Still weak and disoriented from the stroke she suffered in May, the incomparable Loretta Lynn nonetheless took to the stage Sunday night (Oct. 22) to fulfill Alan Jackson’s wish that she be the one to induct him into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“When I met Alan he was like a scared little boy,” Lynn told the crowd at the CMA Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where the late Jerry Reed and songwriter Don Schlitz were also inducted.
Lynn recalled her first meeting backstage with Jackson. “I told him [then] he was going to be one of the greatest singers in country music,” she declared. “He hasn’t let me down. … He’s the only one who could bring me here.”
Escorted to the stage by George Strait and an assistant, the 85-year-old Lynn initially seemed confused as to what was expected of her. She said the stroke had impaired her vision making her unable to spot Jackson who sat facing her in the front row. But once she got her bearings, Lynn was her reliably vivacious and plain-spoken self.
Called the “Medallion Ceremony” for the medals presented to new Hall of Fame members, the event has become a testimony to the healing power of music. Last year, Lynn’s fellow stroke victim, Randy Travis, also defied medical odds by standing and singing the chorus of “Amazing Grace.”
Besides Lynn’s surprise appearance, the evening sparkled with majestic and dazzling performances.
Performing in tribute to Reed were Ray Stevens, Jamey Johnson and superpickers Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel and John Knowles.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Charlie Worsham, Fred Knobloch, Thom Schuyler, Jelly Roll Johnson, Aloe Blacc and Vince Gill rolled out songs from Schlitz’s catalog of hits.
As usual, the show opened with the playing of a country classic from the Hall of Fame’s Bob Pinson Collection. This time around it was Glen Campbell’s “Try A Little Kindness,” which spoke to an especially tragic year for country music, what with the Las Vegas massacre and the deaths of Hall of Fame members Campbell, Don Williams and Jo Walker Meador, the long-serving head of the Country Music Assn.
Referring to the reverential tone of the ceremonies that lay ahead, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum director Kyle Young said, “This is the last pure thing. We’re not on a clock. We’re not selling ads.”
Of the honorees — Georgia-born Reed and Jackson and North Carolina native Schlitz — Young asserted, “They came to Nashville with no earthly idea of the impact they would have.”
Young introduced Reed’s segment — which took up most of the first hour — with video clips. One showed Porter Wagoner performing one of Reed’s early hits as a songwriter, “Misery Loves Company,” from 1962, the year after Reed arrived in Nashville.
Another clip showed a youthful Paul McCartney delightedly quoting one of Reed’s quips after he heard McCartney say he was going back on the road. “Man, if I had Paul McCartney’s money, I’d buy the road.”
Young began by describing Reed’s hardscrabble youth. Abandoned by his parents, he was put in a foster home when he was five. His salvation from this grimness was listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio and pretending he was playing along with the music by strumming a stick of stove wood with a pick made of bark.
Besides becoming a master guitarist, Young noted, Reed also distinguished himself as a singer, songwriter and film actor. Perhaps his most memorable and applauded role was as the truck driver “Snowman” in the Smokey and the Bandit series. It was for the first Smokey that Reed co-wrote and recorded the rollicking “East Bound and Down” (1977).
Jamey Johnson, a fervent Reed fan emerged to sing “East Bound and Down” and won a standing ovation.
Reed was a protégé of fabled guitarist and producer Chet Akins and one of the first to earn the Atkins’ honorific “CGP” (for Country Guitar Player). The last three surviving CGPs — Wariner, Emmanuel and Knowles — stood side by side to deliver a sizzling version of Reed’s infectious but fiendishly difficult to play “The Claw.”
Ray Stevens honored his old pal with a righteous romp through Reed’s frenetic 1971 hit and Grammy-winner “When You’re Hot You’re Hot.”
Reed’s friend and fishing buddy, Bobby Bare, handled Reed’s official induction into the Hall. He revealed that Atkins had told him that Reed was a better guitarist than Atkins himself. “He plays stuff that I can’t touch,” Bare quoted Atkins as saying. “Besides, he practices more.”
Accepting Reed’s medallion were his daughters, Lottie Zavala and Seidina Hubbard (Hubbard was Reed’s official last name).
“Daddy, I wish you could have seen in yourself what the world saw in you,” said Zavala. Hubbard marveled that the Berklee College of Music in Boston now offers a class in her dad’s picking techniques.
Reed died in 2008.
Next on the program was Schlitz’s segment.
Best known for writing the Kenny Rogers megahit, “The Gambler,” Schlitz has since gone on to write or co-write 50 Top 10 singles and 24 No. 1s.
The audience was then treated to a 1979 video clip of Schlitz accepting his CMA song of the year award for “The Gambler.” Wearing a scruffy T-shirt and an Afro so massive it threatened to topple him over, the young composer wise-cracked, “This is the first country song I’ve ever written, and I find this encouraging.”
Young reminded the crowd that it was a Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet song — “On the Other Hand” — that had launched Randy Travis’ career in 1985 and had become his first No. 1 single.
Mary Chapin Carpenter then came to stage to sing “When You Say Nothing At All,” the Schlitz-Overstreet ballad that was a No. 1 single for Keith Whitley in 1988 and a CMA single of the year award winner for Alison Krauss in 1993. Accompanying herself of guitar, Carpenter’s rendering of the song was more subdued and earthy than the earlier versions.
