BMI Declares “As Good as I Once Was” Year’s Top Song

Merle Haggard Wins Icon Award -- And Hank Jr.'s Affection

BMI’s country awards ceremony held Saturday evening at the organization’s Nashville headquarters (Nov. 4) was so filled with musical diamonds, people may be talking about it for years to come. After all, how often does one get to see Hank Williams Jr. kiss Merle Haggard or hear BMI chief Del Bryant sing? More on that later.

“As Good as I Once Was,” written by Toby Keith and Scotty Emerick, won the song of the year prize. Keith, Ed Hill and Vicky McGehee were named the year’s top songwriters. And Sony/ATV Music Publishing, with 17 award-winning songs to its credit, earned the publisher of the year trophy. In addition, 50 titles were honored as the most-performed songs of the past year.

To cap the event, BMI presented Haggard its Icon award for his “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.” The previous winners of this distinction are Charlie Daniels, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Bill Anderson.

Keith, Hill and McGehee tied for songwriter of the year by each composing three songs that made it to BMI’s Top 50. Ed Hill’s track record for the year includes Trisha Yearwood’s “Georgia Rain,” Jamie O’ Neal’s “Somebody’s Hero” and Trace Adkins’ “Songs About Me.” Among McGehee’s credits are Gretchen Wilson’s “All Jacked Up,” Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown” and Faith Hill’s “Like We Never Loved at All.” Keith’s “Big Blue Note,” “Honkytonk U” and “As Good as I Once Was” resulted in his third BMI songwriter of the year crown.

Guests arriving for the ceremony walked a red carpet past TV cameras and into a noisy, shoulder-to-shoulder cocktail party pulsating in the main lobby. Across the street, a few dozen fans jostled against a barrier to check out who the creeping limousines were disgorging.

Among the familiar figures trooping in were Eddie Montgomery, Troy Gentry, Hal Ketchum, newcomer Taylor Swift, Andy Griggs, Ronnie Dunn, Alison Krauss, Gail Davies, Chely Wright, Martina McBride, Josh Turner, Dean Miller and Eric Church, plus Country Music Hall of Fame members Eddy Arnold, Earl Scruggs, Randy Owen, Bill Anderson, Phil Everly, Kris Kristofferson, Jim Foglesong, Jo Walker-Meador, Frances Preston and Haggard.

After about an hour into the cocktail party, the lights flickered to beckon the partygoers upstairs for the awards ceremony and formal dinner that awaited them. Virtually no one sat still for the entire meal, though. Most were up and circulating from table to table, seeing and being seen. Alabama’s Randy Owen, who sat at a table with his wife, his manager and Alabama’s former producer, Harold Shedd, could hardly complete a bite before someone else came over to chat with him.

Those who did settle in to eat were able to concentrate on the bluegrass-themed dinner music and watch videos of the evening’s arrivals on the large TV screens situated around the room. Also splashed on the screens were black-and-white photos from long ago award ceremonies. It was touching to see the likes of Eddy Arnold, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, Roger Miller, Mel Tillis and Jerry Reed all dressed up and in their youthful prime.

To old-timers, each archival picture told a story. In one, the Oak Ridge Boys stood flanked by their then-producer, Ron Chancey, and Dallas Frazier, the writer of their hit “Elvira,” while the song’s publisher, the late Wesley Rose, beamed in the background.

As the networking approached tidal proportions, BMI president and CEO Bryant strolled across the stage crooning “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden.” The audience couldn’t have been more demonstrative — and stunned — if it had been Tony Bennett. Thoroughly in command now, Bryant segued confidently into “As Good as I Once Was” and, in a flourish, wrapped it all up with “Songs About Me.”

Gazing out into the crowd, most of which was up and cheering, Bryant preened, “You’re too kind.” Then, spying those still seated, he amended. “Some of you are too kind. Others aren’t kind enough.” He asked if he should continue with the remaining 47 songs that had been selected for honors. Detecting no groundswell in that direction, he sighed, “Well, maybe not.”

Bryant then struck a more serious note, asserting that “country songs are three-minute encapsulations of our lives” and recalling that his parents had always told him “a hit song doesn’t care who sings it.” (His parents are the late Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, the writers of such classics as “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie” and “Rocky Top.”)

Aided by Jody Williams, BMI’s vice president of writer-publisher relations, Bryant began calling the winning songwriters and publishers to the stage to receive their certificates. When publishers Barry and Jewel Coburn came forward to accept an award for “Tonight I Wanna Cry,” the song Keith Urban co-wrote with Monty Powell, Bryant told them, “Give our best to Keith, and tell him we miss him.” Urban is currently in a rehabilitation center in Nashville for treatment of alcohol abuse.

Bryant later interrupted the awards to commemorate country music luminaries who had died since last year’s awards ceremony. He specifically cited Cindy Walker, Buck Owens, Louise Scruggs, Bonnie Owens, Billy Walker, Johnny Duncan, Freddy Fender, Marijohn Wilkin and Buddy Killen.

Haggard’s was the final award of the evening. “By any conventional measure,” Bryant asserted, “he qualifies as a giant of country music. … For almost 40 years, he’s been called ‘the poet of the common man.’” He noted that Haggard has won 58 BMI awards for his songs, more than 20 of which have each racked up 1 million or more airplays. Bryant also acknowledged Haggard’s wife, Teresa, and his 86-year-old sister, Lillian, who sat with him in the audience.

Next up was a video that summarized the high points and significance of Haggard’s career. When the video was over and while the house lights were still down, the crowd began applauding a dark figure wearing a hat that stood at the edge of the stage. That figure turned out to be John Anderson. He kicked off the musical portion of tribute with an explosive romp through “Workin’ Man Blues.” Backing Anderson was a band led by Randy Scruggs. When the camera shifted to Haggard during the song, he was grinning beatifically.

