A heavenly host of Nashville songwriters gathered to celebrate their own on Sunday night (Oct. 11) as Even Stevens, Mark James, Rosanne Cash and Craig Wiseman were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“This is angel work,” said Wiseman. “If you’ve written a song with me, will you please do me the honor of standing up?” Dozens did.
“For all the songwriters…staying up too much, drinking too much, missing somebody too much…I’d like to share this award with you tonight,” said Mark James.
“You inspire me,” said Rosanne Cash, “just being around this community of songwriters.”
“This is the 45th anniversary of our Hall of Fame inductions, and this is the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” said NSHoF board chair Pat Alger. “We’re glad you’re here.” The event moved into the grand ballroom of the Music City Center this year, its largest venue ever.
Alger and his fellow songwriters either spoke for or performed for the inductees. Even Stevens, for instance, was inducted by Hugh Prestwood. The band Loving Mary turned in a terrific arrangement of the Stevens co-written “Drivin’ My Life Away.” Nashville pop performer Paul McDonald was equally creative in reimagining “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman.”
“I thought it was an honor when they chose my naked body for the statue in the [Music Row] Roundabout,” quipped Stevens. “But this is somethin’ else.
“I’m humbled to think I’m part of such a great club.”
Jody Williams inducted Mark James. Accompanied by his own dazzling mandolin picking, Hunter Hayes was a delight in his reinterpretation of the James classic “Suspicious Minds.” The still-vibrant voice of B.J. Thomas drew a standing ovation with a thrilling recreation of his immortal “Hooked on a Feeling.” He and James were boyhood friends in Houston, and Thomas has recorded more James tunes than anybody.
“I’ve always loved music,” James told the capacity crowd. “You didn’t put [songs] in categories. You just said, ‘What a great song.’” He should know: Mark James songs have been hits in country, rock, soul, pop and just about every other musical genre.
Rodney Crowell inducted Rosanne Cash. He was her first husband and is now her good friend. Cash’s present husband, John Leventhal, backed Emmylou Harris on piano as she sang an exquisite rendition of Cash’s “I Was Watching You.” Then the always-awesome Vince Gill delivered Cash’s classic “Seven Year Ache” in the same key in which she recorded it. He was once her band’s guitarist.
“I have so much history in this room,” said Rosanne Cash, noting that Harris, Gill, Leventhal and Crowell have been “my life.”
She added, “I desperately wanted to be a songwriter. I thought it was the most honorable profession in the world. And it is.”
Cash noted that she is almost certainly the only woman who has won Grammy Awards with songs she co-wrote with both of her husbands (““I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me” with Crowell and “A Feather’s Not a Bird” with Leventhal). She and Johnny Cash are now the only father-daughter members of the Hall.
“I dream of songs,” she said. “This is the award I have always wanted – ever since I was 18. I’m ‘Driving My Life Away,’ ‘Hooked on a Feeling,’ because I ‘Believe,’” she concluded, quoting song titles of her fellow inductees.
Bob DiPiero inducted Craig Wiseman. Jeffrey Steele creatively wove 11 of Wiseman’s songs into a three-minute medley. Ronnie Dunn came out to perform a sensationally soulful “Believe.” Then Tim McGraw gave the performance of his life on “Live Like You Were Dying.” Both men got standing ovations.
After Wiseman’s wife KK recited “The Lord’s Prayer,” the honoree told the crowd, “What a blessing it is to share this road,” with fellow songwriters. “You’re great, and you made me great. I’m the luckiest man alive…For your grace and your patience, I remain forever grateful…I’m a songwriter, and it’s all I ever wanted to be.”
In addition to Gill, Crowell, Steele, DiPiero, Prestwood and Alger, the ballroom held such prior Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees as Bobby Braddock, Gary Burr, Paul Overstreet, Tony Arata, Rory Bourke, Jerry Chesnut, Dickey Lee, Wayland Holyfield, Kye Fleming, Jerry Foster, Layng Martine Jr., Allen Shamblin, Norro Wilson, Mark D. Sanders, Jim Weatherly, Roger Murrah and Dennis Morgan.
Two others, Tom Douglas and Steele, were among the additional songwriters honored during the gala. The event began with Bart Herbison and Lee Thomas Miller presenting awards to the writers of the 11 “Songs I Wish I’d Written,” as voted on by the members of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Usually, it’s 10, but there was a tie this year.
