Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, the Oak Ridge Boys and a bevy of other artists came to Nashville’s Music City Center Monday night (October 14) to sing the songs and praises of the six new inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame: Kostas, Marcus Hummon, Dwight Yoakam, Rivers Rutherford, Sharon Vaughn and Larry Gatlin.
The four-hour gala was attended by hundreds of songwriters, music executives, their friends and family and served as the unofficial kickoff to Music Row’s glittering fall awards season that concludes Nov. 13 with the CMA Awards show.
As the invited guests streamed into the grand ballroom from the opening cocktail to find their assigned seats at the dinner tables, the group Farewell Angelina serenaded them with a medley of songs written by the inductees.
The setup for the presentations was straightforward and smooth. A friend from the music industry would introduce the new inductee and then two different acts would perform two of the writer’s representative songs. After that, the inductee delivered his or her acceptance remarks.
Producer Tony Brown introduced Kostas (full name Kostas Lazarides), whose songwriting he first encountered on a Claire Lynch album. He discovered that Kostas was a “hippie” songwriting living in Montana and asked to hear more of his songs.
Holly Williams then treated the crowd to a rendition of “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” a No. 1 for Patty Loveless in 1989. Parker Milsap followed with “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” a Kostas/James House co-write that netted Yoakam a best country male vocal Grammy in 1993.
Darrell Scott presented Hummon, his frequent co-writer as well as a composer of musical plays and operas. Sara Evans sang her 2000 hit, “Born to Fly,” which she had written with Hummon and Scott. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, accompanied by Matraca Berg and Hummon’s son, Levi, rendered “Bless the Broken Road,” a 2004 hit for Rascal Flatts.
Music publisher Cameron Strang spoke on behalf of Yoakam, whom he characterized as “courteous to a fault, incredibly generous and very funny.” Brandy Clark sang a wistful, despairing version of Yoakam’s 1992 Top 20 single, “The Heart That You Own.” and Jeffrey Steele rocked the room with “Guitars, Cadillacs & Hillbilly Music,” a Top 5 for Yoakam in 1986.
Songwriter Tom Shapiro introduced Rutherford, noting that when the two of them first wrote together, he thought Rutherford was too artsy and Rutherford thought him too commercial. Ace songwriters Brett James and Hillary Lindsey stilled the crowd with a soaring rendition of “When I Get Where I’m Going,” which Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton took to No. 1 in 2006.
Then Brooks & Dunn, backed by their full band, ripped through “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You,” the Rutherford-Shapiro co-composition that gave the duo a six-weeks No. 1 in 2001. Master of ceremonies Bill Cody reminded the crowd that Brooks & Dunn will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this coming Sunday (Oct. 20).
Grand Ole Opry star Bill Anderson presented Sharon Vaughn, whom he first met in 1974 when a mutual friend suggested he listen to some of Vaughn’s songs. She came to his office, he said, without a tape of her songs to play or even a guitar to play them on. He said when he asked her how she was going to present herself as a songwriter, she moved over to his desk, began tapping out a rhythm on it and sang a capella, “She played tambourine with a silver jingle/And she must have known the words to at least a million tunes.” Those were, of course, the opening lines to “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” the 1977 breakthrough hit for the Oak Ridge Boys.
Anderson said when he asked her the question every songwriter dreads, “What else have you got,” she told him she’d also written something called “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys. That gem gave Willie Nelson a No. 1 in 1980 and was featured in the Robert Redford-Jane Fonda movie, The Electric Horseman.
John Rich and the Isaacs stirred memories with their emotionally dead-on interpretation of “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” and Garth Brooks, accompanying himself on guitar, seemed to transport both himself and the crowd with his subtle, understated take of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”
Vince Gill joked that Gatlin had to get “all the way to the V’s in his Rolodex” to find someone willing to introduce him. In a more serious vein, he said he had studied and admired Gatlin’s songs before becoming acquainted with him personally on the golf course.
