It is high time for a big-time MusicRow shout-out to BMI.The performance rights organization hosted the 26th annual MusicRow awards ceremony on Wednesday evening (June 18) with so much style that I must comment. You know where that big reception desk is at the far end of the lobby? Well, that zone now converts into a large staging area with a video-wall backdrop. That wall had a huge, glowing blow-up of the awards logo. “Look at this set-up,” exclaimed the mag’s Sherod Robertson. “I feel like a star up here.”
That’s not all. The sound in the echo-y lobby has been famously bad, which BMI overcame with a much-improved audio system. BMI put on the dog in the food department, too. Meat balls. Chunky guacamole with tortilla chips. Stuffed peppers. Chicken tenders. And BMI writers are featured on the cover of the current print, awards-edition of the publication. The father-son BMI songwriter duo of Rhett Akins and Thomas Rhett are smiling there. “We’re proud to have this event here,” said BMI’s Clay Bradley to the throng of attendees. “To me, this is always the kick-off to summer.”
“These awards started in 1989,” said Robertson. “Some of my staff members weren’t born in 1989. I guess I’m okay with that.” The magazine’s Eric Parker and Sarah Skates presented the Top-10 All-Star Musician awards. These are the only honors by any organization that salute the session musicians who make Nashville’s hits. This year, the group included Russ Pahl (steel), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle), Ilya Toshinsky (guitar), Greg Morrow (drums), Charles Judge (keyboards), Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass), Wes Hightower (background vocalist) and Justin Niebank (engineer). Pahl is a first-time winner in his category. Producer of the Year winner Frank Liddell is on vacation, but sent in this statement: “I’m in the Virgin Islands, celebrating the hell out of this.”
“All Kinds of Kinds” was written way back in 1998, but Miranda Lambert finally made it a hit and the MusicRow Song of the Year. “I told my mom I had a Miranda Lambert cut,” said co-writer Phillip Coleman. “She said, ‘Which song is it?’ I told her it was ‘All Kinds of Kinds,’ and she said, ‘That’s my least favorite song you’ve ever written.’” “Any time you can get a song on the country charts with a cross dresser in it, I’m all for it!” quipped co-writer Don Henry. Coleman and Henry performed the song splendidly at the event.
The Breakthrough Artist award went to Brandy Clark over four other nominees, all but her on major labels. “I was a little shocked when I heard that I had been nominated,” she confessed. “The critics, who most people hate, I love. This project has been driven by the press,” she explained offstage, “and by other artists.” Eric Church has chosen her as his current opening act. “Everybody loves you,” I told her. “At least, everybody with taste.” Her album is 12 Stories. “Since it came out, it’s been the most talked-about thing in the music business,” said Robertson. “It’s the best album EVER,” said Woody Bomar. There was a tie for Breakthrough Songwriter. Sony/ATV’s Terry Wakefield accepted for Cole Swindell. The co-winner was Nicolle Galyon.
“I write for the best publishing company in town,” said Galyon. “It took a lot of people believing in me and fighting for me. B.J. Hill signed me [to Warner-Chappell] when I was 23 years old. I’m almost 30 now.” She also thanked Rodney Clawson for his support. “Everybody here knows he’s a great songwriter,” she said. “I can attest to what a great husband and father he is.” Finally, she thanked her father. The day was his birthday, which he spent pouring contract in 100-degree weather back home in Kansas. “If that doesn’t make us all want to work harder, I don’t know what does,” Galyon concluded. The classically trained pianist sang her co-written Lambert hit “Automatic” in a strong, emotive voice.
The denizens of Music Row turned out in full force for the ceremony. David Ross, David Preston, David Wykoff, Dave Pomeroy and Dale Bobo were there. Plus John Ozier, John Briggs, John Beiter and John Mullins (“I can’t believe a wholly SESAC song won Song of the Year”). Not to mention Joe Moscheo, Josh Osborne, James Elliott, Janie West, Jim Femino, Jody Williams and Jessie Jo Dillon.
Mike Vaden, Mike Martinovich, Martha Moore, Scott Stem and Luke Laird mingled with Ben Vaughn, Barry Dean, Beth Gwinn and Bill Wence, who has just returned from performing with Wanda Jackson on the Queen Mary in L.A. at an “Iron & Ink” tattoo convention. I don’t make this stuff up. Wence says that Junior Brown and Merle Haggard were there singing, too. Back at the party: Susan Collier, Shannan Hatch, Steve Nathan, Sherrill Blackman and new artist Sydney Lett worked the room with Allen Brown, Al Schiltz, Lance Miller and Leslie Mitchell. Other fabulons attending included Trent Summar, Pat Higdon, Ree Guyer Buchanan, Rich Fagan, Earle Simmons, Holly Bell and Phil Graham. Speaking of Graham, thank-you, again, BMI.