Hall of Famers Douglas and Steele won for “Raise ‘Em Up,” co-written with Jaren Johnston. In addition, Jonathan Singleton and Melissa Peirce won for “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” (co-writer Brad Tursi was absent). Kevin Kadish won for “All About That Bass” (Meghan Trainor was absent). Rodney Clawson and Luke Laird won for “American Kids” (Shane McAnally was absent). Barry Dean, Laird and Singleton were honored for “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools.”
Chris Tompkins and Clawson won with “Dirt.” The song’s performers Florida Georgia Line were in the crowd. Singers Maddie & Tae were also on hand for “Girl in a Country Song,” written by Aaron Scherz with the duo’s Taylor Dye and Maddie Marlow.
Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson and Rob Hatch were voted winners for their “I Don’t Dance.” The last-named’s wife, SESAC’s Shannon Hatch, was beaming with pride. Josh Kear, Andrew Dorff and Mark Irwin won for “Neon Light.”
Jennifer Wayne was there to collect an award for “She Don’t Love You” (co-writer Eric Paslay was absent). Non-Nashville collaborators Max Martin and Shellback weren’t there for “Shake It Off,” but Taylor Swift accepted via video.
“I wish I was there to hug every single one of you,” she said. Swift also won her seventh Songwriter/Artist of the Year from the NSAI.
Songwriter Nicolle Galyon presented the 2015 NSAI Songwriter of the Year prize to her husband, Rodney Clawson. “He’s my Songwriter of the Year, every year,” she said.
The NSAI’s Song of the Year was “Girl Crush,” penned by Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey.
“This is so important, to be voted on by your fellow songwriters,” said Rose. Then the three women sang it, and totally ruled with it. Really. They sounded vocally as good as the Little Big Town record.
Lee Thomas Miller was also in the spotlight when the NSAI screened a video of his testimony before Congress regarding increasing songwriter compensation from digital media’s exploitation of their compositions.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to represent the American songwriter,” he told the attendees. “I will not shut up….This is our night.”
Pat Alger narrated a tribute segment to the seven NSHoF members who have passed away this year – Wayne Carson, Paul Craft, Larry Henley, Wayne Kemp, Red Lane, Don Robertson and Billy Sherrill.
Applauding the salute were such tunesmiths as Georgia Middleman, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Rory Lee Feek, Bucky Wilkin, Don Cusic, Shannon Sanders, Anthony Martin, Paul Kennerley, Bill & Gloria Gaither, Casey Anderson, Colin Linden, Ralph Murphy, James Elliott, Byron Hill and Steve Bogard.
Despite the presence of so many celestial songwriting greats, there were many of us “civilians” in attendance. In fact, publicity executive John Van Mol was given the NSHoF Keystone Award for his work negotiating with the Music City Center to house the NSHoF video displays and artifacts.
Other non-songwriters grooving the night away included Melanie Howard, Perry Howard, Doug & Linda Edell Howard, Barry Coburn, Jewel Coburn, David Malloy, Jim Malloy and Amy Kurland. Plus, Butch Baker, Charlie Cook, Troy Tomlinson, Gilles Godard, Mike Vaden, Mike Dye, Rep. Mike Stewart, Mike Sebastian, Ed Morris, Jason Morris, Sarah Trahern, Sarah Cates, Sen. Ken Yager, Ken Paulson, Pat Higdon, Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, David Maddox and David Preston.
Lisa Sutton was sporting a spectacular red coat with gold embroidery. “I just inherited Nashville’s best clothes collection,” she explained, referring to her late mom Lynn Anderson.
Tim Fink, Bob Doyle, Jay Orr, Cindy Owen, Linda Bloss-Baum, Dennis Lord, Sen. Reggie Tate, Rep. Steve McDaniel, Barb Hall, Teri Brown, Phil Graham, Alicia Warwick, Justin Levenson, Tracy Gershon, Jeff Balding, Lori Badgett, John Esposito, Sherry Bond, Jackson Brumley, Del Bryant, Hillary Williams, Jenny Bohler, Rich Hallworth and key event orchestrator Erika Wollam Nichols worked the room.
Bill Cody did the “voice-of-god” announcements and intros. NSHoF executive director Mark Ford presided, saying, “You really did show up! That’s so great. Welcome to Nashville songwriting’s biggest night.”