HOT DISH: Country Music Puts On Airs

Music City Enjoys a Whirlwind Week of Award Shows and Banquets

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)

I was present years ago when the late Maggie Cavender, along with Patsy Bruce and others, started organizing the Nashville Songwriters Association International to honor songwriters and, hopefully, have an awards banquet. We have come a long way.

Freddie Hart, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver and Dennis Morgan were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on Nov. 7 during dinner and ceremonies at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel in Music City. Stars started off the nonstop week with Bill Anderson welcoming Hart. His biggest self-penned hit, “Easy Loving,” went Top 20 on the pop charts and was CMA’s song of the year in both 1970 and 1971.

Clark accepted the award on behalf of his wife Susanna and in memory of his late songwriting friend and mentor, Townes Van Zandt. I personally love Guy Clark’s songs that always have curves of surprise. My favorite Guy Clark song is “Homegrown Tomatoes.” When Guy sings the song, I can almost taste tomatoes.

Upon accepting his award, Shaver thanked his late wife and son before remarking as he left the stage, “If you don’t love Jesus, you can go to hell!” Kris Kristofferson sang Shaver’s “Good Christian Soldier,” and Joe Ely performed Shaver’s “Live Forever.”

Keith Urban honored Dennis Morgan by singing, “Roll On Mississippi” and “Smoky Mountain Rain.” Ronnie Milsap joined Urban on the latter, a Milsap country chart-topper in 1980 that crossed over to No. 24 on the pop chart. Dennis Morgan has an incredible list of hits, both pop and country, to his credit.

The NSAI song of the year — Tim McGraw’s big hit “Live Like You Were Dying” — was written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman. Toby Keith was named songwriter-artist of the year. Scotty Emerick received songwriter of the year honors.

BMI Honors Loretta
Escorted by young and handsome Opry Dan Rogers, we’d just taken our seats in the beautifully decorated BMI banquet room when teary-eyed newcomer Catherine Britt approached our table and gave me a hug. “Did you see Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells are in this room seated at the same table?” asked beautiful blonde Britt, looking sexy and glamorous in black. I nodded.

Martina McBride, seated next to us with hubby John, wore a teal blue velvet suit that accented her eyes. She honored Lynn by performing her hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” Crystal Gayle sang her sister’s signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The 85-year-old Wells — the Queen of Country Music and Lynn’s early mentor — offered words of congratulations to Loretta. Looking every inch a Southern belle, Lynn was wearing a trademark floor-length white gown with ruffles looking like she escaped from Gone With the Wind. She was greeted by thunderous applause when she stood at her table and was later presented BMI’s Icon Award by BMI president emeritus Frances Preston, BMI president-CEO Del Bryant and BMI Nashville vice president Paul Corbin.

The lovely Shania Twain, dressed in a floor-length gown with ice blue bodice and billowing teal skirt, won the Robert J. Burton award for the most performed country song of the year for “Forever and For Always.” Toby Keith was named country songwriter of the year. BMI’s songwriter of the year honor went to Casey Beathard who placed five songs in the most performed list. Sony/ATV Music was named publisher of the year.

Although she needs help up and down steps, it was good to see Sony publishing head honcho Donna Hilley out and about. Hilley’s recuperating from an almost fatal attack of E. coli.

I could not help but notice when Shania left her table and eased through the crowd to visit with Loretta and Kitty.

Eye saw a plethora of famed and near famed, including Keith Urban (ooh, he kissed me!), Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Shania Twain, Luke Lewis, Fletcher Foster (got a hug from him), Trace Adkins, Diamond Rio, Lonestar’s Richie McDonald, Alabama’s Randy Owen, Kitty Wells and hubby Johnnie Wright, Louise and Earl Scruggs, Robert K. Oermann, Bill Anderson, Steve Buchanan, Paul Overstreet, Rob Crosby, Kix Brooks (who accused me of flirting with him in front of his wife), Sherrie Austin, Craig Morgan, Toby Keith, Stephanie Bentley, Buddy Jewell, Jeff Bates and Jon Randall.

ASCAP Honors Emmylou
When Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band hit this town in 1975, she was like a much-needed rain during a summer’s drought. Emmy brought music to town that was so desperately needed — popularizing traditional music and opening doors for many acts to follow like Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, John Anderson, et al. At the ASCAP Country Awards, she reassembled the original group with James Burton (electric guitar), Rodney Crowell (vocals and acoustic guitar), Hank DeVito (steel guitar), Emory Gordy Jr. (bass), Glen D. Hardin (piano) and John Ware (drums).

