Ashley Gorley Wins ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year Prize for Fifth Time

Other Awards Go to Rodney Crowell, Kelsea Ballerini, “Somewhere on a Beach”

The ASCAP Country Music Awards show Monday night (Nov. 6) ran much too long, but it yielded some fascinating stories and vivid, emotion-drenched performances.

Held at Nashville’s Ryman auditorium, the event started at 5 p.m. with a cocktail party but dragged on past 9 o’clock, by which time the Ryman’s balcony was virtually empty, and the main floor was a patchwork of long-deserted seats.

The villains of the piece were rambling acceptance speeches, the intrusion of non-musical material and the mechanics of bringing to the stage for each winning song a swarm of songwriters and publishers who then had to pose for a group picture before returning to their seats.

None of these slowdowns was dramatically damaging in itself, but taken together they imparted a limping, unpredictable rhythm to the show.

The big winners of the evening were Ashley Gorley, who won his fifth songwriter of the year trophy; Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey, top artist-songwriter; “Somewhere on a Beach,” song of the year; and Warner Chappell, publisher of the year.

Ashley Gorley

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Songwriter of the Year Ashley Gorley speaks onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Matthew Ramsey

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Matthew Ramsay accepts an award onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Woven throughout the show were performances by the ASCAP-affiliated writers of the year’s top five songs. These included “May We All” (performed by Jamie Moore); “Wanna Be That Song” (Scooter Carusoe); “Lights Come On’ (Jimmy Robbins, Jordan Schmidt); “Snapback” (Brad Tursi, Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen); and “Somewhere on a Beach” (Dave Kuncio, Josh Mirenda, with Dierks Bentley).

Jamie Moore

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Songwriter Jamie Moore performs onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Dierks Bentley

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Dierks Bentley performs onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Matthew Ramsey and Brad Tursi

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Matthew Ramsey and Brad Tursi of Old Dominion attend the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The most riveting parts of the evening were the tributes to Rodney Crowell, who was presented ASCAP’s Founders Award for his “pioneering contributions to music.” Among Crowell’s catalog of classic compositions are “Til I Gain Control Again,” “Shame On The Moon,” “Song For The Life,” “Voila, An American Dream,” “Ashes By Now,” “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” and the Grammy-winning “After All This Time.” He has also distinguished himself as a record producer.

ASCAP’s president and board chairman, Paul Williams, himself an Oscar and Grammy winner, introduced the tribute segment by praising Crowell’s “profound insight into the human experience.”

Keith Urban spoke of his early awe of Crowell and of co-writing with him the song “You Won,” which appeared on Urban’s 2002 album, Golden Road.

Backed by his band, Urban turned “You Won” from a simple song of gratitude into an instrumental tour de force that had the audience rocking.

Vince Gill likened Crowell to a beloved older brother. He told of the fun they’d had together creating the video for their 2004 novelty co-write, “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long.”

Agreeing that they were both “sensitive guys” who couldn’t very well use real women to portray the repellent wives they sang about, they agreed to “dress up in drag and be each other’s bitches” for the video. “He looked like Betty Davis on crack cocaine,” Gill said, “and I looked like my granny.”

“We thought [the song] would make us bigger than Elvis,” Gill mused.

On a more serious note, Gill recalled meeting Crowell for the first time 41 years ago at the Troubadour club in West Hollywood when Gill opened a show for Guy Clark. Not knowing that Crowell was in the audience, Gill sang “Til I Gain Control Again.”

“Rodney came back to my dressing room,” Gill said, “and asked, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘I’m Vince,’ and he said, ‘We’re gonna be friends for life.'”

And so they have been.

Gill sang “Oklahoma Borderline,” his 1985 Top 10 hit that he co-wrote with Clark and Crowell, and then closed with an achingly forlorn rendering of “‘Til I Gain Control Again.” It won him a standing ovation.

Paul Williams, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, and Keith Urban

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06: Paul Williams, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, and Keith Urban pose for a photo onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Steuart Smith, who’s worked with Crowell as a guitarist and arranger since 1986, praised him for following his own artistic instincts instead of being led by the charts after his 1988 album, Diamonds & Dirt, produced five No. 1 singles. “He’s been an artist on fire [since then],” Smith said.

In accepting his award, Crowell recalled moving to Nashville in 1972 and supporting himself by playing happy hour at the Jolly Ox restaurant in Green Hills. He said his boss instructed him to sing only cover songs and warned that if he did any of his originals, he’d be fired.

Despite the warning, Crowell said, he sang his own “You Can’t Keep Me Here in Tennessee” when Jerry Reed’s manager, Harry Warner, was in the audience. True to his word, his boss fired him, but Reed not only signed him to his first publishing contract but also recorded the offending song.

Wrapping up his remarks, Crowell called the crowd’s attention to the suit he was wearing. “I’ve had this suit since 1982, and I’ve worn it three times,” he said. “Here’s the kicker: It’s the suit John Lennon was wearing in the opening scene of A Hard Day’s Night.” Crowell and his suit exited to great applause.

Rodney Crowell

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell accepts the ASCAP Founders Award onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Rising star Kelsea Ballerini was singled out for the Vanguard Award, a trophy conferred on ASCAP members whose musical impact “will help shape the future of American music.” After scoring three No. 1 singles from her first album, Ballerini has just released her second collection, titled Unapologetically.

Award-winning composer Hillary Lindsey introduced Ballerini. She said she is such a natural songwriter that she “can do it in her sleep without blinking.”

“Songwriting is the favorite part of what I do,” Ballerini said. Then, with Lindsey providing harmony, she sang “In Between,” the last song she wrote for the new album.

