Ricky Skaggs brought back the bluegrass influence to country music while winning the prestigious CMA Entertainer of the Year honor in 1985. Dottie West found multi-level success as a songwriter, solo artist and famed duet partner of Kenny Rogers. The fiddle work of Johnny Gimble can be heard on hundreds of classic recordings by artists such as George Strait, Connie Smith, Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson.
For their countless musical contributions, Skaggs, West and Gimble were named the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. They will be officially inducted (West and Gimble posthumously) at the annual Medallion Ceremony later this year.
Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood hosted the welcoming ceremony and made the always-anticipated announcements. Gimble, the first recipient to be announced, entered in the Recording and/or Touring musician category. Skaggs was the Modern Era Artist inductee while West was named in the Veterans Era Artist category. Skaggs was influenced by a wide variety of sounds growing up in his native Kentucky, including the bluegrass style of his hero, Bill Monroe. A first-rate mandolin player, Skaggs became part of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys band while still a teenager. Later, he would go on to play in Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band before venturing out on his own.
As a solo country artist beginning in the 1980’s, Skaggs brought traditional sounds back to country music, in the midst of the so-called “Urban Cowboy” movement, which leaned heavily toward pop. His first Top 20 single, “Don’t Get Above Your Raising,” was a remake of a classic by the bluegrass duo Flatt & Scruggs. He scored 11 No. 1 hits, including “Highway 40 Blues,” his rendition of Monroe’s “Uncle Pen,” and the infectious “Country Boy.” Skaggs won both the CMA Horizon and Male Vocalist of the Year awards in 1982 before copping Entertainer of the Year in 1985. He has also won 15 Grammy awards.
West, from McMinnville, Tennessee, was an artist who could do it all: write, sing and entertain to the hilt. She found early success with her 1964 single “Here Comes My Baby,” a Top 10 hit that earned her a Grammy for Country Female Vocal. She became the first female country artist to win a Grammy, positioning her for a grand future. Though she enjoyed No. 1 singles “A Lesson in Leavin’” and “Are You Happy Baby?” along with additional hits like “Paper Mansions” and “Country Sunshine,” she became truly beloved for her duets with Kenny Rogers.
The two reeled off three No. 1 hits between 1978 and 1984, “Every Time Two Fools Collide,” “All I Ever Need Is You” and “What Are We Doin’ in Love.” They won back-to-back CMA Vocal Duo of the Year awards in 1978 and 1979. West was also known as a dynamic entertainer, fronting a top-notch band that once included a young Steve Wariner. She died September 4, 1991, from injuries suffered in a car accident.
Gimble, from Tyler, Texas, was playing the fiddle by age 10. By the 1940’s, he was accomplished enough to play professionally, and his prowess caught the attention of swing master Bob Wills. Gimble was hired as a member of Wills’ Texas Playboys band in 1949, and their partnership would last well into the 1960’s. As a studio musician, Gimble can be heard on a number of recordings, with one early example coming with Marty Robbins’ first No. 1 hit, “I’ll Go On Alone.”
In 1970, Gimble contributed to Merle Haggard’s tribute album to Bob Wills, and in 1979 began a two-year stint with Willie Nelson’s band. Gimble is often best known for his work with George Strait, becoming a key part of Strait’s early sound on such hits as “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye.” Through the years, he appeared on ten of Strait’s albums. Gimble died in 2015 at the age of 88.
Following the announcements, Skaggs met with members of the media to talk about his Hall of Fame honor. He laughed when relating that he had been recently informed of his election backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, but could not tell anyone. “It has been so hard to keep it a secret,” he said softly.
Skaggs noted that induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame represents the pinnacle of his career. “Getting the Entertainer of the Year was a great thing,” he said. “The first No. 1 and first Grammy were great. But I don’t know that in country music, there is anything higher than this.” He added that reaching the Hall of Fame was never the reason for becoming a musician and recording artist. “I didn’t set out for this,” he said sincerely. “I don’t think that anyone who is in this Hall had the Hall of Fame in their minds. I don’t think that’s ever been a driving force for any of us. It’s a by-product of the hard work you put in. You show up and do your best every night.”