Martina McBride followed Anderson with the achingly beautiful “Today I Started Loving You Again” (a tune she included on her Timeless album). She concluded by blowing Haggard a kiss.

When the lights came up again, Hank Williams Jr. was there, sitting on a stool and leaning over an acoustic guitar. Instead of using the band, Williams provided his own accompaniment on Haggard’s nostalgic but impudent “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver).” The crowd erupted with the first line.

About halfway through the song, as the audience continued to cheer, it became obvious that Williams had forgotten the words and was just vamping. “What is it Merle?” he asked as he kept strumming, “‘Back before’ what?”

Haggard walked onto the stage, took off his hat and leaned forward to tell Williams the words. At that point, Williams kissed him on top of the head, causing him to recoil sheepishly. Haggard then left the stage, and Williams finished the song without further stumbling. When he sang the lines, “Back before microwave ovens/When a girl could still cook and still would,” the women in the audience, who seemed to have been waiting for it, roared — but good-naturedly.

Despite the muffed lines and barebones performance, Williams sparked a standing ovation that was so strident, one wondered what display of enthusiasm might be left for the guest of honor.

One needn’t have worried. The cheering escalated when Haggard came to the microphone and picked up his guitar. “They sang all my best songs,” he complained. “I really didn’t take songwriting seriously until I wrote ‘Swinging Doors’ and ‘The Bottle Let Me Down.’ Then those BMI checks came in from Frances [Preston], and then I took it seriously.” He ended his remarks by singing a snippet of “Mama Tried,” in response to which the crowd cheered lavishly.

After Bryant presented Haggard his Icon award, the revelers coursed back downstairs to munch on rich desserts and listen to ace guitarist Harold Bradley lead his band through a program of traditional country tunes. Bradley will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame Monday (Nov. 6) during the CMA awards.

Fans were still huddled across the street — and still yelling out at the departing stars — as the party wound down and the chocolate sauces on the food tables out front congealed in the cold.

BMI Country Awards 2006

Songwriter of the Year: Ed Hill, Toby Keith, Vicky McGehee (tie)

Song of the Year: “As Good as I Once Was”
Writers: Scotty Emerick, Toby Keith

Publisher of the Year: Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville

BMI’s Most-Performed Songs of 2006

“All Jacked Up”
Writer: Vicky McGehee

“As Good as I Once Was”
Writers: Scotty Emerick, Toby Keith

“Believe”
Writer: Ronnie Dunn

“Better Life”
Writer: Keith Urban

“Big Blue Note”
Writers: Scotty Emerick, Toby Keith

“Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”
Writer: Phillip White

“Boondocks”
Writers: Karen Fairchild, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Kimberly Roads, Phillip Sweet, Jimi Westbrook

“Class Reunion (That Used to Be Us)”
Writers: Richie McDonald, Frank Myers

“Come a Little Closer”
Writer: Brett Beavers

“Do You Want Fries With That”
Writer: Casey Beathard

“Don’t Ask Me How I Know”
Writers: Bart Butler, Bobby Pinson

“Drugs or Jesus”
Writers: Aimee Mayo, Troy Verges

“Fast Cars and Freedom”
Writer: Wendell Mobley

“Georgia Rain”
Writers: Ed Hill, Karyn Rochelle

“God’s Will”
Writer: Tom Douglas

“Good Ride Cowboy”
Writers: Richie Brown, Jerrod Niemann

“Goodbye Time”
Writers: James Dean Hicks, Roger Murrah

“Help Somebody”
Writers: Kip Raines, Jeffrey Steele

“Hicktown”
Writers: Big Kenny, Vicky McGehee

“Homewrecker”
Writer: George Teren

“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”
Writers: Dallas Davidson, Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson

“Honkytonk U”
Writer: Toby Keith

“(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”
Writer: Joe South

“If Something Should Happen”
Writer: Dan Demay

“I’ll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)”
Writers: Jon McElroy, Vince Melamed

“Like We Never Loved at All”
Writer: Vicky McGehee

“Long, Slow Kisses”
Writers: Jeff Bates, Gordon Bradberry

“Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do”
Writer: Brett Beavers

“Me and Charlie Talking”
Writers: Miranda Lambert, Heather Little

“My Give a Damn’s Busted”
Writers: Joe Diffie, Tony Martin, Tom Shapiro

“My Old Friend”
Writer: Steve McEwan (Performing Right Society/UK)

“My Sister”
Writer: Amy Dalley

“Nobody but Me”
Writers: Shawn Camp, Phillip White

“Play Something Country”
Writers: Ronnie Dunn, Terry McBride

“Probably Wouldn’t Be This Way”
Writer: Tammi Kidd

“She Don’t Tell Me To”
Writers: Bob DiPiero, Tom Shapiro

“She Let Herself Go”
Writer: Dean Dillon

“Skin (Sarabeth)”
Writer: Doug Johnson

“Somebody’s Hero”
Writers: Ed Hill, Shaye Smith

“Something More”
Writer: Kristian Bush

“Something to Proud Of”
Writer: Jeffrey Steele

“Songs About Me”
Writers: Ed Hill, Shaye Smith

“Stay With Me (Brass Bed)”
Writers: Jedd Hughes, Terry McBride

“The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues”
Writer: Dennis Linde

“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”
Writers: Gary Hannan, John Wiggins

“Tonight I Wanna Cry”
Writer: Keith Urban

“When I Get Where I’m Going”
Writer: George Teren

“Who You’d Be Today”
Writers: Bill Luther, Aimee Mayo

“You’ll Be There”
Writer: Cory Mayo

“Your Man”
Writer: Jace Everett