ASCAP finally managed to corner Don Williams long enough to honor him.
The notoriously reclusive singer — who even managed to be absent from the ceremony when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame — not only showed up at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel Sunday night (Nov. 6) to be presented ASCAP’s Golden Note award, he also stayed on to sing two of his classic hits to the adoring crowd.
Williams’ appearance was the highlight of ASCAP’s 49th annual Country Music Awards celebration that spotlighted 50 of the past year’s most-performed country songs, their composers and their publishers.
ASCAP is one of three major performing rights societies which collect and distribute performance royalties to songwriters and music publishers.
To warm up the crowd for Williams, Lee Ann Womack took the stage to sing his 1981 classic, “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good.”
Keith Urban followed with “We’ve Got a Good Fire Goin'” from 1986, with Little Big Town providing the background vocals. Dave Loggins, the song’s writer, emerged from the wings midway during Urban’s performance to sing the final verses.
Shamblin earlier brought the audience to its feet when he sat onstage with his guitar and wistfully sang the song about a spiritual drifter who returns to his childhood home in search of himself.
Ben Hayslip took home the songwriter of the year prize for having co-penned five of the Top 50 songs: “All About Tonight,” “All Over Me,” “Farmer’s Daughter,” “Gimmie That Girl” and “The Shape I’m In.”
For the second year in a row, Sea Gayle Music, of which Paisley is a founding partner, was crowned publisher of the year. It published the winning songs “Anything Like Me,” “Come Back Song,” “This,” “This Ain’t Nothing,” “This Is Country Music” and “Water.”
The Civil Wars, the new duo comprised of Joy Williams and John Paul White, won ASCAP’s Vanguard Award “for creating music that draws on tradition while forging new audiences.” The act was on tour and accepted its honor via video.
As has become customary, the writers of the Top 5 songs of the year performed their songs for the crowd.
Hayslip enlisted Josh Turner, who recorded the song, to accompany him on “All Over Me.”
Tony Lane and Johnny Park rocked out with “Roll With It,” their chart conqueror for Easton Corbin.
But the most enthusiastic — and loudest — performance of the evening came when Hayslip took to the spotlight with his two fellow “Peach Pickers,” Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins, to blow the doors off with their version of the Joe Nichols hit, “Gimmie That Girl.”
To get the mood suitably festive, the Peach Pickers backed themselves with a three-piece horn section that looked like it might march off stage and into the crowd at any moment.
Dierks Bentley opened the ceremony with a majestic rendition of his current single, “Home.”
Pop songwriter Paul Williams, who doubles as ASCAP’s president and board chairman, served as chief host of the evening.
He introduced the segment devoted to Don Williams, citing some of the singer’s “extraordinary career milestones,” including 17 No. 1 and 45 top 10 singles.
When the Hall of Fame member finally ambled up to the stage, wearing his battered hat, black sports jacket and jeans, the crowd stood and cheered as if he’d been resurrected from the dead.
“I am overwhelmed,” Williams declared, when the room finally quieted down. “Of all the people I’ve always wanted to thank, it’s always been the songwriters. You’re the lifeblood of the industry, and for that reason I don’t think I can take this award.”
Instead, Williams suggested ASCAP keep the Golden Note award on display as encouragement to others.
“Anyway,” he concluded, “my heartfelt thanks. I’m so nervous, I’m about to pass out.”
Rather than pass out, though, Williams seated himself on a high stool, surrounded by his band that had earlier backed Womack and Urban.
“I don’t even know what I’m doing,” he said as he settled onto his seat. Then the band kicked off the familiar intro to “I Believe in You” — his easy listening chart-topper from 1980 — and it was immediately apparent he knew exactly what he was doing.
His rich, resonant baritone has lost none of its soothing, assuring qualities. Predictably, it won him another standing ovation.
Williams concluded with his pulsating 1978 hit, “Tulsa Time,” and left the stage with the crowd cheering wildly and his award sitting behind.View photos from the event.
Here is the complete list of ASCAP’s most performed songs:
“Ain’t Back Yet”
Chris Tompkins, Craig Wiseman
“All About Tonight”
“Anything Like Me”
Chris DuBois, Brad Paisley, Dave Turnbull
“Bullets in the Gun”
“Gimmie That Girl”
“How I Got to Be This Way”
Rivers Rutherford, Jeremy Stover
Radney Foster, Georgia Middleman
“Our Kind of Love”
“Roll With It”
Tony Lane, Johnny Park
“She Won’t Be Lonely Long”
“Somewhere With You”
“Stuck Like Glue”
“The Boys of Fall”
“The House That Built Me”
“The Man I Want to Be”
“The Shape I’m In”
Frank Rogers, Darius Rucker
“This Ain’t No Love Song”
Tony Lane, Marcel
“This Ain’t Nothin'”
Chris DuBois, Kerry Kurt Phillips
“This Is Country Music”
Chris DuBois, Brad Paisley
“Turn On the Radio”
Cherie Oakley, Mark Oakley, J.P. Twang
Chris Tompkins, Craig Wiseman, Chris Young
Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace, Brad Paisley
“Way Out Here”
David Lee Murphy
“Who Are You When I’m Not Looking”
Earl Bud Lee
“Wrong Baby Wrong”
Stephen Barker Liles, Robert Ellis Orrall