BMI Names Vince Gill an Icon, Honors 50 of Year’s Most-Performed Songs

Rhett Akins, "Wagon Wheel," Sony ATV are Songwriter, Song, Publisher of Year

BMI conferred awards on the writers and publishers of its 50 most-played country songs of the past year Tuesday night (Nov. 4) during a lavish celebration at its Nashville headquarters.

The performance rights organization spotlighted Vince Gill with its Icon Award, a tribute given in former years to such songwriting luminaries as Bill Anderson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels and Dean Dillon.

Rhett Akins, “Wagon Wheel” and Sony ATV Music Publishing were honored, respectively, as BMI’s songwriter, song and publisher of the year.

An animated throng of fans lined the sidewalk directly across the street from the BMI entrance, waving, straining and stretching to see who was alighting from the parade of limos and SUVs.

Among the stars they might have glimpsed were Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Kip Moore, Anderson, Randy Owen (of Alabama), Amy Grant, Clay Walker, Chris Young, Brett Eldredge, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett and Shawna and Keifer Thompson.

In his first turn at hosting this ceremony, BMI president and CEO Mike O’Neill said he didn’t get much exposure to country music growing up in New Jersey, where Bruce Springsteen was idolized. But listening to a girlfriend’s Vince Gill album, he said, made him a convert.

Throughout the evening, the crowd was shown videos of such stars and music industry people as Emmylou Harris, Carrie Underwood, Ashley Monroe, songwriter Guy Clark, producer Tony Brown and record label chief Mike Dungan singing Gill’s praises.

Gill sat at a table near the edge of the stage, grinning, drinking it all in and rolling with the humorous punches thrown his way.

Also in the audience were Gill’s wife, singer and songwriter Amy Grant and his daughter Jenny and son-in-law Josh Van Valkenburg, who recently presented him a grandson, Wyatt.

The musical highlight of the evening came when Urban, Monroe and Michael McDonald performed four of Gill’s most loved songs — “Whenever You Come Around,” “I Still Believe in You,” “When I Call Your Name” and “Liza Jane.”

Urban recalled first meeting Gill when he crashed a party celebrating the opening of Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe. Then a virtual unknown, Urban said Gill was “so kind and nice to me, and I was just one of the guys.”

McDonald told the crowd a songwriting friend introduced him to Gill’s music.

“I remember thinking this is the best that Nashville’s ever been,” he said.

When Gill came forward to accept his award, he looked out over the crowd and his many friends therein and said, “I’d give all this up if I had to lose the friendships. That’s been the greatest gift of all.”

He spoke of admiring and finally working with such songwriting idols as Harlan Howard, Anderson, Clark and Rodney Crowell.

“I wanted to be like my heroes,” he said. “I wanted to write songs.”

At the age of 20, he joined the band Pure Prairie League, and the other band members asked if he’d written any songs.

“Yeah, I’ve got six or seven,” he replied. Then, with a grin, he added, “Like dumb asses, they recorded five of them.”

He’s done pretty well since. O’Neill announced that 24 of Gill’s songs have racked up 1 million performances each and propelled the sale of more than 20 million albums.

Gill urged the hot young songwriters in the audience to seek out older hit songwriters and co-write with them, just as he had done with Anderson.

Stimulated by collaborating with younger writers, Anderson has co-penned such relatively recent hits as “Whiskey Lullaby” for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and “Give It Away” for George Strait.

When Akins accepted his songwriter of the year award, he put Gill’s advice to the test.

“Vince, I know you’re insignificant now,” he joked. “You just won the biggest award in Nashville. Vince, can I write with you? I’m asking you in front of this crowd.”

Gill smiled paternally.

A cocktail party preceded the awards show and a performance by Harold Bradley and his band followed, with coffee, liqueurs and fancy desserts being served.

The crowd of fans remained across the street, still looking for stars as the guests filed out.

View photos from the BMI Country Awards.

Here is the complete list of winners:

BMI Icon: Vince Gill

Songwriter of the Year: Rhett Akins

Publisher of the Year: Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville

Country Awards (only BMI writers listed)

“All Over the Road”
Carson Chamberlin, Wade Kirby

“Anywhere With You”
Jimmy Yeary

“Aw Naw”
Chris Young

“Beat This Summer”
Luke Laird

“Boys ‘Round Here”
Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson

“Carolina”
Rick Beato, Barry Knox, Josh McSwain, Matt Thomas, Scott Thomas

“Chillin’ It”
Shane Minor, Cole Swindell

“Compass”
Ross Golan, Ammar Malik

“Crash My Party”
Rodney Clawson

“Done”
Neil Perry, Reid Perry

“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely”
Sarah Buxton, Rodney Clawson

“Don’t Ya”
Brett Eldredge

“Downtown”
Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird

“Drink a Beer”
Jim Beavers

“Drunk Last Night”
Laura Veltz

“Friday Night”
Rob Crosby, Rose Falcon

“Get Your Shine On”
Rodney Clawson, Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley

“Give It All We Got Tonight”
Tim James, Phil O’Donnell

“Hey Girl”
Rhett Akins

“Hey Pretty Girl”
Dan Couch, Kip Moore

“Highway Don’t Care”
Brad Warren, Brett Warren

“I Can Take It From Here”
Rhett Akins, Chris Young

“I Drive Your Truck”
Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary

“I Want Crazy”
Hunter Hayes, Lori McKenna, Troy Verges

“If I Didn’t Have You”
Paul Jenkins, Shawna Thompson

“It Goes Like This”
Rhett Akins

“Jump Right In”
Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette

“Like Jesus Does”
Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell

“Little Bit of Everything”
Brad Warren, Brett Warren

“Mama’s Broken Heart”
Kacey Musgraves

“Mine Would Be You”
Connie Harrington

“More Than Miles”
Brantley Gilbert

“Night Train”
Michael Dulaney

“Parking Lot Party”
Rhett Akins, Lee Brice, Luke Laird, Thomas Rhett

“Pirate Flag”
Ross Copperman

“Point at You”
Rhett Akins, Ross Copperman

“Radio”
Luke Laird

“Red”
Taylor Swift

“Round Here”
Rodney Clawson, Thomas Rhett

“Runnin’ Outta Moonlight”
Dallas Davidson

“See You Again”
David Hodges, Carrie Underwood

“Southern Girl”
Rodney Clawson, Lee Thomas Miller

“Stay”
Joey Moi (SOCAN)

“Sunny and 75”
Michael Dulaney, Paul Jenkins

“Sure Be Cool If You Did”
Rodney Clawson

“Sweet Annie”
Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Sonia Leigh

“That’s My Kind of Night”
Dallas Davidson

“Wagon Wheel”
Ketch Secor

“We Were Us”
Nicolle Galyon

“When She Says Baby”
Rhett Akins

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.