Bobby Karl Works The Room
This year’s Medallion Ceremony inducting the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame was full of first-time experiences.
The induction of Ray Charles was long overdue, and was celebrated as such. Pete Drake became the first steel guitarist to be inducted. Eddie Bayers is now the Hall’s first country drummer. Naomi Judd was unexpectedly inducted posthumously in The Judds, due to her death the previous day. Wendy Moten, The War & Treaty, Bettye LaVette, Tommy Sims and Old Crow Medicine Show drummer Jerry Pentecost comprised the largest Black musical presence at such an event in history.
The Medallion Ceremony took place on Sunday (May 1) in the Hall’s CMA Theater. To be frank, I was worried when I got the news about Naomi’s death on Saturday. I thought that the event might turn into a wake, and/or that the inductions of Charles, Bayers and Drake would be completely overshadowed.
Wynonna and her sister Ashley Judd urged the Hall to proceed as scheduled. The Hall responded by staging a supremely classy ceremony.
The musical intro to the event was Tom T. Hall’s 1971 eloquent country classic “A Million Miles to the City.” Museum CEO Kyle Young referred to its lyric throughout the ceremony. “Each of tonight’s inductees were fueled by dreams and words and melodies,” he said. Mary Ann McCready introduced the Circle Guard, a ceremonial elite consisting of Steve Turner, David Conrad, Bill Denny, Seab Tuck, Ken Levitan, Mike Milom and Jerry Williams.
Then came the processional of existing Hall of Famers—Randy Travis, Bill Anderson, Don Schlitz, Ray Stevens, Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry of Alabama, Bud Wendell, Bobby Braddock, Duane Allen of the Oaks, Ricky Skaggs, Garth Brooks, Ronnie Milsap and Marty Stuart. The CMA’s Sarah Trahern was the first to address Naomi’s passing. “Love: It fills this room,” she said. “Love sustains us and comforts us. Love Can Build a Bridge — The Judds taught us that, and love is Naomi’s legacy. We lost an industry icon….Each of these inductees is an inspiration to us all.”
Kyle asked for a moment of silence for Hall of Fame members Ralph Emery and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, both of whom have died since the last Medallion event. He then spoke of Naomi’s sudden passing, explaining that her family wished the ceremony to go on.
He introduced the induction of Pete Drake (1932-1988), describing Drake as “one of America’s prime music innovators.” Drake invented the “talk box” device showcased on his 1964 steel-guitar hit “Forever” and later adopted by rock stars Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and others. Drake also promoted Nashville’s musical diversity via his publishing, record label and recording-studio ventures.
To salute Drake, Elizabeth Cook performed “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and Wendy Moten did “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The steel guitarist played on both of those. Charlie McCoy presented the Medallion to widow Rose Drake and son John Drake. “Everything he played on fit like a glove,” said Charlie. “He became part of the records he was on.”
“Pete loved music and his music friends more than anything,” said Rose. “We need to recognize these musicians more. The music of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s created Nashville. Thank you very much for keeping his legacy going.”
Kyle said that inductee Eddie Bayers provided “very good grooves and very bad jokes,” describing him as, “a metronome with a heart.” Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name” and Trisha Yearwood’s “Walkaway Joe” were just two of the hundreds of hits Eddie has played on. “A great drummer is felt, not heard,” said Vince. “My hope for you, Eddie, is that you get a really good looking plaque.” That joking reference was to the notoriously ugly bronze facial reliefs on the Hall’s official plaques.
“People make a family, and we are certainly a family,” said Eddie. “I love all of you. God bless you all.” He also saluted his wife Lane Brody as “my immortal beloved.”
“They sang their hearts out loud,” said Kyle of The Judds. “They sang in harmony even when they didn’t live in harmony.” Shouted Wy from her seat, “Amen.” “We can’t know all of their struggles, but we know all of their songs,” Kyle concluded. Carly Pearce sang “Grandpa (Tell Me Bout the Good Old Days)” and Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings sang “Young Love.”
Ricky Skaggs inducted The Judds. “We’re not gonna be sad today,” he said of Naomi Judd (1946-2022). “We’re going to have joy. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Y’all touched so many people with those songs. All of country music, all of the people around the world who loved The Judds are praying for you.”
“My Mom loved you so much,” said Ashley Judd. “I’m so sorry she couldn’t hang on until today. It was your affection for her that kept her going.” She turned to sister Wynonna and continued, “I love you, and I’m so proud of you. Mama was proud of you, and she always was.” She received her mother’s Medallion. Ricky placed Wy’s around her neck.
“I’m going to make this fast, because my heart is broken,” said Wy. “And I feel so blessed. It’s very strange dynamic to be this broken in this place…Though my heart is broken, I will continue to sing.” She concluded by reciting “The 23rd Psalm.” Then Tommy Sims sang a moving version if “Love Can Build a Bridge.”
“It’s been a long time comin,’” said Kyle of the induction of Ray Charles (1930-2004). “Ray took country music to places it had never been.” The War and Treaty brought down the house with a thrilling rendition of “You Don’t Know Me.” Garth Brooks did “Seven Spanish Angels,” which is his go-to song at concert sound checks. Bettye LaVette sang a soulful “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Ronnie Milsap did the Medallion honors.
“Ray Charles was a really cool guy,” said Ronnie. “We were really great friends. We wrote Braille letters to each other. Ray would be so happy today.” Accepting was Valerie Ervin, the president of the Ray Charles Foundation. “Ray Charles always stood his ground for what he loved, and he loved country music,” she said. “Country music was the core of Ray Charles’s life. This IS a Moment.”
“It’s been like church tonight,” observed Marty Stuart of the ceremony. He led the crowd in singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” He (and everyone else) was accompanied by the awesome Medallion All Star Band — Biff Watson, Jan Gunderman, Brent Mason, Jeff White, Tommy White, Rachel Loy, Jerry Pentecost, Deanie Richardson, Tanis Hancheroff, and Wendy Moten.
Taking it all in were Larry Gatlin, Paul Kennerley, T.G. Sheppard & Kelly Lang, Brent Maher, Joe Galante, Dan Rogers, John Carter Cash, Scott Hendricks, Tim Wipperman, Chuck Mead, Erika Wollam & Roger Nichols, Bill Purcell, Ellen Lehman, Steve Buchanan, Bonnie Garner, Martha Moore, Susan Stewart, Fletcher Foster, Bruce Bouton, Hunter Kelly, Bob & Leslie DiPiero, Tom Roland, Jeannie Seely, Tony Brown, Ken Paulson, Denise Stiff, The McCrary Sisters, Walter Campbell, Tracy Gershon, Tess Frizzell, Bobby Tomberlin, Jim Horn, Gary Burr & Georgia Middleman, Rique, Lon Helton, Cactus Moser, Don Potter, David Ewing, David Ross, Dave Pomeroy and Sharon Vaughn, for starters.
Brain Mansfield was introducing Marcus K. Dowling to everyone in the press section. Jim Ed Norman was on a break from touring with The Eagles. Steve Fishell’s news is that his book about Buddy Emmons is being published by the University of Illinois in its prestigious Music in American Life series. Doug Green’s book about Carson Robison has been accepted by Vanderbilt University Press, and the distinguished Bill Malone is set to write the biography of Doug’s group Riders in the Sky.
The whole shebang relocated to the sixth floor event space for a cocktail supper. On the menu were steak, salmon, potato salad, pizza and desserts. And lots of fellowship.