Alan Jackson, Craig Wiseman and Ashley Gorley were the big winners at ASCAP's annual country music awards presentations and dinner held Monday night (Nov. 3) at Nashville's Music City Center.
Jackson and Wiseman won Heritage Awards as songwriter-artist and songwriter, respectively, while Gorley scored as the 2014 songwriter of the year.
Newly instituted, the Heritage Awards cited Jackson and Wiseman for being the top country music composers in ASCAP's 100-year history.
"It Goes Like This," recorded by Thomas Rhett and co-written by Ben Hayslip and Jimmy Robbins, was named song of the year.
Warner/Chappell Music took publisher of the year honors with rights to 19 of the 45 award-winning songs.
Of those 45, Gorley co-wrote eight.
Lee Ann Womack opened the music portion of the event with "Send It on Down," from her new album, The Way I'm Livin'.
The refrain of the song, which, among other things, is about alcohol dependence, says, "Jesus, can you save me?"
When he followed Womack to the stage, ASCAP president and board chairman Paul Williams picked up on that line.
"Jesus was there when I turned to him," the Oscar-winning songwriter said. "I came to this town six years sober, and I came to love this town."
The oldest of the three American performance rights organizations (the others are BMI and SESAC), ASCAP has 9 million musical works registered, Williams told the crowd. This year, he said, those works will be heard in 500 billion performances.
Even so, he added, the value of these performances will be "way down," owing to the ease with which they can be accessed and used without their creators and publishers being paid.
Speaking directly to the hundreds of songwriters in the audience, Williams proclaimed, "Your songs are America's natural treasures."
As is now the custom, the writers of the year's five most popular ASCAP country songs performed their own works at intervals throughout the evening.
Gorley, Chris DeStefano and Brett Eldredge began with "Don't Ya." Gorley and Rodney Clawson followed with "Crash My Party."
Then came Eric Paslay, backed by a string quartet, to sing "Friday Night." Hayslip, Robbins and Thomas Rhett delivered an enthusiastic "It Goes Like This." And Gorley returned with Kelley Lovelace and Dallas Davidson for the musical finale, "Runnin' Outta Moonlight."
Introducing the five performances were the rising acts Maddie & Tae, The Cadillac Three, the Swon Brothers, Sam Hunt and John King.
Vincent Candilora, ASCAP's executive vice president of licensing, presented the organization's Partner in Music Award to the Basement, a tiny club on Nashville's 8th Avenue that showcases both new and established artists.
After Wiseman hugged his way through the crowd and onto the stage to accept his Heritage Award, he protested he didn't deserve an accolade that claimed him as ASCAP's preeminent country songwriter.
"This is not right," he gasped. "You've got to count this shit up."
Then he burst into tears.
He asked everyone in the room who had written a song to stand. And, after hundreds rose to their feet, he used their presence to point out the collaborative nature of songwriting.
Wiseman pointed out he has co-written most of his hits and, thus, should not be singled out.
"I don't know what to say," he continued, "but you know me. I'll keep talking until I can stumble onto something."
What he stumbled onto was a rags-to-riches story. He said his Puerto Rican housekeeper invited him and his wife to attend a quinceanera, a celebration of her daughter's 15th birthday. The event was held, he said, at a KOA campground in Nashville.
When they arrived there, Wiseman's wife asked him, "Isn't this where you stole showers?"
It turned out that when he came to Nashville from Mississippi in 1985, he lived in his van and had to sneak into the campgrounds to wash up even though he couldn't afford to rent a space there.
He's now one of ASCAP's highest earners, both as a songwriter and as the head of his own thriving publishing company.
"I want to be around people who are fired up by this stuff," he said. "God is great. Nashville is great. You guys are great. I'm honored beyond words."
Jackson was as low-key and laconic as usual.
Before he came to the stage, he watched with the rest of the crowd a video in which his former label chief, Tim DuBois, his longtime producer, Keith Stegall and his former manager, Barry Coburn, all rhapsodized about the tall Georgian's remarkable talents.
"That's sweet," he said. "I about teared up out there."
He gently reminded his fellow composers it's easy to get sidetracked with concerns about awards and chart positions.
"Just remember," he said. "It's about the music."
[flipbook id="1732343"]View photos from the ASCAP Country Awards.[/flipbook]
Here is a complete list of the winning songs and their ASCAP-affiliated songwriters:
"All Over the Road"
"Anywhere With You"
Ben Hayslip, David Lee Murphy
Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley
"Beat This Summer"
Chris DuBois, Brad Paisley
"Boys 'Round Here"
Mikkel Eriksen, Emile Haynie, Tor Erik Hermansen, Daniel Omelio
"Crash My Party"
"Don't Let Me Be Lonely"
Chris DeStefano, Ashley Gorley
"Drink a Beer"
"If I Didn't Have You"
"It Goes Like This"
Ben Hayslip, Jimmy Robbins
"Lettin' the Night Roll"
"Little Bit of Everything"
"Mama's Broken Heart"
Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally
"Mine Would Be You"
Jessi Alexander, Deric Ruttan
"More Than Miles"
"Point at You"
Ashley Gorley, Darius Rucker
Mark Irwin, Josh Kear, Chris Tompkins
"Runnin' Outta Moonlight"
Ashley Gorley, Kelley Lovelace
"See You Again"
Jon Lawhon, Chris Robertson, Ben Wells, John Fred Young
"Sunny and 75"
"Sure Be Cool If You Did"
Jimmy Robbins, Chris Tompkins
"That's My Kind of Night"
Ashley Gorley, Chris DeStefano
"We Were Us"
Jon Nite, Jimmy Robbins
"Whatever She's Got"
Jon Nite, Jimmy Robbins
"When She Says Baby"