The first time I saw this motley crew was Emmy’s first Nashville performance at the Exit/In with Sharon and Cheryl White. The woman was awesome. I loved her singing then, and I love her now.

Always beautiful ASCAP vice president Connie Bradley served as host of the awards show. She presented Brad Paisley with the songwriter-artist award. Chris DuBois and Neil Thrasher shared songwriter of the year honors. Paisley and DuBois’ win made me smile. I met both these talented young men when they were interning at ASCAP. It’s so good to see them at the top of their craft. And it was good that Bradley presented Emmylou Harris with ASCAP’s Founders Award. She is a deserving recipient.

For the fourth consecutive year, EMI Publishing was named ASCAP’s publisher of the year.

In the crowd: Dierks Bentley, Mike Dungan, Chris Cagle, Kimberly Williams Paisley (Mrs. Brad), Kerry Kurt Phillips, Darryl Worley, R.J. “Mutt” Lange (Shania Twain’s husband and producer), Josh Turner, Brett James, Rivers Rutherford, Billy Currington and Jessica Andrews.

CMA Awards — It’s a New Day in Country Music
Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban are of the new crop of country singers. A hillbilly and a transplant, but did you notice their tears are the same color? Kenny gave it 12 years and Keith almost that long — and they’re finally rewarded.

Rewind the tape and let ‘er rip:

Faith Hill, best-looking woman at the ball, wore Chanel.

Dierks Bentley wore boots someone gave him at the Iowa State Fair and a $5 shirt from Goodwill. Can’t help loving that Dierks.

Montgomery Gentry’s Eddie Montgomery wore a sparkly red, white and blue jacket with an American flag on the back.

Martina McBride was named female vocalist for the fourth time, tying Reba McEntire’s record number of wins.

When he was only 18, I would hire Dann Huff to play guitar on sessions with Dr. Hook and now he’s the CMA’s musician of the year for 2004. These days the guitar player
doubles as a record producer, co-producing hits for Keith Urban and others.

In her first CMA nod, Gretchen Wilson became the 2004 Horizon winner on the same day she hosted her daughter’s birthday.

A stunned and deserving Keith Urban was named male vocalist. Keith cried, but his sweet mama wept like a baby.

A very deserving Kenny Chesney was awarded his very first CMA awards. After winning the album of the year prize for When the Sun Goes Down, diamond Dolly Parton presented Kenny with the most prestigious trophy of the night — the entertainer of the year award. Except for Kenny’s entertainer of the year speech being nipped in the bud, the awards show went well. Shame on whoever jerked the rug from under Kenny Chesney’s speech. Were it not for Kenny and the other performers, the persons who cut him off mid-speech would not have a gig.

New Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson was all the talk when I first came to Music Town, so he’s sort of a hero of mine. So is Willie. His Country Music Hall of Fame induction was special to me. Willie sang a bit of “For the Good Times,” Faith Hill performed Sammi Smith’s smash “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and Randy Travis did a verse of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Kris came onstage singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” When Kris thanked his pals that have gone on before, it was touching … oh, so touching. Three of his close friends were also close friends of mine that I spent a lot of time with — Waylon Jennings, Shel Silverstein and Harlan Howard. So I sobbed. After all this time, sometimes when the phone rings, I think it’s Shel needing to ask me a question. I miss those three guys like they were kin. Referring to his days on Music Row, Kris said, “Back when the music mattered.” That was the most truthful line of the three-hour show. Country music did once matter.

The most respected Jim Foglesong deserves his Country Music Hall of Fame honor. He not only signed Garth Brooks to a recording contract, he also signed Reba McEntire, George Strait, Don Williams and a bevy of others. It’s wonderful that a nice man like him is in the Hall of Fame.

Let’s go on with the show:

Toby Keith sang “Mockingbird” with his daughter, 17-year old Krystal.

Martina’s performance of “God’s Will” received the first standing ovation of the night.

I finally got Big & Rich when they performed “Rollin’ (The Ballad of Big & Rich)” on the show with the help of flashing lights, a 6-foot cowboy and a dwarf who just stood there. They’re entertaining with the idea of covering all music genres.

My friends, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, thanks for the killer performance of “Whiskey Lullaby.” You’re country music’s tomorrow. Keep it looking bright.

Shania Twain and Billy Currington sang “Party for Two.” Were they nervous?

Brooks & Dunn chose their hit “You Can Never Get Enough.”

Josh Turner performed his killer song, “Long Black Train.” If there’s any justice, he’ll stay around for the long haul.

