(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by former Country Music magazine columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
I can die happy. I was hugged by and dined beside Vince Gill, ate at the same table with the great Ray Price, got long hugs from Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and sat next to two musicians who stared at Kris Kristofferson's behind for years -- his legendary band members, Donnie Fritts and Billy Swan.
It all happened when the Country Music Hall of Fame's two newest inductees, music executive Jim Foglesong and Kris Kristofferson, were awarded their gold Hall of Fame medallions.
Survivors of the '70s will recall Jerry Jeff Walker's "Hairy-Assed Hillbillies," a song about Fritts and his friend. Jerry Jeff sang that L.A.'s dawn was cracking and the knock on his motel door was from, The Alabama leaning man and his good picking buddy Billy Swan/Two old hairy-assed hillbillies/Still up and hanging on.
In the past couple of years, those two wonderful road hounds faced sad and scary times. Fritts had kidney replacement and quadruple bypass surgery, and Swan lost his wife, Marlu, to cancer. But both of the musicians are still up and hanging on -- sober and drug free. Fritts is, after all this time and miles, still married to his beloved Donna, who was there by his side.
The May 2 medallion ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was the biggest gathering of Hall of Fame members ever. Famed and near famed mingled for cocktails on the patio before assembling in the Ford Theater for the presentation. It was like looking at the pages of a country music magazine: Louise and Earl Scruggs, Kitty Wells and Johnny Wright, Bobby and Jeannie Bare, Tom T. and Dixie Hall, Bud and Janice Wendell, Frances Preston, Jeff Hanna and Matraca Berg, Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, Duane Eddy, Phil Everly, Charlie Louvin, members of the Jordanaires, Eddy and Sally Arnold, Dan Seals, Ralph Emery, Porter Wagoner, John Carter and Laura Cash, Jimmy Tittle and Kathy Cash, Fred Foster, Randy Scruggs, Sam Lovullo, Mandy Barnett, Patsy Bradley, Katherine Bradley, Charlie Dick, Robert W. McLean, Marijohn Wilkin, Bucky Wilkin, Al Bunetta, Bob Beckham, Ed Benson, Bill Anderson, Don Light, Luke Lewis, Nanci Griffith and Hal Ketchum.
An all-star band backed Vince Gill, who opened the ceremonies with the hymn, "Give Me Jesus." Vince confided to me over dinner he's thinking about recording the song. Hall of Fame executive director Kyle Young, who hosted the festivities, introduced the Oak Ridge Boys, who sang their first country hit "Y'All Come Back Saloon." Foglesong was the one who gave the former gospel group a country deal. Other Foglesong signings performed, too. Garth Brooks did "If Tomorrow Never Comes," singing like he'd been gigging all year. Sawyer Brown's Mark Miller performed "Betty's Being Bad," and T. Graham Brown did "Hell and High Water."
During his career as the head of several record labels, Foglesong signed lots of other artists, including George Strait, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Suzy Bogguss, Barbara Mandrell and Marie Osmond. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Former CMA executive director and Hall of Fame member Jo Walker-Meador placed the medallion around Foglesong's neck. He accepted by singing "Funny How Time Slips Away," introducing his wife of 53 years, Toni Foglesong, their children and grandchildren and remarking, "Behind every successful man is a pushy broad."
"Integrity" was the word most used to describe Foglesong. Not a bad description for a Yankee dude who played in Fred Waring's Orchestra, moved south and made good.
Kristofferson changed country songwriting with his clever lyrics and the tender way he wrote about sex without ever sounding dirty or vulgar. He raised the bar, taking the music to a higher level and making it as good and as respected as any music in any genre. By doing so, he gave songwriters an invisible measuring stick to go by.
Hall of Famer Ray Price opened the Kristofferson tribute by singing "For the Good Times" just as good as when it was a No. 1 hit 35 years ago. Ray told me at dinner he'd played a show the night before in Texas, boarded his bus and arrived in Nashville at 3 p.m. The event started at 4:30, and he was shaved, showered and shining.
John Prine followed Ray with "Sunday Morning Coming Down," another Kristofferson song Johnny Cash took to No. 1. Prine thanked Kris for helping him and the late Steve Goodman jumpstart their songwriting careers. The legendary Cowboy Jack Clement crooned "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends." Todd Snider, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver and Vince Gill did a very different version of "Me and Bobby McGee."
Ray Price returned to the podium and placed the medallion around Kristofferson's neck and explained that when he needed something to kick up for his lagging career, Kris sent "For the Good Times." He added the most memorable line of the evening: "Without a hit song, there are no hit artists."
Kristofferson told of his first visit to Nashville when he met song publisher Marijohn Wilkin, a cousin of an Army buddy. Kris had already accepted a position to teach English literature at West Point military academy. But after meeting Marijohn, who introduced him to Cowboy, Harlan Howard, Captain Midnight, Mel Tillis, Tom T. Hall and all the characters that made up Music Row in the mid '60s, the magic magnet of that beloved bunch far exceeded anything the Army and West Point had to offer. His Air Force major general daddy didn't speak to Kris for years after his decision to leave the Army and become a songwriter.
Marijohn thought she'd ruined his life and career, but Kris claims she started his life and his career. She published his first songs and got them recorded. He swept floors at the Columbia recording studio in Nashville, spent a lot of time and money at the Tally-Ho Tavern -- where Kris claims in song he met the "Silver-Tongued Devil." He became a local legend before heading for Hollywood and becoming famous all over again as an actor.
Kris introduced his wife, Lisa, and children. He gave his testimony and closed with "Why Me." The bell rang, and we moseyed into the conservatory for a sit-down dinner. A perfect event.
Things You May Not Know
Fans have asked, "What's going on with Jimmy Wayne?" He's finishing up his album that will be released late summer or early fall. He will appear on the International Fan Club Organization's annual IFCO show on June 6 and then at Nashville's Riverfront Park on June 11.
The principal at Wilson Central High School in Lebanon, Tenn., where Nashville Star winner Erika Jo graduates June 2, says that when the singer was a ninth grader, she told him she was going to be a country music star. Now she's recording her first album.
Look into the eyes of John Carter Cash and you will surely see his dad.
Cute and hard-working Dierks Bentley took his unreleased CD to WSM-AM, where he and Eddie Stubbs had a good ol' hillbilly time playing his record and some songs by his heroes. Dierks' album, Modern Day Drifter, goes on sale Tuesday (May 10).
Kenny Chesney celebrated a No. 1 party for "Anything but Mine" at the Idle Hour, a bar on Music Row. Scooter Carusoe, who wrote the song, claims Kenny changed his life when he recorded and released it as a single.
After eight years, Louise Mandrell sold her Pigeon Forge Theater. Following a New Year's Eve show, she'll head for her Ashland City, Tenn., home. Why? Louise's husband, John Haywood, has health issues.
Linda Edell Howard, a Music Row friend and attorney to stars, told me the New Orleans law firm of Adams & Reese is merging with Stokes, Bartholomew, Evans & Petree, where she hangs her hat.
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Fruit Salad.