The Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony this year was once again an event to remember, feeling like old home week for songwriters. The perfect example was that while about to snap a photo with new friends, famed “Grease” star and recording artist, Olivia Newton-John spotted her old friend, Gary Burr and took off to catch up with him. Olivia was kind enough to return and snap the photo with her new buds, recording artist William Michael Morgan and his manager Mike Talieferro.
One of the highlights of the event displayed the fact that recording artists are as “in awe” of the songwriters as the songwriters are of the artists, evidenced by the incredible performances that preempted each induction.
The true highlight of the evening began when four of Nashville’s finest songwriters were added to the list of incredible writers that grace the walls of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Those who were inducted in this remarkable 2016 ceremony include:
Aaron Barker – Songwriter Category
Known for his many hits recorded by George Strait, including “Love Without End, Amen,” “Cheyenne,” “Baby Blue” and others, along with cuts by Lonestar, Clay Walker, Neal McCoy and Aaron Tippin, to name a few.
Prior to Barker’s induction, Mac Davis and famed guitarist Mike Loudermilk performed “Love Without End, Amen.” They were followed by new artist, Mo Pitney, who sang a moving guitar-vocal rendition of the Strait hit “Baby Blue.” Had Strait been in the room, there is no doubt he would have approved.
Barker had many influences as a writer, including fellow-nominee Frank Dycus.
“I knew Frank through Dean Dillon- he and Frank wrote a lot together. Dean’s a great friend of mine and I knew Frank also. I love him to death – I miss him. What a great guy and what a great songwriter. And he had such an influence on Dean [Dillon], who had such an influence on me. So he kind of still lives in a lot of our writing techniques…he’s really missed.”
Barker was sick a few years back and wasn’t sure he’d get out of the hospital. Upon getting out he began to think about what he wanted to leave behind. “When I did recover, I was thinking somebody’s going to ask my wife someday – if I don’t come out of the hospital one of these days – they’re going to ask her, ‘What’s the last thing he wrote?’ And I decided then it better be good. So I really challenge myself to write…well-crafted songs. It doesn’t have to be profound or funny…it just has to be a good piece of work. I feel like I’m at a legacy-building point in my life.
And at this point, with going in to the [Songwriter’s] Hall of Fame…I’ve been numb since they told me. I thought it was a typo,” Barker gests. “But I’m so honored. And it probably sounds trite – ‘honored.’ But I don’t even know how to describe it – it’s over the top.”
Beth Nielsen Chapman – Songwriter Category Known for such hits as “Sand and Water,” Faith Hill’s “This Kiss,” Martina McBride’s “Happy Girl,” Trisha Yearwood’s “Down on my Knees” and “You Say You Will,” Willie Nelson’s “There’s Nothing I Can Do About That Now” and more.
Along with Chapman’s son, Ernest Chapman, and singer-songwriter Amy Sky, Olivia Newton-John performed “Sand & Water” just prior to her friend’s induction – while a whole group of greats including Kim Carnes, Pam Tillis, Bill Lloyd and Emily Saliers rendered the hit song, “This Kiss.”
When receiving her honor, Chapman mentioned she’d like to use her newfound status as a Hall of Fame songwriter in order to advocate for songwriters and the industry. “It’s truly an honor, and I will do my very best to represent this group of people that I’m still pinching myself that I’m a part of,” Chapman stated.
Bob Morrison – Veteran Songwriter category
Known for hits “You Decorated my Life” and “Love the World Away” by Kenny Rogers, “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee, “You’re the One” by the Oak Ridge Boys and countless more.
To honor Morrison, William Michael Morgan did an awe-inspiring rendition of “Lookin for Love” and the talented Phil Vassar performed a version of “You Decorated My Life” that would’ve made Kenny Rogers proud.
“I’m just overwhelmed to be a part of this group of great songwriters,” Morrison said, citing two very big influences: His father, a jukebox operator who grew up loving music, and the legendary Elvis Presley.
