (a Marcus Hummon composition) and Randy Travis’ “Out Of My Bones” (penned by inductee Sharon Vaughn).
Several top artists were on hand to fete the honorees.
Premier producer, writer, and former label head Tony Brown inducted Kostas, known for his many hits, including breakthrough songs for Patty Loveless. Holly Williams performed the Kostas-penned 1989 Loveless hit “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” while Parker Millsap offered a sleek, soulful rendition of “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” a Kostas-penned hit for one of the evening’s fellow inductees, Yoakam.
Darrell Scott inducted Hummon, before Sara Evans took the stage to offer one of the first songs she co-wrote with Hummon, which also became a breakthrough hit for Evans, “Born To Fly.” Hummon’s son Levi Hummon was joined by Hall of Fame songwriter Matraca Berg and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna for a rendition of Hummon’s “God Bless The Broken Road.”
“He is not only a hit songwriter, he is a server of the people,” Scott said of Hummon.
Jeffrey Steele feted Yoakam with a rendition of “Guitars, Cadillacs,” while stating that the music of Yoakam and Los Lobos were some of the styles that drew him to Nashville.
“Jeffrey, that made me want to play that song again. I wrote songs because I needed something to sing. I’m being inducted in the artist category and I’m flattered to be inducted alongside the other inductees. Kostas and I are friends. I had never really co-written anything, early in my career. I came to Nashville for a time and actually auditioned at Opryland and they offered me a spot as an alternate. I said, ‘Does that mean I get to play music at the park?’ and they said, ‘Well, if somebody drops out, we’ll call you.’” He said, to the laughter of the crowd. “At that point I decided maybe the thing that is calling me was the thing that turned my head a few years earlier, when I first heard Brian Hern’s album with Emmylou Harris, the music he started making after Gram Parsons passed. The first number of Emmylou Harris albums had a profound impact on my life and what I thought about country music. I believed as a kid, music was cyclical and there was an audience for the music I had grown up listening to.” Yoakam also used some of his acceptance speech time to say how he was influenced by fellow inductee Larry Gatlin’s music.
Former Warner Music Group CEO/Chairman Cameron Strang inducted Yoakam, while Brandy Clark offered a rendition of “The Heart That You Own.”
Hall of Fame songwriter Pat Alger honored the late Ralph Murphy with the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award, for his years spent championing and encouraging songwriters of all stripes. Alger noted that Murphy’s 2011 book Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting has sold more than 10,000 copies to date. Murphy’s daughter Kerry Murphy accepted the honor.
Bill Anderson inducted Sharon Vaughn, introducing her with a story of how the native Floridian knocked on the door of his Music Row office late one evening 50-plus years ago, asking to play him some songs. She didn’t have a demo tape or guitar with her, and instead tapped out a rhythm on Anderson’s desk, as she sang the words to “Y’all Come Back Saloon” among other songs.
“Being the cynical Nashville publisher, I said the words that every writer has heard and dreads to hear—‘What else have you got?’ She said, ‘Well I’ve got this song called ‘My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.’ When she got the line ‘Sadly in search of and one step in back of themselves and their slow-moving dreams,’ I said, ‘I’m in the presence of a songwriter.’” Anderson said. The track would go on to become a No. 1 hit for both Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
John Rich teamed with The Isaacs for “Y’all Come Back Now Saloon,” before Brooks took to a side stage with only an acoustic guitar for a rendition of “Cowboys.” Other songs in Vaughn’s catalog of his include Trisha Yearwood’s “Powerful Thing,” Patty Loveless’ “Lonely Too Long,” as well as “Broken Promise Land” (recorded on separate occasions by Jennings and John Schneider, but became a Top 10 hit for Mark Chesnutt).
“It took a while to get here, but I’m right on time,” Vaughn said, to the delight of the audience. “To my collaborators…I learned to write songs at the knees of my collaborators. They showed themselves, they showed their hearts, their wisdom and they showed their patience, and I’m very, very grateful to them for the generosity they showed to me. I can’t tell you how many people are in this room that I’ve written with. I want to thank the taxi drivers, the crooks, the cowboys, the wanderers who deserted their loved ones because they couldn’t stay, the waitresses at Waffle House that work the late night shift…all of those people, the lost ones, the broken threads that have woven their way into my life and found their way out through the songs. They are the courageous ones, the ones I draw from. They are my well. I’m forever grateful to them for their stories. I thank the girls—Felice, Kitty Wells, Loretta, Dolly, Emmylou, Tammy, Cindy Walker, Marijohn Wilkins, they are the ones that wrote songs from a woman’s point of view. That’s invaluable to me and I’m so grateful for the ones who came before me, and I’m also grateful for the ones that came after me. I’m so grateful for the female artists and writers of this era, they are magnificent.”
