Trace Adkins’ “You’re Gonna Miss This” was named song of the year by members of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) on Sunday night (Oct. 26), during their annual gala ceremony at the Renaissance Nashville hotel. Written by Ashley Gorley and Lee Thomas Miller, the ballad also made an honorary list titled “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written,” also voted on by Nashville songwriters.
Meanwhile, Casey Beathard was named songwriter of the year on the strength of co-writing Rodney Atkins’ “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy),” Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink” and George Strait’s “How ’Bout Them Cowgirls.” Briefly stepping behind the podium, Beathard said, “I’m just thankful to be able to write with everybody. … I’m only as good as whoever I’m writing with that day.”
Two of Beathard’s songs also made the “10 Songs” list. Those selections (with songwriters listed at the end of the story) included “Better as a Memory,” “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy),” “Don’t Blink,” “I Saw God Today,” “If You’re Reading This,” “Letter to Me,” “Love Me If You Can,” “Stealing Cinderella,” “Watching Airplanes” and “You’re Gonna Miss This.”
The inaugural Mentor Award was presented to Bob Beckham, formerly head of Combine Music. Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley tied for the year’s best songwriter-artist, but neither was present for the ceremony.
However, many familiar faces in country music saluted the night’s three inductees into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Matraca Berg, John Hiatt and Tom Shapiro were all serenaded with their own music, followed by very gracious acceptance speeches.
Shapiro has written 50 Top 10 country hits, with more than 20 reaching No. 1. Rivers Rutherford sang “Ain’t Nothin’ Bout You” and Mark Nesler offered “You Look Good in My Shirt” — hit songs they co-wrote with Shapiro for Brooks & Dunn and Keith Urban, respectively. Jo Dee Messina also teased the audience with “My Give a Damn’s Busted.”
Billy Dean praised Shapiro, who produced Dean’s early albums, as “a dad I put through hell for three or four years.” He told the invitation-only crowd that he used to sing demos for Shapiro, and that the writer was extremely strict about recording the melodies exactly as they were written. By recording Shapiro’s songs, Dean said he learned the skill of phrasing. “There’s no way I would have made it in this town without you,” Dean told Shapiro, before crooning one of the most popular country love songs from the 1990s, “If There Hadn’t Been You.”
When Shapiro accepted his trophy, he said, “This means the world to me. I’m deeply moved and grateful for this honor.” With tears in his eyes, he also paid tribute to his wife, Diane, and their children. Reminiscing about his early years, he joked, “I wrote a song for my mom on her 65th birthday. She passed on it.”
He spent a few minutes talking about the mystery of writing songs, chasing the dream of being a songwriter and the camaraderie of co-writing that keeps him from retiring. “I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved on therapy by having those writing sessions,” he said. “I’ve always kind of wondered if I’m any good and tonight you made me feel like I am, and I thank you.”
Berg was equally emotional in her acceptance speech. “My heart is so full,” she said, before praising her mentors, including Bobby Braddock and her mother (songwriter Icie Berg), as well as fellow Hall of Fame members Red Lane, Sonny Throckmorton and Mel Tillis.
“It’s such a blessing to get to do this for a living,” she said as tears welled up, adding that she had dreams of being a songwriter starting at age 4. And when commercial success first started coming, she said, “I thought I was getting away with something.”
Among the 171 members now in the Hall of Fame, Berg is only the 10th woman to be inducted. She also thanked, by name, many of the female artists who have cut her songs, including Suzy Bogguss, Deana Carter, the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Gretchen Wilson and Trisha Yearwood.
“Boys don’t like my songs that much,” she shrugged, “but sometimes they record them.” (Case in point: Keith Urban’s “Nobody Drinks Alone.”) Berg is married to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, and also bragged, in her charming way, about having two cuts on the group’s new album.
Prior to Berg’s speech, Jessi Alexander, Jon Randall and Randy Scruggs joined together to perform “Wrong Side of Memphis” and “You Can Feel Bad.” Then, Kim Carnes sang “Strawberry Wine” and McBride saluted Berg with a bright, acoustic rendition of “Wild Angels.”
Hiatt entered the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in the songwriter-artist category after creating a catalog that has inspired many other top-notch songwriters. Shawn Colvin, a longtime friend of Hiatt’s, chose to perform the first John Hiatt she learned, “The Way We Make a Broken Heart.” Although Colvin said she discovered it on a Ry Cooder album, Rosanne Cash later had a No. 1 country hit with it.
Emmylou Harris delivered a sterling rendition of “Icy Blue Heart,” along with a quick shout-out to all the songwriters. “Keep up the good work,” she said. “We need you. You’re not allowed to quit yet!” Cradling a ukulele and backed by an accordion player, pop star and Nashville resident Michael McDonald delivered a distinctive interpretation of “Have a Little Faith in Me.”
Hiatt improvised his acceptance speech, telling tales about what Music Row was like in 1971. “The real attraction for me was that it seemed so accessible,” he said, describing the publishing companies that had set up shop in houses on 16th and 17th Avenues. “It just seemed like the symphony of life was going on, on Music Row. I felt welcome.”
Like Shapiro and Berg, Hiatt emphasized that the recognition was beyond his wildest expectations. “I’m so glad I made Nashville my home,” he said, “and I never imagined I would go into the Hall of Fame with such illustrious company.”
NSAI’s “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” (in alphabetical order):
“Better as a Memory”
Written by Scooter Carusoe and Lady Goodman
Recorded by Kenny Chesney
“Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)”
Written by Casey Beathard and Marla Cannon-Goodman
Recorded by Rodney Atkins
Written by Casey Beathard and Casey Wallin
Recorded by Kenny Chesney
“I Saw God Today”
Written by Rodney Clawson, Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby
Recorded by George Strait
“If You’re Reading This”
Written by Tim McGraw, Brad Warren and Brett Warren
Recorded by Tim McGraw
“Letter to Me”
Written by Brad Paisley
Recorded by Brad Paisley
“Love Me If You Can”
Written by Chris Wallin and Craig Wiseman
Recorded by Toby Keith
Written by Rivers Rutherford, George Teren and Chuck Wicks
Recorded by Chuck Wicks
Written by Jim Beavers and Jonathan Singleton
Recorded by Gary Allan
“You’re Gonna Miss This”
Written by Ashley Gorley and Lee Thomas Miller
Recorded by Trace Adkins