“Murder,” They Voted; Vincent Has Top Album

And the winner is — again — “Murder on Music Row.” Larry Cordle and Larry Shell’s lyrical diatribe against watered-down country music copped the song-of-the-year prize Sunday (Feb. 4) at the 27th annual awards show held by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America (SPBGMA) at Nashville’s Sheraton Music City Hotel.

Last year, “Murder” won a similar honor from the International Bluegrass Music Association, and George Strait and Alan Jackson’s recording of the song snagged the Country Music Association’s Vocal Event of the Year trophy. Fittingly enough, Cordle and Shell were also voted SPBGMA’s Songwriters of the Year.

Other major victors were Rhonda Vincent, Little Roy Lewis and IIIrd Tyme Out. Vincent took the Album of the Year (for Back Home Again) and Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year awards. Lewis was crowned Entertainer of the Year. IIIrd Tyme Out was cited as best Bluegrass Vocal Group and best Contemporary Gospel Group.

Vincent told the crowd that Martha White Foods is looking into sponsoring her upcoming tour. A name as familiar in bluegrass circles as Gibson and Martin, Martha White earned international fame during its years of support for Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, who performed the Martha White theme song at their 1963 concert in Carnegie Hall. The company has also been a sponsor for Jim & Jesse and Alison Krauss.

SPBGMA inducted Grand Ole Opry star Wilma Lee Cooper into its Preservation Hall of Greats and paid a special tribute to Josh Graves, former Dobro player for Flatt & Scruggs’ band, the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Songwriter and musician Carl Jackson hosted the show, which ran for nearly five hours. Performing on it were David Parmley & Continental Divide, the James King Band, IIIrd Tyme Out, Rarely Herd, Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, the Lewis Family and Rhonda Vincent & The Rage.

Although still ailing from heart surgery and a leg amputation, Graves sat on stage to bask in the plaudits and music of Dobro players his work has influenced. He was serenaded with his own composition, “Fireball,” played by an all-star lineup that included his nephew, Tim Graves, Jerry Douglas, Gene Wooten, Phil Leadbetter, Leroy Mack, Randy Kohrs, Rob Ickes, Curtis Burch and Mike Auldridge.

Veteran talent manager Lance LeRoy noted that Graves started out with Flatt & Scruggs as a bass player. “They discovered after about a month,” he said, “that he could play something else.” LeRoy praised Graves’ fortitude and sense of humor, observing, “His spirit has never diminished.” He said Graves called him the day he came home from the hospital following his amputation and that when LeRoy answered the phone, Graves chirped, “Stumpy here.”

Looking up at his rows of musical disciples, Graves grinned and said, “I don’t know who all’s responsible for this. Maybe I should have stuck with the bass.” Turning to his physical condition, he quipped, “They gave me six months to live. But I couldn’t pay the bills. So they gave me six more months.” He showed he’s still in the game by strapping on his Dobro and leading the others in “Flatt Lonesome,” a song he wrote for Lester Flatt.

Andy McKean, president pro tempore of the Iowa General Assembly, called Wilma Lee Cooper to the stage to present her a resolution from the State Senate recognizing her as “the First Lady of Bluegrass.” McKean, a long time friend of Cooper, first became acquainted with her music when she and her late husband, Stoney, were performers on the Wheeling (West Virginia) Jamboree. McKean also presented her with a “Distinguished West Virginian” award provided him by officials from her home state. “She represents everything that’s good about country and bluegrass music,” McKean asserted.

“Now I’ve climbed the mountain and I’ve topped out and started down the other side,” said Cooper, who turns 80 on Feb. 7. “But the years left are going to be good years because the Lord will take care of me.”

In an evening rich with breathtaking performances, Little Roy Lewis stood tall, both for his wild humor and musical versatility. As a presenter, he costumed himself as former president Bill Clinton, Elvis Presley and “Jesse Jackson’s love child.” Later, within a single song (and a gospel one at that), he played banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and autoharp, darting from one instrument to another like a crazed hummingbird.

Cordle was another crowd favorite. His tight, eight-song set included the heart-wrenching recitation, “Old Kentucky Miner,” and concluded with the inevitably rousing “Murder On Music Row.”

Vincent was also in top form, keeping the audience enthusiastic and in its seats for 45 minutes after the last award was handed out.

Here is the complete list of winners.

Entertainer of the Year: Little Roy Lewis
Song: “Murder On Music Row,” written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell
Album: Back Home Again by Rhonda Vincent, Rounder Records
Songwriters of the Year: Larry Cordle and Larry Shell
Entertaining Group: Rarely Herd
Bluegrass Band (Overall): Lonesome River Band
Bluegrass Instrumental Group: Del McCoury Band
Bluegrass Vocal Group: IIIrd Tyme Out
Male Vocalist (Contemporary): Larry Stephenson
Male Vocalist (Traditional): Don Rigsby
Female Vocalist (Contemporary): Rhonda Vincent
Female Vocalist (Traditional): Dale Ann Bradley
Bluegrass Bass Fiddle Performer: Wayne Taylor
Bluegrass Dobro Performer: Gene Wooten
Bluegrass Guitar Performer: Tim Stafford
Bluegrass Mandolin Performer: Wayne Benson
Bluegrass Banjo Performer: Rob McCoury
Bluegrass Fiddle Performer: Jason Carter
Gospel Group (Overall): Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
Gospel Group (Contemporary): IIIrd Tyme Out
Gospel Group (Traditional): Lewis Family
Bluegrass Promoter: Norman Adams
Bluegrass Radio Station: WSM-AM, Nashville
Bluegrass DJ: Eddie Stubbs, WSM-AM, Nashville
Bluegrass Club Newsletter: Spring Creek Bluegrass Newsletter, Spring, Texas

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.