Buddy Miller was the top winner Thursday night (Sept. 17) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium during the Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show, an event that’s always more about the celebration of music than it is about stars and egos. Miller won in four of the six member-voted categories during the ceremony that featured performances by musician-songwriter recipients of the organization’s lifetime achievement awards — John Fogerty, Asleep at the Wheel and Sam Bush.
Miller, who again served as the show’s bandleader, was named artist of the year. He and wife Julie Miller were voted duo/group of the year, and their latest CD, Written in Chalk, was named album of the year. “Chalk,” written by Julie Miller and recorded by her husband and Patty Griffin, received honors as song of the year.
The other winners decided by the AMA’s membership were Justin Townes Earle (new and emerging artist) and Gurf Morlix (instrumentalist of the year). Earle was at the show to accept his award and perform “Mama’s Eyes,” a song from his debut album, Midnight at the Movies. Morlix, a Texas-based producer and multi-instrumentalist, was unable to attend.
In addition to Fogerty, Bush and Asleep at the Wheel, the other recipients of lifetime achievement awards were artist manager Ken Levitan and record producer Jim Rooney.
Levitan, who has worked in Nashville since the ’70s, has managed numerous acts during his career, including four current clients — Emmylou Harris, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller — who presented him the Jack Emerson Lifetime Achievement Award for an executive.
Rooney’s career spans more than 50 years, including a stint in the early ’60s as director and talent coordinator for the Newport Folk Festival. As a producer, he has worked with Townes Van Zandt, Bonnie Raitt, Hal Ketchum, Tom Paxton, Peter Rowan and others. He also produced albums for Nanci Griffith and John Prine, who presented him the lifetime achievement award for producer/engineer and honored him by performing a duet of “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”
In accepting his lifetime achievement award for songwriting, Fogerty offered a list of influences that ranged from Stephen Foster and Howlin’ Wolf to Sun Records’ artist roster and the Beatles.
“About the time my band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, was about to jump off the cliff and become big time, I was kind of musing about writing songs and the whole kind of gumbo that was brewing in my head,” Fogerty said. “I loved country. I loved folk. I loved bluegrass, blues, shoutin’, country and city blues and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. I thought I was the weirdest person in the history of the world — until I came here tonight. All I can say is that, folks, go on forward being weird.”
Fogerty also performed the late Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” (featured on his new album, The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again) and one of CCR’s hits, “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
Ray Benson pointed to Asleep at the Wheel’s lengthy history when he accepted the lifetime achievement award for performance.
“There’s 90 people who have contributed in 40 years,” he noted. “Some of them have passed away. Some of them have quit. Some of them got a job.”
Benson said he was inspired by the example set by a Country Music Hall of Fame member.
“I met Ernest Tubb back in 1970 and said, ‘I want to do what that man’s been doing,’” he said. “And that is, 200 days a year, getting on the bus and driving around to every little town, big town, in America … and play the kind of music that has been born and raised in America.”
Bush was accepting his lifetime achievement award for instrumentalist when the awards show host, singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, pushed him away from the podium to make a comment. In a pre-arranged parody of the Taylor Swift controversy at the recent MTV Video Music Awards, Lauderdale said he could think of another musician who was more deserving of the instrumentalist honor.
“Jim, this is not the Ameri-Kanye Awards,” Bush retorted.
The show also included performances by Bush, Asleep at the Wheel, Rodney Crowell, the Flatlanders, Raul Malo, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, the Band of Heathens, the Belleville Outfit, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles.
The late Lowell George, a founder of Little Feat, was honored with the President’s Award, an honor given to pioneers of roots music. The evening closed with most of the musicians and singers performing Little Feat’s most famous song, “Dixie Chicken.”