Freddie Hart, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver and Dennis Morgan were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Sunday (Nov. 7) during ceremonies held before a sold-out crowd at Nashville’s Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel. Among the hundreds of well-wishers were Nashville mayor Bill Purcell and BMI president and CEO emeritus Frances Preston.
Prior to the inductions, the Nashville Songwriters Association International — which works in league with the event’s sponsor, the Nashville Songwriters Foundation — awarded certificates for song, songwriter, songwriter-artist and songwriting achievement of the year.
Bill Anderson, a member of both the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, gave welcoming remarks for Hart. He began by pointing out that one of Hart’s lyrical gems was “If Fingerprints Showed Up on Skin, Wonder Whose I’d Find On Yours.” Anderson noted that with only a second-grade education, Hart had availed himself of every opportunity to learn from the masters, including a stint as a roadie for Hank Williams.
A trio made up of Jim Casey, Dickey Lee and Freddy Weller sang a sampling of Hart’s hits, including “Bless Your Heart,” “I Just Took a Trip To Heaven,” “My Hang-Up Is You” and “Loose Talk.” T. Graham Brown joined the trio to perform Hart’s signature song, “Easy Loving.”
“What a wonderful blessing,” Hart said as he held his award. “They say grown men don’t cry. It’s not true. … I wish my mother could be here. She always believed in me. … I’ve got long arms. I’d like to put my arms around the world and say, ‘Thank you.'”
Anderson, who had noted earlier that Hart was an expert in martial arts, ended the presentation by telling a story about touring with Hart many years ago. He recalled that they had been on the road for three days and that the concert promoter had so far failed to pay them for any of their shows. Just before the third show was to start, Hart refused to go on. Instead, he held out his hand to the promoter and said, “You put the money right here, or I’m gonna hurt you.” Then, he added, “Bless your heart.”
Welcoming Clark was Songwriters Hall of Fame member Waylon Holyfield, who praised him for his attention to craft and refusal to write to “the lowest common denominator.” Verlon Thompson sang Clark’s “The Cape” and “The Randall Knife,” the latter of which, Clark’s tribute to his father, was interrupted by applause. Lyle Lovett followed Thompson’s set. “Guy,” he said, “you’re my musical hero and my personal hero. … Thank you for your artistry, and thank you for your friendship.” Then he sang “Step Inside This House,” a Clark composition he had used as the title cut of his 1998 album.
“I’ll accept this award on behalf of my wife, Susanna, who’s been with me all this time,” Clark told the crowd, “and maybe dedicate part of it to Townes Van Zandt.” Van Zandt, a longtime friend of Clark’s and the legendary Texas songwriter who penned “Pancho and Lefty,” died in 1997.
Tom T. Hall, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1978, presented Shaver’s songwriting credentials. He noted that Shaver “came to Nashville in 1966 by hitching a ride on a cantaloupe truck,” a conveyance, he added, that had brought many other songwriters to town.
“He had a motorcycle,” Hall continued, “and he drove it into the front door of Harlan Howard’s office and said, ‘I’m the greatest songwriter that ever was.’ Harlan Howard said, ‘My God! I thought I was.’ And so they became good friends through their mutual affinity for modesty.”
Joe Ely performed Shaver’s “Live Forever.” He was followed by Kris Kristofferson, who sang “Good Christian Soldier,” a Shaver song he once recorded. “Sadly, it’s about as relevant today as it was 30 years ago,” he observed. He concluded with one of Shaver’s newer works, “Day by Day.” Kristofferson will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Tuesday (Nov. 9).
Shaver dedicated his award to members of his family who have died — his son, his wife and his mother. Then, unaccountably, he snapped as he walked offstage, “If you don’t love Jesus, go to hell!”
Music publisher David Conrad spoke on behalf of Morgan, the final inductee of the evening. He said he’d first met Morgan at a Charley Pride recording session and had later worked with him as a publisher.
“On a professional level, he had a tireless work ethic,” Conrad explained. “and the most positive attitude I was ever subjected to. And it got worse. When the hits started coming, he would just happy my ass to death.” He cited among Morgan’s achievements 30 No. 1 songs, a Grammy and 47 BMI songwriting awards.
Jessica Andrews, Marcel and James Slater sang Morgan’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a 1987 hit for Aretha Franklin and George Michael. Keith Urban continued the sampling. He opened with “Roll on Mississippi” and moved on to “Smoky Mountain Rain.” A verse into the latter song, Ronnie Milsap stood and joined in, immediately earning a standing ovation. (The song was a No. 1 for Milsap in 1980.) He then walked to the stage and sat at the piano to round out the set with Urban on “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World” (a Milsap chart-topper from 1981).
“It’s been fascinating, it’s been fun and my mama’s here,” Morgan said in his acceptance remarks. “I made a what-if-I-win list, and it’s pretty damn long.” He spent the next few minutes thanking people who had helped him along the way, particularly his co-writers. “You’ve stopped my lustful streak tonight,” he concluded, brandishing his award. “I’ve wanted one of these for a long time.”
The NSAI’s song of the year award went to “Live Like You Were Dying,” Tim McGraw’s hit written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman. Toby Keith, who was not present at the awards banquet, was named songwriter-artist of the year. Scotty Emerick, Keith’s co-writer, received songwriter of the year honors.
The songwriting achievement awards — popularly known as “songs I wish I’d written” — went to “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (written by Jim Brown and Don Rollins); “Letters From Home” (Tony Lane, David Lee); “Live Like You Were Dying”; “Long Black Train” (Josh Turner); “Paint Me a Birmingham” (Gary Duffey, Buck Moore); “Redneck Woman” (John Rich, Gretchen Wilson); “There Goes My Life” (Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher); “What Was I Thinkin'” (Brett Beavers, Dierks Bentley, Deric Ruttan); “Whiskey Lullaby” (Bill Anderson, Jon Randall); and “You’ll Think of Me” (Darrell Brown, Ty Lacy, Dennis Matkosky).
The assemblage also paid its respects to two Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame members who died this past year, Max D. Barnes and Don Gibson.