This Is Country Tells Comprehensive Story of the ACM Awards

Lavish Book Is Worth Reading in Advance of Sunday Night’s Anniversary Event in Texas

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

Considering the number of emails from artists I’ve received this week with “For Your ACM Consideration” as the subject line, the Academy of Country Music Awards must be happening pretty soon.

Of course, those artist emails were part of the computer-generated blanket extended to anyone who might be inclined to cast ballots in the fan-voted entertainer of the year and new artist of the year categories.

The awards show, hosted by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, takes place Sunday night (April 19) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will be broadcast on CBS. After many years of presenting the show in Los Angeles and, in recent years, Las Vegas, the Academy decided to head to DFW to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the awards show.

Rather than get caught up in the glitz and glamour of everything this production is sure to be, it seems like a good time to call attention to a book you might have missed that serves as a comprehensive history of the ACM Awards.

I should volunteer to mention that the author, Lisa Lee, is a former co-worker at CMT and, as far as I can tell in the show biz scheme of things, a close friend of mine. For several years, she had been telling me about this book project she was writing and compiling for the ACM. Knowing her love of country music — not to mention her tenacious work ethic and an attention to accuracy and detail that occasionally drove me crazy while she was involved in CMT’s video news programming — I was still totally blown away when a package from her arrived on my desk in September.

This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards is a gorgeous coffee table book that far exceeded any expectations I could have had. The photos alone show you how far country music has come — from the Red Barrel Niteclub, site of the first So-Cal country music awards banquet in the early ’60s, to the MGM Grand in Vegas. And those photos also cover artists from a young Merle Haggard in the ‘60s to a young Brett Eldredge just last year.

This Is Country is as thorough and well-researched as I’d imagined, and Lee goes deep in interviews with many of the key players who are still alive and willing to talk about the old days and the evolution of the ACM Awards. Reba McEntire provided the foreword, and other editorial contributions came from George Strait, Garth Brooks, Alabama’s Randy Owen, Marty Stuart and others.

However, I have to admit that I’m most fascinated with the extras that come with the book. The addition of reproduced invitations and other documents in the book make you feel like you’ve got some historic memorabilia right there in your hands.

From 1963, there’s an entire reproduction of a copy of D.J.’s Digest, a publication published by Tommy Wiggins to promote country music. There’s the chord sheet the house band was planning to follow while backing Loretta Lynn on her 1975 performance of “The Pill.” As it turned out, Lynn didn’t actually sing the song, explaining to the audience, “Tonight, I won’t be singing ‘The Pill’ because they wouldn’t let me.” She later sang “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man) and added, “Don’t worry. You can’t take my man now. I’ve got the pill.”

There’s also a ticket to the ACM’s 22nd anniversary awards show in 1987 at Knott’s Berry Farm and a security laminate pass to the 1996 after party at the Universal City Hilton. A stage diagram from the 2000 show details placement for acts such as George Jones and Yankee Grey.

This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards is available nationwide, including Amazon. The Academy’s proceeds from the book go to ACM Lifting Lives, the organization’s charitable division dedicated to improving lives through the power of music.

Even if you don’t buy a copy of the book, you owe it to yourself to take a close look at it. You should be able to access it for free at a place most of us don’t visit often enough — a public library.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.