The top songwriters of Nashville, along with their friends, families and publishers, filled the grand ballroom of the Music City Center Monday night (Oct. 23) to applaud the inductions of Walt Aldridge, Dewayne Blackwell, Vern Gosdin, Jim McBride and Tim Nichols into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Aldridge, McBride and Nichols were on hand to accept their honors. Gosdin, who came to fame as a recording artist dubbed “The Voice” during the 1970s and ’80s, died in 2009. Blackwell was ill and unable to attend the ceremonies.
Performing at the four-hour-long gala were Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan, Earl Thomas Conley, James LeBlanc, Lonesome River Band, Lee Ann Womack, Dustin Lynch, the Bundys, Craig Campbell and the award-winning writers of “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg and Steven Lee Olsen.
The first part of the event was given over to Nashville Songwriters Assn., International — the Hall of Fame’s sister organization — to present awards to the year’s top songwriter — Ashley Gorley; songwriter-artist–Luke Bryan; and song — “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” as voted by the NSAI’s professional members.
NSAI-honored, as well, were the writers in the category of “The 10 Songs I Wish I’d Written.”
The songs — and their writers — were “Better Man” (Taylor Swift); “Body Like a Back Road” (Josh Osborne, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, Zach Crowell); “Different for Girls” (J.T. Harding, Shane McAnally); “Dirt on My Boots” (Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure, Rhett Akins); “Drinkin’ Problem” (Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy, Jess Carson, Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne).
Also, “H.O.L.Y.” (busbee, Nate Cyphert, William Larsen); “Kill a Word” (Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, Luke Dick); “Peter Pan” (Forest Glen Whitehead, Jesse Lee, Kelsea Ballerini); “Vice” (Josh Osborne, Miranda Lambert, Shane McAnally); and “80s Mercedes” (busbee, Maren Morris).
The first live performance was by the writers of “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Jazzy and forceful, it brought the crowd to its feet, as would several other acts during the evening.
Aldridge was cited for having written such hits as “Holding Her and Loving You” (recorded by Earl Thomas Conley), “I Loved Her First” (Heartland), “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” (Travis Tritt, “(There’s) No Getting’ Over Me” (Ronnie Milsap) and “The Fear of Being Alone” (Reba McEntire).
While continuing to write and perform, Aldridge also teaches in the University of North Alabama’s music industry program.
Accompanying himself on guitar, LeBlanc belted out a bluesy and blistering rendition of “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” and an ailing Earl Thomas Conley made a rare appearance to reprise his 1983 NSAI song of the year, “Holding Her and Loving You.”
Aldridge told the crowd he moved back to his native Alabama from Nashville six years ago because he feared becoming “obsolete.” That he was now being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, he said, was like completing and punctuating a career sentence he began long ago. “Not only did you punctuate it,” he said, “but you ended it with an exclamation point.”
Blackwell’s catalog of standards includes “Mr. Blue” (the Fleetwoods), “Honkytonk Man” (Marty Robbins), “Mama, Come’n Get Your Baby Boy” (Johnny Darrell), “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home” (David Frizzell), “Yard Sale” (Sammy Kershaw) and “Friends in Low Places” (Garth Brooks).
Serving to stir memories of those classics were the Bundys, who did a sweet “Mr. Blue,” and Craig Campbell, who re-energized “Friends in Low Places.”
In accepting for his father, Gentry Blackwell said the elder Blackwell was a fanatic for using exact rhymes in his songs rather than near ones. He said he wrote most of “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino” in a few minutes but spent weeks trying to find an exact rhyme for “aluminum cans.”
Unable to do so, he finally settled for the couplet in which the frustrated wife tells her hard-partying husband, “And for you, I’ll always keep in stock, those soft aluminum cans/And when you’re feeling macho, you can crush them like a man.”
Gosdin began his singing career performing in his native Alabama with his brother, Rex, but went on to work with a bluegrass group, the Hillmen, in Los Angeles. That band included Chris Hillman, who would years hence be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Byrds, as well as re-emerge in the Desert Rose Band. Gosdin came to full flower as a songwriter and recording artist in Nashville during the 1980s.
His best known compositions and self-recorded hits include “Today My World Slipped Away,” “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right),” “Do You Believe Me Now,” “That Just About Does It,” “Set ‘Em Up Joe” and “Chiseled in Stone.”
His frequent co-writer, Buddy Cannon, praised Gosdin not only as a lyricist but as “a master of arranging harmony singing.” To illustrate Gosdin’s genius, there was a video clip of him singing “Chiseled in Stone” on the Grand Ole Opry.
Then Luke Bryan told a charming story of how he’d first heard of Gosdin as a five-year old when his 16-year-old sister came home, enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke, and telling him that she and her boyfriend had been riding around “listening to Vern Gosdin.” He said he figured out then and there that if a teenage girl found Gosdin’s music appealing, it must indeed be cool. Then, apologizing that he wouldn’t be sounding like “The Voice,” he still did a bang-up cover of “Set ‘Em Up Joe.”
McBride was a mail carrier in Alabama before he made the gamble of moving to Nashville, where he would slowly gain stature by penning or co-writing such hits as “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn” (for Conway Twitty), “Bet Your Heart on Me” (Johnny Lee), “Rose in Paradise” (Waylon Jennings) and the Alan Jackson smashes “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “(Who Says) You Can’t Have It All,” “Someday” and “Chattahoochee.”
Following Jerry Salley’s affectionate and eloquent introduction to McBride’s music, the Lonesome River Band put a harmony-rich bluegrass twist on “Rose in Paradise,” which, as Salley pointed out was Waylon Jennings’ last No. 1.
Jackson, fresh from being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the night before, brought out his band, reminisced about learning to write with McBride and then sang a medley of “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Someday,” “Chattahoochee” and the vivid but lesser known album cut, “Hole in the Wall.”
Responding to Jackson’s moving performance, McBride said, “Alan Jackson’s made me laugh a lot, but that’s the first time he’s made me cry.” He said that it was a rare experience for a songwriter to unite with a beginner like Jackson, when he was a $50-a-week staff writer, and stay with him through superstardom. “I can tell you that the [financial] trickle-down from that ain’t too bad,” he said with a grin.
Picking up on the thread of having written Jennings’ last hit single, McBride cracked, “To those artists [for whom] I wrote their last singles — and their careers died, I’m sorry. I was just trying to help.”
Nichols built his winning reputation on such memorables as “I’m Over You” (Keith Whitley), “Heads Carolina, Tails California” (Jo Dee Messina), “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” (Trace Adkins), “That’d Be Alright” (Alan Jackson), “I Got the Boy” (Jana Kramer) and the Grammy-winning “Live Like You Were Dying” (Tim McGraw).
After Lee Ann Womack had riveted the room with “I’m Over You” and Dustin Lynch took a turn with “Live Like You Were Dying,” Nichols explained that his career had moved along not just through doors of opportunity opening but also thought dead-end, no-win doors closing.
In addition to his songwriting successes, Nichols now co-owns the thriving publishing company, This Music, with Rusty Gaston and Connie Harrington.