“When Elvis came along…everybody wanted to be Elvis…because all the girls wanted to be with Elvis…So it started from there. I started taking guitar lessons, learned a few chords, joined rock bands. But I was also a serious student. I went to Mississippi State, took engineering, ran track… But when I got out of school – the summer after I’d graduated, I realized my heart wasn’t in engineering – it was in the music field. So I went and started playing and performing. I tried to become a singer but that wasn’t really my cup of tea. But I did learn that unless you’re a star, you don’t get the good songs, so I started writing them.
When I got to Combine Music…I had a mentor named Johnny McRae, who’s no longer with us. He taught me what you had to do but it was a painful process, because I had a lot of songs were turned down and I never got to demo them. But eventually, I got to see the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train – as the old saying goes. And I’m very proud and to be involved with the people I’ve had the honor of being involved with and to be a part of something I love and be a success at it, it’s just a great place to be. And I never have said ‘I’m humble,’ but I don’t think I’m the cat’s meow either. I just always considered myself lucky.”
Townes Van Zandt – Songwriter-Artist Category
Penned such greats as “If I Needed You” made popular by Emmy Lou Harris and Don Williams, but Joey and Rory did an equally moving rendition.
On hand to accept his award was his daughter Katie Belle Van Zandt with her brother Will at her side, who stated what an honor it was to accept this award on behalf of his father.
“Obviously songwriting is what my dad dedicated his life to. It was his first focus I think…and anytime you put him in a list of names like the people who are in, he belongs in there. This was his life – this is what he believed in, so to receive this would mean a great deal to him.”
Ricky Skaggs and wife, Sharon White (of the Whites) performed a moving rendition of “If I Needed You.” And Darrell Scott along with his brother Don, performed “White Freightliner Blues.
Other songwriters who’d been nominated but not inducted at this time were also honored including:
The phenomenal Frank Dycus, who wrote mega country hits like “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” for the late, great George Jones, “Marina Del Ray,” “Unwound” and “Down and Out” for George Strait and “Gonna Get a Life” by Mark Chesnutt. Dycus was also known for his mentoring and influence on other young songwriters like Dean Dillon, Scotty Emerick and singer-songwriter, Billy Currington.
Jim McBride – Renowned for his hits like Conway Twitty’s “A Bridge That Just Won’t Burn,” and Johnny Lee’s “You Can Bet Your Heart On Me.” He also paired with Alan Jackson on “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Who Says You Can’t Have It All,” “Someday” and the uptempo hit “Chattahoochee.”
Alex Harvey – Recognized for huge hits like Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn,” Kenny Rogers’ “Reuben James.” It is said that the songs Harvey has written have sold in excess of 50 million copies.
Gary Nicholson – Has had cuts with artists including Brenda Lee, Alabama, Toby Keith, The Blues Brothers, Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre and several more.
Jim Rushing – Has penned songs for Garth Brooks, Charley Pride, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride and others. Some of his hits include “American Honky Tonk Bar Association,” for Brooks, “Nothing Sure Looked Good On You” for Gene Watson and “Lonesome Standard Time” for Kathy Mattea to name a few.
Russell Smith – Was originally the lead singer of the Amazing Rhythm Aces and known for No. 1 songs like “Look Heart, No Hands,” for Randy Travis, “Heartbeat in the Darkness” for Don Williams and “Keep it Between the Lines” for Ricky Van Shelton.
Other nominees in the Songwriter/Artist category included Arthur Alexander, Amy Grant and Tony Joe White.
As if not enough, Lori McKenna sang her Tim McGraw hit “Humble and Kind” – leaving the audience mesmerized and many with teary eyes. McKenna’s song won the coveted “Song of the Year” award.
Cole Swindell received the Songwriter/Artist of the Year award and accepted via video saying: “This is the biggest honor of my career so far…I moved to this town to be a songwriter, and I remember being more starstruck by…the songwriters, than the artists singing them.”
Ashley Gorley also received the Songwriter of the Year award – well deserved considering some of his more recent hits including Swindell’s “You Should Be Here,” “Middle of a Memory,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on my Boots” and more.