Already ensconced as members of the Rock and Roll and Country Music halls of fame, the Everly Brothers continued their march toward musical immortality Sunday night (Nov. 4) by being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Also welcomed into the Hall were the late Grand Ole Opry star Johnny Russell and former BMI and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) songwriter of the year Dennis Linde . The ceremonies were conducted by the Nashville Songwriters Foundation (NSF) and held at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel in Nashville.
Prior to the inductions, the NSAI honored “I Hope You Dance” as its song of the year and Darrell Scott, co-writer of “Born to Fly” and writer of “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive,” as songwriter of the year. In addition, the organization presented awards to 11 “Songs I Wish I’d Written,” a category voted on by NSAI’s professional members.
Singer-songwriter Dickey Lee conferred Russell’s award on his son, John Jr. “Can everybody see me all right?” Lee asked when he stepped to the podium, echoing the question with which the mountainous Russell always opened his shows. Lee noted that Russell’s sense of humor was as prominent as his songwriting skills. He told of a show Russell did with Freddy Weller in Houston, each working with the appallingly inept house band. Weller finished his dismal run-through with the band and asked Russell if he was going to rehearse. To which Russell replied, “Why screw it up twice?”
Lee said that Russell always had an eye for attractive women. That being the case, Lee brought one with him when he visited the singer in the hospital. At the time, Russell was drifting in and out of consciousness and was impervious to Lee’s attempts to awaken him. As Lee and his companion were leaving, John Jr. whispered, “Dad, Lorrie Morgan just walked in.” Instantly, Russell’s eyes were wide open. Before Russell died this past July, Lee said, he was told he had been elected to the Hall of Fame and seemed heartened by the news.
The Grand Ole Opry’s Jim Ed Brown and Jeannie Seely sang some of Russell’s best-known compositions, including “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together,” “Got No Reason Now for Going Home,” “Making Plans” and “Act Naturally.” In accepting the award, John Jr. emphasized that his father was a songwriter to the end. He repeated the story about Arista recording artist Brad Paisley visiting his father in the hospital and speaking reverently to the apparently sleeping patient. Finally, Russell opened his eyes and snapped, “Boy, when are you going to cut one of my songs?” Paisley assured him he would do so on his next album and asked which of his songs he had in mind. Russell closed his eyes and said nothing. “I’d interpret that to mean he’d like you to cut an entire tribute album to him,” John Jr. told Paisley.
NSF chairman Wayland Holyfield, a co-writer of Russell’s 1973 hit, “Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer,” recalled pitching another song he’d just written to Russell. Showing minimal enthusiasm, Russell allowed that it might work better as a “girl song.” The two continued their conversation and finally turned to the topic of how to deal diplomatically with a writer who pitches a truly dreadful song. “Well,” Russell said, “I just tell them it would make a great girl song.”
Songwriter and producer Norro Wilson inducted the famously reclusive Linde. “This person has never been seen other than this evening, as far as I know,” Wilson quipped. “This guy has been hidden away in a cave someplace, and he’s still more successful than anyone else.” Running through a list of Linde’s many hits, including “Calling Baton Rouge” for Garth Brooks and “Goodbye Earl” for the Dixie Chicks , Wilson observed, “I’d say there’s a marked difference between his royalty statement and mine.”
Following the introductory remarks, Tim Mensy sang Linde’s “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” “Calling Baton Rouge,” “John Deere Green” and “Goodbye Earl.” Jim Collins concluded the sampler with the Elvis Presley hit “Burning Love.” The crowd stood, applauding and singing along with Collins as Linde took the stage. True to his reputation, Linde was brief. “I want to thank everybody, especially the songwriters,” he said, “and a big special thanks to [my wife] Pam.”
Singer-songwriter Sonny Curtis, who wrote their hit “Walk Right Back,” officially welcomed Don and Phil, the Everly Brothers, into the Hall of Fame, although only Phil attended. Curtis mused on the uncertain identity songwriters have among the general public. He recalled that after he had had a measure of success, he went back to his hometown and stopped at the local service station. One of the owners asked him what kind of work he was doing, and Curtis replied, “I’m a songwriter.” The man reflected on this information for a moment and said, “Would you write me the words to ‘Mule Train’?”
Curtis recounted the long “dues paying” history of the Everlys, from the time they sang as young children with their father and mother on live radio shows until they made their way to Nashville and into the charts. “If you listen to those early songs they wrote,” he said, “you could tell there were great things in store for them.”
Sounding as vocally sparkling as ever, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd reunited for the evening to reprise some of the Everlys’ self-penned hits and lesser-known gems, among them “Cathy’s Clown,” “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” “I Wonder if I Care as Much,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “I’m Not Angry,” “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad),” and “The Price of Love.”
Responding to his and his brother’s induction, Phil Everly said that without the aid of other songwriters, particularly Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, their career would never have been as successful. “As an art,” he said, “songwriting’s the best sort of art. You take a pencil, and you write something, and they mail you money for the rest of your life.”
Honored as “Songs I Wish I’d Written” were “There Is No Arizona” (by Lisa Drew, Jamie O’Neal and Shaye Smith); “One More Day” (Steven Dale Jones, Bobby Tomberlin); “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” (Darrell Scott); “Unbreakable Heart” (Benmont Tench); “Grown Men Don’t Cry” (Tom Douglas, Steve Seskin); “My Next Thirty Years” (Phil Vassar ); “Goodbye Earl” (Dennis Linde); “The Little Girl” (Harley Allen); “I’m Already There” (Gary Baker, Richie McDonald , Frank J. Myers); “Why They Call It Falling” (Roxie Dean, Don Schlitz ); and “I Hope You Dance” (Mark D. Sanders, Tia Sillers). Only Vassar and Tench were not on hand to accept their awards.
“It’s been a year beyond my imagining — and I have a wild imagination,” Scott said as he clutched his songwriter of the year trophy. He dedicated his win to his father, seated in the audience, “who wrote songs all his life while working in the steel mills.”