After the introduction, Gill moved to another stage to join Gatlin’s brothers, Rudy and Steve, on “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ Today,” with Gill taking on the stratospherically high lead. “Dyin’” was a Top 10 for Gatlin in 1979. Then, bracketed by Rudy and Steve, the Oak Ridge Boys gave forth with a gloriously buoyant rendition of “All the Gold in California,” which yielded Gatlin a No. 1, also in 1979.
Second only to the music as entertainment were the remarks the presenters and recipients made.
Kostas recalled hearing Harlan Howard songs on the jukeboxes in Billings. Montana, where he grew up and then the joy of co-writing with Howard after he began making trips to Nashville. One of their co-writes was the Patty Loveless 1993 No. 1, “Blame It on Your Heart.”
“I loved music,” Kostas said. “It was my best friend.”
Hummon spun a myth of how the first songwriter came into being by stretching a string on a bone and placing it over a drum, then singing a story to it. He joked to the music publishers in the crowd, “I feel like I’ve been signed and dropped by most of you.”
After leaving Columbus, Ohio, where he grew up, Yoakam said he had auditioned to sing at the Opryland USA amusement park in Nashville but had decided to move on to California after he was told he would have to fill in as an “alternate” rather than work as a full-time performer.
He said that the always quotable Roger Miller told him that songwriting should be like a cat having kittens: “It’s something you crawl up under the house and do by yourself.”
“Songwriters,” Yoakam mused, “remind us we’re not all alone.”
Rutherford expressed his appreciation to his parents who sat in the audience. “Thank you for the Martin guitar I was too young to have and you were too poor to buy.”
He said after he moved from Memphis to Nashville and was trying to support his wife and two young daughters, he went to the little grocery store where he shopped, took his purchases to the cash register and was asked by the store owner whether he wanted the groceries or to make good his check that had bounced. Finally, he said, the grocer agreed to accept his credit card, and that particular calamity was averted — even though it made him reconsider the wisdom of trying to make it as a writer.
Anderson said he thought Vaughn should be given a prize for coming up with the most inventive rhyme ever coined by a Nashville songwriter — rhyming “Cincinnati” with “Serengeti.”
Before she distinguished herself as a songwriter, Vaughn was a background singer working in recording studios. “It was the best schoolroom anybody could have in the music business,” she said. “I got to see songs created from the bones out.”
She said she moved to Nashville from Florida in 1969 and that when she came over a hill and saw the skyline for the first time, “It looked like the Emerald City, and it still does.” Then, noting that she was paraphrasing Bonnie Raitt, she proclaimed, “It took a while to get here, but I’m right on time.”
In explaining how he got to this moment and this honor, Gatlin led the audience through a literary landscape that included references to the King James Bible, Shakespeare, William Blake, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and James Joyce, all of whom had served as his inspirations.
He said that he wrote “All the Gold in California” in eight minutes after spotting a car with an Oklahoma license plate in the Los Angeles traffic and flashing back to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Of his own approach to songwriting he said, “When I get the words right, the words hum the melodies in my ear.”
Midway in the inductions, songwriter Pat Alger gave an appreciation of Ralph Murphy, the beloved songwriter, music publisher and musical mentor who died this past May. “He was always looking for the next great song,” Alger said, pointing out that he was a familiar and welcome face in publishing circles from Nashville to New York, Los Angeles, Toronto and London.
After Alger announced that Murphy was being awarded the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award, Murphy’s daughter Kerry brought a glass of wine to the stage, said a few words about her father’s impact, and led the crowd in a toast to his memory.
Pictured (L-R): NaSHOF Board chair Sarah Cates; inductees Larry Gatlin, Dwight Yoakam, Sharon Vaughn, Rivers Rutherford, Kostas and Marcus Hummon and NaSHOF executive director Mark Ford. Photo Credit: Moments by Moser