Kenny Chesney did a splendid job on his self-penned hit “I Go Back.” The young man from East Tennessee got an ovation.

It was great to hear Reba McEntire sing “He Gets That From Me.” Her Hollywood hairdo favors my Nashville-do. Looks like both coifs were styled with an eggbeater.

Big Alan Jackson’s performance of his chart-climber “Monday Morning Church” with Patty Loveless was country music at its all-time best. It’s no wonder they got a standing ovation.

The best female solo performance of the night was new mom Sara Evans’ version of her latest No. 1 single, “Suds in the Bucket.” Sara belted it out, and she looked great. And she also received a well-deserved standing ‘O.’

George Strait received the next ovation for his performance of his hit “I Hate Everything.”

Terri Clark and an all female band performed her latest No. 1, “Girls Lie Too.”

Keith Urban plays guitar as well as he sings, sings as well as he writes songs and writes songs as well as he plays guitar. He did a bang-up job on his hit “Days Go By,” delighting the audience and getting another ovation from the audience.

Cute Dierks Bentley sang “How Am I Doin’.”

I’d heard so much about Julie Roberts, I was ready for her to blow me away with “Break Down Here.” Maybe she was nervous, but she did OK.

Montgomery Gentry sang “Gone.” Does Eddie Montgomery have to hold that stupid microphone and stomp around? I’ve had enough of that already.

Rascal Flatts harmonized “Bless the Broken Road.”

Jimmy Buffett performed the Hank Williams classic “Hey Good Looking” with George Strait, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney and Clint Black. When they rerun the CMA awards, give a listen to this performance and hear how great George Strait can croon a country song.

Label heads are praying their artists sell semi-loads of CDs. Looks good on paper — and it’s good for a bonus.

Over-the-Top TV Ratings for CMA Awards
Yep, the TV ratings for the CMA Award ratings were over the top — except in New York City, where concrete plans are poured for the ceremony to originate in 2005. Ratings there were next to nothing. Country music’s token radio friend in New York — Don Imus, host of the Imus in the Morning syndicated radio show that’s simulcast on MSNBC — said last week he often has to argue and explain to his superiors that country music is huge and that he will play it on his show. Don Imus is a hero.

You know, those who made the decision for the awards show to originate from New York next year do not consider Nashville to be country music’s mecca, like I do. I don’t believe a one of them ever walked three miles through the woods, fording a branch, to watch the syndicated TV shows of Flatt & Scruggs, Porter Wagoner with Dolly Parton and the Wilburn Brothers with Loretta Lynn on a tiny black and white TV at Aunt Louise’s house. Scared to death, I’d walk back home after dark with a flashlight in my hand, shaking from fear and praying aloud all the way.

When the Possum Sings
Evelyn Shriver of Bandit Records sent me a copy of George Jones 50 Years of Hits. The three-disc set contains my all-time favorite song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” plus his first hit from 1955, “Why Baby Why.” Also included “Tall, Tall Trees,” “White Lightning,” the great Harlan Howard classic, “You Comb Her Hair” and his first (and maybe best) duet, “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” with Melba Montgomery. If you’re hungry for real country music — like Bobby Bare says, “Songs that leave you with wet eyes, not wet crotches” — this is the music for you. Duets with Tammy Wynette, Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks and Randy Travis. Hit after hit after hit.

For a special after turkey treat Thanksgiving Day, tune in to PBS (check local listings for time) for George Jones, 50 Years of Hits: A Soundstage Special Event, with special guests from all musical genres, including Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill and Amy Grant, Emmylou Harris, Martina McBride, Sammy Kershaw, Lorrie Morgan, Randy Travis, Wynonna, Tanya Tucker, Kris Kristofferson and a whole bunch of others.

Tim TV
During the week of Thanksgiving, Tim McGraw is doing his part to sorta hog the tube, but he’s got the license to do so, having just won his 10th CMA award. He’s set for the The Tonight Show on Nov. 22, flying to the Big Apple for Today on Nov. 23 and then flying to Nashville so he can watch his TV special, Tim McGraw: Here and Now, that night. All shows air on NBC.

They say Faith is a good cook. Is she gonna cook Tim’s turkey Thanksgiving Day?

Congratulations
One of the huge thrills of my lifetime was in 1999 when CMA executive director Ed Benson presented me with the CMA’s Media Achievement award. My friend, CMT’s own Chet Flippo, won the award the year before. This year, let’s congratulate journalist and author Alanna Nash who was surprised with this honor during an industry reception when she was called to the podium by Benson who presented her with the award.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Thanksgiving dinner … the Hazel way.