A gracious Faith Hill and a grateful John Rich showed up early at ASCAP’s Nashville headquarters Monday (Oct. 3) to accept numerous awards for the No. 1 success of “Mississippi Girl,” the “comeback” song that Hill recorded and Rich co-wrote with Big & Rich guitarist Adam Shoenfeld.
Dressed in jeans and a striped shirt, with her hair tied back, Hill was among the first arrivals. She stood unobtrusively at the side of ASCAP’s cavernous reception hall while friends and admirers stopped by to chat and congratulate. Several industry bigwigs were among the celebrants, including Big Kenny of Big & Rich and Collin Raye.
ASCAP senior vice president Connie Bradley called the crowd to order, noting that “Mississippi Girl” was Rich’s third No. 1 and that it had topped both the Billboard and the Radio & Records charts for two weeks. “This guy is really hot,” she said, “not just as a songwriter but as a producer.” (Rich co-produces Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich, among others.)
Bradley also pointed out that Rich had several other songs on the charts. Among them are Wilson’s “All Jacked Up,” Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown” and Big & Rich’s “Comin’ to Your City.” He also co-wrote Wynonna’s latest but yet-to-chart single, “Attitude.”
ASCAP, Warner Bros. Records (Hill’s label) and Warner Chappell (Rich’s publishing company) were among those handing out awards to Hill and Rich. There were additional trophies presented to Hill’s producers, Dann Huff and Byron Gallimore. Warner Chappell senior vice president Dale Bobo gave a check for $1,000 to the American Red Cross for Mississippi hurricane relief. The check was designated to “Mississippi Girls (and Boys).”
Hill toasted Rich as “an amazingly gifted individual.” Rich thanked her for “cutting the other Rich song that’s on your record.” (Rich also co-wrote Hill’s new single, “Like We Never Loved at All.”)
Explaining the origin of “Mississippi Girl,” Rich said Big & Rich were on tour with Tim McGraw, Hill’s husband, for about 75 shows. When Hill joined them on the road, he continued, he saw a side of her he never knew existed. Her playful, girl-next-door qualities led him and Shoenfeld to tailor the song specifically for Hill. “I said if Faith doesn’t like this song,” he noted, “we have to pitch it out in the grass.”
After all the awards were distributed and all the photos snapped, Hill left in her black Jeep while Rich stayed on to speak to reporters. “I wrote my 900th song last month,” he said, with evident pride. He added that he’s now 31 years old and has been writing since he was 20.
Asked about his songwriting achievements, he said he was “a big fan of the Golden Age of Country Music,” a period he defined by citing such stars as Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner and Merle Haggard. “[It was] when artists had an identity bigger than any of their songs.”
Rich maintained that a song should reflect who an artist really is, pointing to the made-to-order lyrics of Gretchen Wilson. That dictum explains, he said, why he wrote “Attitude” for Wynonna: “She ain’t nothin’ but attitude. That’s how she survived all this time.” He dubbed Hill “a modern day Tammy Wynette” and recalled, “The first time I met her, I was star-struck.”
Rich said he and McGraw were having a beer on Rich’s bus when he mentioned that he had about 850 of his own songs on his iPod. McGraw asked to hear some of the ones he liked best, and when Rich got to “Like We Never Loved at All,” McGraw stopped him and phoned Hill to pitch the song personally.
Rich, the former Lonestar vocalist, used the occasion to correct a misconception about the MuzikMafia music collective he and Big Kenny helped establish. “A lot of people think MuzikMafia is about flipping the bird to Music Row,” he said. “It couldn’t be more the opposite.” He said most of the people on Music Row have been nourishing and supportive of the group’s music. As example, he said ASCAP’s Bradley once loaned him $10,000 against future royalties that were by no means sure to come.
And there was yet another point that Rich wanted to make: “The fact that Ronnie Dunn has never been male vocalist of the year,” he intoned, “is a tragedy.”