Young noted that Carpenter didn’t usually co-write but that she and Schlitz had reached an accord that yielded three hits for Carpenter as a recording artist: “I Feel Lucky” (1992, a Grammy-winner), “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” (1993) and “I Take My Chances” (1994).
Young praised Schlitz for his many works of charity. He said that soon after the news of the Las Vegas shooting broke, Schlitz chartered a plane to take himself and fellow musicians to the city to sing for the survivors. Moreover, he added, Schlitz sings every week at a coffee shop for Nashville’s homeless.
That revelation served as an intro to the next performance, “Oscar the Angel,” sung by Charlie Worsham (who also sings at the coffee shop), Fred Knobloch and Tom Schuyler, with harmonica provided by Jelly Roll Johnson.
Young explained that the song was based on a homeless man Schlitz used to let into a movie house free when he was a ticket taker there.
Aloe Blacc and Vince Gill wrapped up the Schlitz tribute with “The Gambler,” ultimately leading the crowd in a sing-along.
Gill stayed on stage to induct Schlitz — as Schlitz had requested. In high good humor, Gill told Schlitz, “The scariest part of being inducted into the Hall of Fame is not your speech or who’s going to sing your songs. It’s the plaque.”
He was referring to the bronze plaques depicting the honorees, which are first unveiled at the induction and then mounted permanently on the wall in the Hall of Fame rotunda.
When his own plaque was revealed, he said, Mel Tillis told him it made him look like horror movie actor Lon Chaney.
Schlitz examined his own plaque and announced with some relief, “They didn’t leave out the ’l.'”
Most of Schlitz’s acceptance speech stressed how lucky he had been in achieving what he had, repeating that he didn’t “deserve” many of the good things that had come his way.
To illustrate this point, he asked his two grandchildren to stand and look around. As they did, he then asked those with whom he’d co-written to stand, then those who’d had a hand in pitching, producing or playing on his songs and finally those who had sung his songs — if only to themselves.
Now, with the entire audience standing, he told his grandchildren, “This is what I call a circle,” making the point clear that his honor was the result of community efforts, not his work alone. He added, “This is also how a songwriter gets a standing ovation.”
Jackson’s segment began with video clips praising the then-young singer from George Jones, Jackson’s mentor and idol, and Glen Campbell, whose company gave Jackson his first publishing deal.
Then came the clip in which Jackson, angered that the CMA would not give Jones the opportunity to sing his hit “Choices” on its award show, interrupted his own performance on the show to sing a portion of “Choices.”
Young told of how frequently and successfully Jackson had incorporated details from his own life in his songs and how his parents had been constant sources of inspiration. “Music nourished and sustained the Jackson home,” Young said.
The upshot, according to Young, has been more than 60 million albums sold, 50 Top 10 singles and 35 No. 1 hits. These achievements, Young said, has placed Jackson among the Top 10 bestselling artists of all time.
Womack was called out to sing a particularly doleful version of “Here in the Real World” (1990), Jackson’s first major hit as an artist and songwriter.
Alison Krauss, who produced Jackson’s 2006 album, Like Red on a Rose, then sang the forlorn “Some Day” (No. 1, 1991) with Tommy Emmanuel backing her on guitar.
Strait concluded the Jackson tributes with the beautifully nostalgic “Remember When” (No. 1, 2003-4).
Strait received a standing ovation as soon as he ambled on stage.
After Lynn had presented Jackson his medallion, hugged him and left the stage, the singer began his acceptance remarks by saying, “Well, Loretta Lynn said I should be in here [the Hall of Fame]. That’s all I needed to hear.”
This year’s Medallion Ceremony was an even bigger pageant than usual. A crowd filled the street in front of the Hall of Fame well before the red carpet arrivals started, which was two hours before the presentations began.
They cheered dutifully as a parade of Hall of Famers arrived, among them Strait, the Oak Ridge Boys, Travis, Bare, Bill Anderson, songwriter Bobby Braddock, Randy Owen of Alabama and Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers.
Inside the Hall of Fame’s cavernous conservatory, the celebrities ran the gauntlet of radio and TV reporters before being ushered upstairs to their reserved seats.
The medallion presentations, which ended around 7:50 p.m. with the traditional singing of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” were followed by a lavish party on the sixth floor of the Hall, which overlooks downtown Nashville.
There the hundreds of revelers kept three bars busy while dining on such delicacies as spinach, cheese and herb stuffed beef tenderloin, orecchiete pasta, lobster topping, pumpkin panna cotta with praline sauce and apple cider fritters.
All the honorees, as well as many of the older Hall of Fame members, showed up to mingle with the guests.
Comprising the all-star band that backed the evening’s performers were Biff Watson, acoustic guitar; Eddie Bayers Jr., drums; Paul Franklin, steel guitar; Brent Mason, electric guitar; Gary Prim, keyboard; Deanie Richardson, fiddle and mandolin; Jeff White, acoustic guitar and vocals; Glen Worf, bass; Thom Flora, vocals; Tania Hancheroff, vocals; and Carmella Ramsey, vocals.