Tom Shapiro inducted Rutherford. Brett James and Hillary Lindsey performed a stirring rendition of “When I Get Where I’m Going,” a hit for Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, while Brooks & Dunn offered a full-band, blistering performance of “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You.”
“I’ve heard them say that this song would’ve been a hit on anybody, anybody could have cut it,” Rutherford said. “But anybody didn’t. They did. Thank you Kix and Ronnie.”
Shapiro said, “In all the years I’ve known him, he’s proven again and again that he’s a real good man,” a reference to Rutherford’s hit for Tim McGraw.
“Thank you to my co-writers and there are so many of you here. I’ve been so inspired by all of you. I need to especially call out my friend George Teren. Your friendship and the unique way you helped me discovered how rare and sweet and satisfying the points where art and commerce meet really are. Kent Earls, your great ears and solid judgment. We sat at that old Milsap building and listened to Brooks & Dunn’s ‘Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You.’ When the song was over, you said, ‘That’s your first No. 1. That’s a six-week No. 1.’ And you were right on three counts—it did hit No. 1. It camped out there for exactly six weeks, and it was only the first.” Thank you for being exactly the right partner through the hits and misses. Tom Shapiro is my inductor tonight. You’ll always be the conductor, the leader of the band.”
Rutherford told of his early days struggling in Nashville and thanked his parents and his wife.
“We had a house in Nolensville, before it was a suburb. They had this little grocery store. We were in there one day and we had just had our second child. He said, ‘Mr. Rutherford, do you want to buy those groceries or do you want to cover the check that bounced last week? I said, ‘I’ll cover that check.’ And then when he saw the babies with us, he said, ‘I forgot about them babies, just go on, take the groceries.’ I said, ‘No, I’ll settle up.’ We worked out a deal for him to take a credit card, and that was before the swipe. We got home, and it was cold and dark, winter. It was the lowest moment of my life and I asked, ‘What if this is it? What if we came up here and what if this is as good as it gets?’ She said, ‘Are we still together? Then I’m good.’ Recently I asked her if she still felt that way and she said, ‘Money doesn’t matter. Don’t’ get me wrong it’s a lot of fun to spend it.’ I couldn’t have done this without you.
“Maybe those questions that keep you awake at night—‘What if I never get another cut?’ ‘How can I make more money?’ The pressures I feel to excel have nothing to do with my purpose, my ultimate ‘why?’ It might be self-serving to say this and it may be wrong, but I believe the creative process is sacred. It’s the closest I’ll ever come to a partnership with the Almighty.”
The event, which clocked in at around four hours long, concluded with the induction of Larry Gatlin. Gatlin brought his signature quick wit to his acceptance speech.
“Dwight, I thought there for a minute you were getting a little long-winded, until you started talking about me. Then I started enjoying your speech,” he said jokingly, before growing serious. “To my fellow inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, I’m honored to be inducted with you. Brother Steve, Brother Rudy, I wouldn’t be here without you.”
He also recounted the writing of “All The Gold In California.”
“In 1978, I was stuck in a traffic jam right in front of the Hollywood Bowl in LA and in front of me was a 1958 mercury station wagon with Oklahoma license plates and I just blurted out, ‘Good lord, these poor Okies look like the Joad family from the Grapes of Wrath that are coming to California to get rich and they are going to find out all too quickly that all the gold in California is in the bank in Beverly Hills and somebody else’s name. Later that day I wrote ‘All The Gold’ in eight minutes. Were it not for those eight minutes, I probably would not be standing here.”
Vince Gill inducted Gatlin, before joining Gatlin’s brothers Steve and Rudy for glorious high harmonies on “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today.” The Oak Ridge Boys closed the evening by joining Steve and Rudy for “All The Gold In California.”
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