Steel guitars have been good to Diane Warren.
The Los Angeles-based songwriter was named Country Songwriter of the Year Monday night (Oct. 2) by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) on the strength of two songs: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” recorded for the country market by Mark Chesnutt, and “I’ll Still Love You More,” recorded by Trisha Yearwood.
Both songs are lush romantic ballads in the tradition of Warren’s pop hits for Celine Dion (“Because You Loved Me”), Toni Braxton (“Un-Break My Heart”) and Michael Bolton (“Time, Love and Tenderness”).
Both feature keening steel guitars, dressed up with a lush string section, but just country enough for country radio. Chesnutt’s remake of the Aerosmith hit went to No. 1 on Billboard‘s country chart in February 1999 and became the biggest single of his career to date. Yearwood’s song went to No. 10 in September 1999. Another Warren song, “How Do I Live,” was a hit for Yearwood in 1997.
“I was thinking today that the Mark Chesnutt version was really close to the way that I wrote the song,” Warren said Monday night before receiving her award. “It was much more emotional. I love Aerosmith’s version, but when Mark sang it, it was more of the way that I heard it in my head. It was more gentle, it was more romantic.”
Warren received her award from Phil Vassar, last year’s songwriter of the year. “Thank you for letting me into your world, because it’s an honor,” said Warren, who admitted she was nervous about speaking to the large audience.
Vassar and Brad Paisley performed for the more than 1,000 music industry professionals on hand for the 38th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards, a black-tie dinner held at Opryland Hotel in Nashville to recognize songs performed in 1999.
Connie Bradley, ASCAP senior vice president, and John LoFrumento, ASCAP CEO, hosted the “Down in Rio”-themed dinner.
ASCAP, a performing rights organization, collects and distributes royalties for the public performance of copyrights owned by its member composers, lyricists and music publishers. Awards are based on the number of performance credits accrued by songwriters and publishers.
“How Forever Feels,” performed by Kenny Chesney and written by ASCAP-affiliated writer Tony Mullins (with co-writer Wendell Mobley), and “Write This Down,” performed by George Strait and written by ASCAP-affiliated writer Dana Hunt (with co-writer Kent Robbins) tied for the honor of ASCAP Country Song of the Year. Both songs were No. 1 country hits.
Mullins’ composition is a lighthearted tune in which Chesney recalls feeling like Jimmy Buffett and racecar driver Richard Petty, but professes himself eager to know what it feels like to be committed for life in a relationship.
“It is so unique,” Chesney said Monday night of the Mullins-Mobley song. “Many of the love songs on the radio are from the female perspective. ‘How Forever Feels’ is kind of a guy’s version of falling in love. It was the first love song I’d heard that dropped in Jimmy Buffett’s and Richard Petty’s names, and somehow it appealed to men.”
Hunt wrote her song with the late Kent Robbins, who died in 1998 in a tragic auto accident.
“The inspiration for this song actually came from Kent, who called me up one day and said, ‘I have a song idea, ‘Write It Down,'” Hunt said prior to the Awards dinner. “I said, ‘Let me get a pen and a piece of paper, and I’ll write it down.’ He said, ‘No, “Write It Down” is the idea.’ So we got together, and it ended up being ‘Write This Down.’
“I know Kent is smiling down on me right now,” Hunt said of her co-writer. “He would have been ecstatic by all of this, just like a kid running around.”
Country music powerhouse Sony/ATV Music Publishing was named ASCAP Country Publisher of the Year. The venerable publishing house, once known as Tree Music, had credits for songs including Andy Griggs’ “I’ll Go Crazy,” Martina McBride’s “I Love You,” Aaron Tippin’s “I’m Leaving,” Jo Dee Messina’s “Lesson in Leavin’,” Tim McGraw’s “Please Remember Me,” Faith Hill’s “The Secret of Life” and Randy Travis’ “Stranger in My Mirror.”
Amy Kurland, owner of Nashville’s Bluebird Café, accepted the ASCAP Partners-in-Music Award. The Bluebird has staged songwriters’ in-the-round sessions since 1985 and is known in the Nashville music community for its dedication to songwriters, allowing them to showcase new material for the music industry. Garth Brooks, Paul Overstreet, Kathy Mattea, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Vince Gill are a few of the acts who received a significant career boost through exposure at the club.
Artists turned out in force to help ASCAP fete the winning songwriters. Among the celebrants were Alan Jackson, Charley Pride, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Deana Carter, Chesney, Tammy Cochran, Rodney Crowell, Andy Griggs, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, Julie Reeves, John Rich, SHeDAISY, Lari White, the Wilkinsons and Darryl Worley.