George Jones and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards were among the royalty from the worlds of country, rock and rhythm & blues who gathered Tuesday night (Oct. 28) in Nashville to honor those who helped create some of the most famous sounds in the history of American popular music.
The second annual event at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center was filled with memorable performances to underscore the latest inductees into the Musicians Hall of Fame — guitarist Duane Eddy, the Memphis Horns, the Crickets, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Booker T. & the MGs and Nashville record producer Billy Sherrill. One other inductee — musician, producer and songwriter Al Kooper — was unable to attend due to illness but sent a letter of acceptance.
Setting the tone for the evening, Barbara Mandrell, who hosted the first part of the ceremony, explained the importance of the session musicians who spend their lives in recording studios. “There simply wouldn’t be a music business or hit records without them,” she noted.
Mandrell continued to introduce the induction of Sherrill, a visionary who produced a lengthy series of classic recordings in the ’70s, including Jones’ “The Grand Tour,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl,” Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” and Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn.” For the performance at the awards show, Lee Ann Womack proved to be a perfect choice to sing Wynette’s “’Til I Can Make It on My Own,” and newcomer Randy Houser excelled when he found himself filling two large pairs of shoes — taking the place of an ailing Ronnie Milsap who had been scheduled to sing Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors.” Jones closed the deal on Sherrill’s induction by performing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
In a taped tribute, Eric Clapton offered his congratulations — and respect — to Duane Eddy, whose deep and vibrant guitar style defined the adjective “twang” with instrumentals he began recording in the ’50s. In accepting his award from Kid Rock, Eddy strapped on a hollow-body electric guitar to put the bass strings and the Bigsby vibrato bar through the paces on three of his biggest hits — the Peter Gunn theme, “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and “Rebel Rouser.”
Trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns played on countless recordings for Stax Records, including projects with Otis Redding, before working with rock acts such as Stephen Stills and Rod Stewart. Both were present to accept their trophies, and Jackson sat in with the house band several times during the evening.
Keith Richards and Phil Everly participated in the induction of the Crickets, who began in the ’50s as Buddy Holly’s band and later worked with Waylon Jennings and Nanci Griffith, among others. Backed by the surviving members of the band — drummer Jerry “J.I” Allison, bassist Joe B. Mauldin and guitarist Sonny Curtis — Everly sang a solo version of the Everly Brothers’ classic, “Let It Be Me.”
The excitement level increased several notches when Richards arrived onstage to point out that most Americans don’t realize what a major influence the Crickets played on British musicians during the late ’50s and early ’60s. Pointing to the band members, he said, “Without you guys, you wouldn’t have the Beatles. You certainly wouldn’t have the Stones.”
Richards said the Crickets’ major contribution was in making British musicians realize the viability of self-contained bands that sang and played their own instruments. “It’s funny how things can spring from nowhere,” he said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t have sprung if these fellows didn’t spring in the first place.”
With Curtis handling the vocals, Richards accompanied the Crickets on three Buddy Holly staples — “Peggy Sue,” “Not Fade Away” and “That’ll Be the Day.”
In introducing the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, former Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Ed King played the famous riff he wrote for “Sweet Home Alabama” and pointed out that “the Swampers” mentioned in the song were the musicians who worked in a studio in northern Alabama and played on records by a wide range of artists including Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs, the Oak Ridge Boys, George Michael and Willie Nelson.
During their performance, the band’s core members — guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood and keyboardist Barry Beckett — were joined by some of the other famous musicians who worked in the studio. Among them were keyboardists Spooner Oldham and Clayton Ivey and Randy McCormick and guitarists Will McFarlane and Pete Carr. Former American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle provided powerful vocals on covers of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” and “Respect.” Percy Sledge was present to join the musicians in reprising his most famous hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and Kid Rock provided Detroit’s connection to Muscle Shoals with Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll.”
During his segment as host, Kix Brooks was visibly excited in introducing the final inductees of the evening — Booker T. & the MGs. With their late drummer, Al Jackson Jr., the group served as the house band for Stax Records in Memphis and recorded with Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and many others. At Tuesday’s show, the surviving band members — keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn — played fiery versions of two of their instrumental hits, “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight.” Then one of Stax Records’ stars — Eddie Floyd — arrived onstage to close the night with his signature hit, “Knock on Wood,” and a cover of Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man.”
Even after the final notes of “Soul Man,” Booker T. & the MGs glided back into “Green Onions,” with Cropper and Dunn taking some playful liberties with the song as the crowd made its way to the exit doors. They had played the song a million times before, but they were obviously having fun. Considering that the underlying theme of the acceptances speeches was that none of the inductees ever seriously expected to make a living playing music, it was a fitting way to end the evening.