“Jesus, Take the Wheel” Tops ASCAP Awards

John Rich Named Songwriter/Artist of the Year, Jimmy Webb Nets Voice of Music Award

ASCAP declared “Jesus, Take the Wheel” its top country song of the year Monday night (Oct. 23) in ceremonies held at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Other major honorees were Brett James and Rivers Rutherford, who shared ASCAP’s songwriter of the year prize, and John Rich, named songwriter/artist of the year.

As the repository of 15 of the evening’s trophy-winning songs, Sony/ATV Music earned the publisher of the year distinction. The performing rights society also presented legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb its Voice of Music Award.

Among the stars attending — many of whom also won songwriting awards — were Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Jon Bon Jovi, Dierks Bentley, LeAnn Rimes, Billy Currington, Glen Campbell, David Lee Murphy and Mark Wills.

John Anderson and John Rich opened the evening with the surging “Easy Money,” the lead single from Anderson’s forthcoming album which Rich helped write and produce. Producer Dann Huff contributed a blistering lead guitar line to the performance.

Before allowing Rich to exit the stage, ASCAP Nashville chief Connie Bradley presented him with a custom-made Gibson guitar. She noted that it was a belated prize for winning last year’s songwriter of the year award. On the road with Big & Rich, he was unable to attend last year’s ASCAP event.

Bradley did a first-rate job of hosting what might have been just a tedious parade of songwriters and publishers trooping on and off the stage. Her remarks were brief, on-target and designed to keep the action moving briskly.

At intervals throughout the evening, the ASCAP writers of the five top country songs performed their compositions. (Although many of the songs were co-written by members of other performing rights organizations, only ASCAP writers were recognized.)

Neil Thrasher, accompanied by Wendell Mobley, sang his “Fast Cars and Freedom,” a hit for Rascal Flatts. Rutherford did an intensely poignant reading of “When I Get Where I’m Going,” the valedictory recorded by Paisley and Dolly Parton. Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson offered a stratospheric rendition of “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” Carrie Underwood’s breakthrough single. Jason Matthews and Marty Dodson scorched the air with “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right,” the blockbuster for Billy Currington. And Rodney Crowell, accompanying himself on guitar, crooned “Making Memories of Us,” which ultimately became a chart-topper for Keith Urban.

The vocal performances from Rutherford and Lindsey won them standing ovations. And Bradley remarked after Matthews’ bluesy, face-contorting delivery of the goods that he ought to be recording.

ASCAP CEO John LoFrumento presided over the Voice of Music presentation to Webb. He began that segment by introducing a film clip of Billy Joel puzzling comically over the strange lyrics of Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” but ultimately surrendering to their power. Maybe, Joel concluded, Webb was saying in the lyrics that the common man is capable of exalted thoughts.

When Webb came onstage to a standing ovation, LoFrumento told him, “Your music illuminates people’s lives.”

“I’m profoundly grateful to be in the company of the people who have received this award,” Webb responded. (The previous winners are Chesney, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Amy Grant and Diane Warren.) Noting the evening also marked his second wedding anniversary, Webb saluted his wife, Laura, who was in the audience.

Seating himself at a grand piano, Webb began his program with the resounding chords of “Highwayman,” the song that became a joint hit — and a tour theme — in 1985 for Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. In the final verse of this tale about the reincarnation of spirit, Webb ad libbed the line “perhaps I may become a songwriter again,” and the audience roared.

Webb told the crowd he once bragged to a decidedly unimpressed Jennings that he had won a Grammy for “Highwayman.” When Jennings demanded more detail, Webb said he told him the Grammy was for country song of the year. “What country?” Jennings growled.

Next Webb sang “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” his 1967 hit for Glen Campbell. After the applause died down, Webb summoned Campbell to the stage, introducing him as “My good friend, without whom none of this would have been possible.” Demonstrating that he is still a masterful vocalist and guitarist, Campbell crooned “Wichita Lineman” to Webb’s accompaniment.

Returning Webb’s praise, Campbell asserted, “I’d like to say that ['By the Time I Get to Phoenix'] was probably the biggest blessing that ever came into my life.” He said he cried the first time he heard Johnny Rivers sing the song in a recording studio because it reminded him of how homesick he was for his native Arkansas.

“I decided if Johnny Rivers could make me cry,” Campbell said, “it must be a hell of a song.”

