Vince Gill turned his acceptance speech into a tribute to his wife, Amy Grant, and to the art of songwriting when he and fellow composers Mike Reid, Roger Murrah, Jerry Reed and Gary Burr were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Sunday (Oct. 16) at Nashville’s Renaissance Hotel. The inductions took place before a crowd of approximately 850 well-wishers.
Prior to the ceremonies, the Nashville Songwriters Association International proclaimed Brad Paisley its songwriter-artist of the year, Jeffrey Steele songwriter of the year and “Bless the Broken Road” song of the year.
Gill was the final inductee in an evening that ran long because of rambling introductions, excessive performances and pause-plagued acceptance remarks. “I would like to keep this slightly brief,” Gill said somberly when he came to the stage. “I’d like to have kept the whole evening briefer. Amy’s going to be leaving town tonight for a week, and I thought I might get lucky before the bus left.”
Then turning serious, Gill noted that he should begin his thanks by acknowledging Grant’s importance in his life. Alluding to his 30-year career, he said, “I somehow think the journey was to find her. I’m in the best place I’ve ever been.”
Earlier, in a sampling of Gill’s hits, Grant sang “Whenever You Come Around.” He first played her the song, she recalled, in the early ’90s when he asked her to co-write with him. Grant said she thought, “Man, that’s the luckiest woman alive that he wrote that song for.”
“I wrote that song,” Gill told the crowd, “after I had my first conversation with Amy Grant.” At that point, he looked out at her sitting in the audience and said, paraphrasing the song, “When you smile at me, the world is perfect.”
Gill credited Rodney Crowell (who introduced him for the award) and Guy Clark with making him want to write songs. He lamented that most people still think of him as a singer and guitar player. “I wanted more than anything to be thought of as a songwriter,” he said. “I didn’t want to be an ‘act,’ I wanted to be an artist.”
Presenting Gill’s songs, in addition to Grant, were Patty Loveless, who sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” and Al Anderson and John Hobbs, who performed “The Next Big Thing.”
Don Schlitz introduced Reid with a brief survey of his days as a music major and Penn State and Cincinnati Bengals football player. He pointed out that since making his mark in country music, Reid has also excelled in writing opera, classical pieces and musical theater. “He’s the most complete writer in our field,” Schlitz contended and added, “He competes only with himself.”
Beth Nielsen Chapman, Annie Roboff and Ernest Chapman performed Reid’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Beth Nielsen Chapman read a congratulatory note from Bonnie Raitt, who scored a pop hit with the song. “Your soul comes through deep and tender,” the note said. Next up was Ronnie Milsap, who entered the room to a standing ovation. He began his set with “Inside,” which, he told the crowd, was the first of 12 No. 1 hits Reid would write for him. Then he sang three Reid songs: “Stranger in My House,” “Lost in the Fifties” and “Prisoner of the Highway.”
“Milsap single-handedly handed me a songwriting life,” Reid said in his acceptance speech. He also praised Milsap’s producer and music chief, Rob Galbraith, for giving him essential encouragement. “I walked into his office feeling like Jimmy the Greek,” he said, “and left feeling like Jimmy Webb.” Reid reminded songwriters the main ingredient for success is not talent but “relentlessly showing up.”
In presenting Murrah, Bobby Braddock described him as a “family man [who co-wrote] one of the best bar songs of all time, ‘Don’t Rock the Jukebox.’” Blake Shelton sang “Goodbye Time,” his recent Murrah-written single that was originally a hit for Conway Twitty in 1988. Thomas Cain followed with renditions of “I’m in a Hurry,” “If I Could Make a Living” and “We’re in This Love Together,” all Murrah compositions.
Equipped with notes, Murrah meticulously thanked an array of people who had helped him, particularly his several regular co-writers. He told the audience he was first nominated for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame three years ago and that on the day he received notice of the nomination, he also got a note from a funeral home offering a special on cremation. “I didn’t know whether that meant I was coming or going,” he said.
Bobby Bare introduced Reed and chronicled his life from the time he was a teenaged songwriter in Atlanta to his becoming “one of, if not the, greatest guitar players in the world.” To illustrate the point, guitarist John Knowles played a sampling of Reed’s instrumentals. Steve Wariner was next in line, performing “Thing Called Love,” Reed’s most recorded work. To cap it off, Steele, wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Son!” (Reed’s favorite exclamation), ripped his way through “Amos Moses,” “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” and “East Bound and Down.”
Reed, who is in frail health, stood mute at the podium for almost a minute, catching his breath and coming to grips with his emotions. “Listening to Mike Reid makes me glad my name’s Reed,” he began. “He’s got a wonderful vocabulary. Mine sucks. … What makes this special tonight is I get to share it with three generations of our family.” He then recited the names of his children and grandchildren in attendance.
Like Murrah, Reed noted he’s been nominated for the Hall of Fame before but never showed up to see if he won. “I was first nominated when Moby Dick was a minnow,” he cracked.
Wayland Holyfield explained that Burr had learned to play the guitar while recuperating from a soccer injury and had been in music ever since, including a turn with Pure Prairie League. Victoria Shaw, Jim Photoglo and Mark Mirando sang selections from Burr’s vast catalog of hits, including snippets of “Too Busy Being in Love,” “What Mattered Most,” “That’s My Job,” “Nobody Wants to Be Lonely,” “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me” and “To Be Loved by You.” Sarah Buxton joined Photoglo to finish the set with “It Was.”
Shaw read Burr greetings from Carole King, with whom he sometimes tours (and who was initially scheduled to sing at the presentation before being sidelined by flu). Mirando conveyed congratulations from Richard Marx. And Photoglo read Ringo Starr’s good wishes in a fair imitation of Starr’s spacy voice.
“I have this reputation for being Mr. Sarcasm, Mr. Glib,” said Burr when he faced the crowd. “But if ever there was a time not to be that, this is one of them.” He paused for a moment then snapped, “I got nothin’.” But he did have something, citing a long list of friends, family and musicians who’d encouraged, guided and supported him.
Winners of the achievement awards — also known within the NSAI professional songwriters division as “songs I wish I’d written” — were “Alcohol” (written by Brad Paisley), “Bless the Broken Road” (Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna, Marcus Hummon), “Don’t Ask Me How I Know” (Bart Butler, Brett Jones, Bobby Pinson), “Goodbye Time” (James Dean Hicks, Roger Murrah), “He Gets That From Me” (Steven Dale Jones, Phillip White).
Also “Hey, Good Lookin’” (Hank Williams), “I May Hate Myself in the Morning’ (Odie Blackmon), “Monday Morning Church” (Brent Baxter, Erin Enderlin), “My Give a Damn’s Busted” (Joe Diffie, Tony Martin, Tom Shapiro), “Suds in the Bucket” (Jenai, Billy Montana), “Georgia Rain” (Ed Hill, Karyn Rochelle), “Making Memories of Us” (Rodney Crowell) and “Some Beach” (Rory Lee Feek, Paul Overstreet).
It was noted that two Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members had died within the past year — Merle Kilgore and Ben Peters. Besides the five presenters, all of whom are members, the other Hall of Famers at the ceremony were Guy Clark, Dennis Morgan, Paul Overstreet, Allen Reynolds, Glenn Sutton, Jerry Chesnut, Kenny O’Dell, Norro Wilson, Dickey Lee, Jerry Foster, Richard Leigh, Bill Rice, Red Lane, Ted Harris, Rory Bourke, Bill Anderson and Jack Clement.