It sounded candidly autobiographical via such telling lyrics as, “I’m dumb enough to think I know it all/Smart enough to know I don’t/Young enough to think I’ll live forever/Old enough to know I won’t.”

Her performance netted a standing ovation.

Kelsea Ballerini

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Kelsea Ballerini performs onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

The other major institutional trophy — the Partners in Music Award — went to Varnell Enterprises, a concert promotion company that has worked with artists as diverse as Roy Acuff, Elvis Presley and Sonny & Cher — and which is currently promoting Garth Brooks’ world tour.

Super songwriter Jimmy Webb emerged near the end of the show to pay tribute to his late friend, Glen Campbell, by singing an extended and impassioned version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Jimmy Webb

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 06:  Singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb performs onstage during the 55th annual ASCAP Country Music awards at the Ryman Auditorium on November 6, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images) Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Here is a list of the evening’s winners, citing only the ASCAP writers of the songs:

“American Country Love Song”
Writers: Ashley Gorley, Jaren Johnston
Artist: Jake Owen

“Any Ol’ Barstool”
Writer: Deric Ruttan
Artist: Jason Aldean

“Blue Ain’t Your Color”
Writers: Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg, Steven Lee Olsen
Artist: Keith Urban

“Came Here To Forget”
Writers: Craig Wiseman, Deric Ruttan
Artist: Blake Shelton

“Church Bells”
Writers: Brett James, Zach Crowell, Hillary Lindsey
Artist: Carrie Underwood

“Confession”
Writer: Matt Jenkins
Artist: Florida Georgia Line

“Different for Girls”
Writer: JT Harding
Artist: Dierks Bentley ft. Elle King

“Dirt on My Boots”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Jon Pardi

“Dirty Laundry”
Writers: Hillary Lindsey, Ashley Gorley, Zach Crowell
Artist: Carrie Underwood

“Fix”
Writer: Abe Stoklasa
Artist: Chris Lane

“From the Ground Up”
Writers: Chris DeStefano, Daniel Smyers
Artist: Dan + Shay

“A Guy with a Girl”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Blake Shelton

“Heartbeat”
Writers: Ashley Gorley, Zach Crowell
Artist: Carrie Underwood

“H.O.L.Y.”
Writer: William Larsen
Artist: Florida Georgia Line

“Hometown Girl”
Writer: Marc Beeson
Artist: Josh Turner

“How I’ll Always Be”
Writer: Jeremy Stover
Artist: Tim McGraw

“How Not To”
Writers: Kevin Bard, Adam Hambrick, Paul DiGiovanni
Artist: Dan + Shay

“Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”
Writer: Ben Hayslip
Artist: Luke Bryan

“If I Told You”
Writer: Jon Nite
Artist: Darius Rucker

“If the Boot Fits”
Writers: Andy Albert, Jordan Schmidt
Artist: Granger Smith

“I Know Somebody”
Writer: Jeremy Stover
Artist: Locash

“I Met a Girl”
Writers: Sam Hunt, Trevor Rosen
Artist: William Michael Morgan

“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
Writer: Billy Currington
Artist: Billy Currington

“Lights Come On”
Writers: Jordan Schmidt, Jimmy Robbins
Artist: Jason Aldean

“A Little More Summertime”
Writer: Jerry Flowers
Artist: Jason Aldean

“Make You Miss Me”
Writers: Sam Hunt, Josh Osborne, Matthew Ramsey
Artist: Sam Hunt

“May We All”
Writer: Jamie Moore
Artist: Florida Georgia Line

“Middle of a Memory”
Writers: Ashley Gorley, Zach Crowell
Artist: Cole Swindell

“Mind Reader”
Writer: Ben Hayslip
Artist: Dustin Lynch

“Move”
Writers: Michael Carter, Jay Clementi
Artist: Luke Bryan

“Peter Pan”
Writers: Kelsea Ballerini, Forest Glen Whitehead
Artist: Kelsea Ballerini

“Road Less Traveled”
Writer: Meghan Trainor
Artist: Lauren Alaina

“Rock On”
Writer: Marla Cannon-Goodman
Artist: Tucker Beathard

“Seein’ Red”
Writers: Jason Sever, Kurt Allison
Artist: Dustin Lynch

“Setting the World on Fire”
Writers: Matt Jenkins, Josh Osborne
Artist: Kenny Chesney ft. P!Nk

“Sleep Without You”
Writer: Brett Young
Artist: Brett Young

“Snapback”
Writers: Brad Tursi, Trevor Rosen, Matthew Ramsey
Artist: Old Dominion

“Song For Another Time”
Writers: Brad Tursi, Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rosen, Matthew Ramsey
Artist: Old Dominion

“Star of the Show”
Writer: Ben Hayslip
Artist: Thomas Rhett

“T-Shirt”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Thomas Rhett

“Think a Little Less”
Writers: Jon Nite, Jimmy Robbins
Artist: Michael Ray

“Think of You”
Writer: Corey Crowder
Artist: Chris Young (Duet w/ Cassadee Pope)

“Today”
Writers: Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley
Artist: Brad Paisley

“Wanna Be That Song”
Writer: Scooter Carusoe
Artist: Brett Eldredge

“Wasted Time”
Writer: Greg Wells
Artist: Keith Urban

“The Weekend”
Writer: Andrew DeRoberts
Artist: Brantley Gilbert

“Yeah Boy”
Writers: Kelsea Ballerini, Forest Glen Whitehead
Artist: Kelsea Ballerini

“You Look Like I Need a Drink”
Writer: Matt Dragstrem
Artist: Justin Moore

“You Should Be Here”
Writer: Ashley Gorley
Artist: Cole Swindell

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