Following the presentations, the crowd adjourned — via red carpet — to the BellSouth building across the street from the Ryman for a lavish party.

ASCAP Country Awards 2006

Songwriter of the Year: Brett James and Rivers Rutherford (tie)

Songwriter/Artist of the Year: John Rich

Song of the Year: “Jesus, Take the Wheel”
Writers: Brett James, Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson

Publisher of the Year: Sony/ATV Music Publishing

ASCAP’S Most-Performed Country Songs of 2006

“A Real Fine Place to Start”
Writers: George Ducas, Radney Foster

“Alcohol”
Writer: Brad Paisley

“All Jacked Up”
Writers: John Rich, Gretchen Wilson

“Arlington”
Writers: Jeremy Spillman, David R. Turnbull IV

“Believe”
Writer: Craig Wiseman

“Best I Ever Had”
Writer: Matthew Scannell

“Better Life”
Writer: Richard Marx

“Big Time”
Writer: John Rich

“Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”
Writer: Michael Mobley

“Boondocks”
Writers: Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook

“Cheatin’”
Writers: Brett James, Don Schlitz

“Class Reunion (That Used to Be Us)”
Writer: Don Pfrimmer

“Come a Little Closer”
Writer: Dierks Bentley

“Do You Want Fries With That”
Writer: Kerry Kurt Phillips

“Don’t Ask Me How I Know”
Writer: Brett Jones

“Don’t Worry ‘Bout a Thing”
Writers: Jason Deere, Kristyn Osborn

“Drugs or Jesus”
Writers: Brett James, Chris Lindsey

“Fast Cars and Freedom”
Writers: Gary LeVox, Neil Thrasher

“Good Ride Cowboy”
Writers: Bob Doyle, Bryan Kennedy

“He Oughta Know That by Now”
Writer: Jeremy Spillman

“Hicktown”
Writer: John Rich

“Homewrecker”
Writers: Rivers Rutherford, Gretchen Wilson

“If Heaven”
Writer: Gretchen Peters

“If Something Should Happen”
Writers: Jim “Moose” Brown, David R. Turnbull IV

“Jesus, Take the Wheel”
Writers: Brett James, Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson (SOCAN)

“Just Might (Make Me Believe)”
Writer: Kristen Hall

“Keg in the Closet”
Writers: Kenny Chesney, Brett James

“Like We Never Loved at All”
Writers: John Rich, Scot Saxs

“Living in Fast Forward”
Writers: David Lee Murphy, Rivers Rutherford

“Long, Slow Kisses”
Writer: Ben Hayslip

“Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do”
Writers: Dierks Bentley, Deric Ruttan

“Making Memories of Us”
Writer: Rodney Crowell

“Miss Me Baby”
Writers: Chris Cagle, Monty Powell

“Mississippi Girl”
Writer: John Rich

“Must Be Doin’ Something Right”
Writers: Marty Dodson, Patrick Jason Matthews

“My Old Friend”
Writer: Craig Wiseman

“My Sister”
Writer: Bonnie Baker

“Nobody Gonna Tell Me What to Do”
Writers: Tony Mullins, Craig Wiseman

“Pickin’ Wildflowers”
Writers: Keith Anderson, John Rich, Kim Williams

“Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”
Writer: John Kennedy

“Redneck Yacht Club”
Writers: Thom Shepherd, Steve Willams

“She Don’t Tell Me To”
Writer: Rivers Rutherford

“She Let Herself Go”
Writer: Kerry Kurt Phillips

“Skin (Sarabeth)”
Writer: Joe Henry

“Somebody’s Hero”
Writer: Jamie O’Neal

“Something More”
Writers: Kristen Hall, Jennifer Nettles

“Something to Be Proud Of”
Writer: Chris Wallin

“Stay With Me (Brass Bed)”
Writer: Brett James

“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Writer: Monty Powell

“USA Today”
Writer: Alan Jackson

“What Hurts the Most”
Writer: Steve Robson

“What’s a Guy Gotta Do”
Writers: Kelley Lovelace, Don Sampson

“When I Get Where I’m Going”
Writer: Rivers Rutherford

“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Writers: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora

“Your Man”
Writers: Chris DuBois, Chris Stapleton

“You’re Like Comin’ Home”
Writers: Brandon Kinney, Brian Maher, Jeremy Stover

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.