Sometimes the most entertaining part of an awards show are the stories told leading up to presenting the trophies.
that was the case at ASCAP’s 50th anniversary country music awards banquet held Monday evening (Oct. 29) at Nashville’s Opryland
There the big winners were Ben Hayslip, who was named songwriter of the year, and Brad
Paisley, designated songwriter-artist of the year.
But the real
entertainment came late in the evening after nearly half the crowd had slipped away. That’s when ASCAP presented Bob McDill
its Golden Note Award “in recognition of his exceptional career” as a songwriter. During that career, McDill penned 31 No.
1 songs and a trove of Top 10s.
To describe McDill — the man and the songwriter — ASCAP tapped producer and songwriter
Allen Reynolds and songwriter Don Schlitz to recall their associations with the honoree.
Reynolds related that he met
McDill in Beaumont, Texas, in the early 1960s when McDill was a college student singing in a folk trio and Reynolds was helping
run a local recording studio.
After hearing some of McDill’s songwriting efforts, Reynolds agreed to produce a demo
on him. Looking back on those early songs, Reynolds stressed, “Even his learning pieces were good.”
succeeded in getting one of McDill’s songs — “The Happy Man” — to pop crooner Perry Como, who cut it in 1967. That same
year, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs had a minor hit with another McDill creation, “Black Sheep.”
After college, McDill
joined the Navy and was ultimately stationed in Memphis — which also happened to be the place where Reynolds had moved after
leaving Beaumont. This proximity brought the two friends together again musically, and when Reynolds decided to relocate to
Nashville, he persuaded the reluctant McDill to come with him.
Together, they wrote the song that would become McDill’s
first country hit, “Catfish John.” Johnny Russell took that song to
No. 12 in 1973.
Through such songs as “Amanda,” “Come Early Morning,” “You Never Miss a Real Good Thing'” and “I’ll
Do It All Over Again,” Reynolds said McDill was crucial in launching the careers of both Don
Williams and Crystal Gayle.
A frequent co-writer with McDill
in those early days, Reynolds said the two of them would relax when songwriting became too onerous by talking about the lore
and music of the South.
Both he and McDill, he said, were avid readers, a point that became obvious later when McDill
name-checked such Southern literary icons as Uncle Remus, Tennessee Williams and Thomas Wolfe in “Good Ole Boys Like Me,”
which became a No. 2 hit for Williams in 1980.
“Until a song is born, nothing happens,” Reynolds concluded. “After
it’s born, all things are possible.”
“I met my hero in April of 1973,” Schlitz intoned when he took the microphone.
“I didn’t know he was my hero at the time. … I thought I was his big break.”
Then 20 years old and
new to Nashville, Schlitz said he had made the rounds of music publishers and finally encountered McDill, who agreed to listen
to his songs. Impressed by the first song he heard, Schlitz recalled, McDill kept asking to hear more until Schlitz had run
10 or so by him.
Finally, McDill asked Schlitz if he minded listening to one of his songs. Rather apologetically,
as Schlitz remembered it, McDill confessed that the song he wanted to play was only a B-side of a 45 single from a small record
“By then, I knew I was his big break,” Schlitz beamed.
However, the B-side McDill played him was
Williams’ recording of “Amanda,” and the A-side was “Come Early Morning.” The songs were on Jack
Clement‘s adventurous and scrappy new JMI label.
After that, Schlitz said, he and his songwriting buddies spent
an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how they could write like McDill. “We knew he wrote smart songs,” Schlitz
declared. “He taught me mostly by example.”
A methodical writer who kept “banker’s hours,” McDill’s goal was to turn
out one good song a week. But he was aware there was always a pull in his music between art and commerce. He once acidly remarked
to Schlitz, “We get 10 songs a year by inspiration. Our job [is] to write 40 more for radio.”
“Most importantly,” Schlitz
said in his summation, “he taught me that you can’t write country music looking down your nose at it. … If you want to write
a country song, listen to McDill first.”
Reynolds and Schlitz were such engaging storytellers — as the crowd’s frequent
bursts of applause and laughter testified — they might consider taking their narrations on the road. They were substantially
more literate, revealing and entertaining — in a word, artistic — than many of the newer songs that were honored.
jog the audience’s memory of just how good McDill’s songs are, Chris and Morgane Stapleton sang “Amanda” (and were rewarded
with a standing ovation). Josh Kelley did “Good Ole Boys Like Me.” Jon
Randall and Jessi Alexander harmonized on “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” And Ronnie
Dunn soldiered through “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold).”
Admitting that he had tried several approaches
to the 1986 Dan Seals hit without finding a satisfactory one, Dunn quipped
to his backup musicians, “Hit her boys. I’ll yell out to whatever key you hit.”
“Well, I’m overwhelmed,” McDill said
when he accepted his award. “I’ve got tears in my eyes.” He recited a long list of obscure and famous friends who had believed
in him enough to help him along the way, from loaning him money for groceries to making life-changing contacts.
he commented briefly on the value of songs. “We don’t know if any of our songs will outlive us,” he observed. “But don’t take
what we do lightly.”
Producer Tony Brown was also a charming narrator as he related how he met and became a champion
of Lyle Lovett, the evening’s recipient of ASCAP’s Creative Voice Award.
said he was just beginning to establish himself as a producer under Jimmy Bowen, then head of MCA Records’ Nashville division,
when songwriter Guy Clark gave him a cassette tape of Lovett’s songs. This
was in the mid-1980s.
Bowled over by the wit and tone of the songs, Brown said he tried to interest artists in cutting
them but found no takers. So he went to Bowen and suggested he produce Lovett as an artist simply by remixing the songs on
the cassette. They became Lovett’s first album.
Brown noted he was also producing folk singer Nanci
Griffith for MCA at the time. When he went to see Griffith perform at a TV taping, he noticed a tall, thin fellow with
“high hair” singing harmony.
Seeing Lovett in person, Brown admitted, magnified the young artist’s “cool” factor. Brown
would end up producing three albums for Lovett and come to regard him as one of the most significant artists he’s ever worked
Clark then came out to sing one of Lovett’s lesser-known gems, “The Waltzing Fool.”
Clark had no more
than finished the first line in what promised to be a tender interpretation when a loudmouth in the back of the hall shouted,
Without missing a beat, Clark raised his head and zinged, “I’ve always said if I could just reach one
person … .” After the laughter died down, there were no more interruptions.
Lovett’s longtime friend, Robert
Earl Keen, came on next and described his first meeting with Lovett when the two were students at Texas AM. He said he
was playing on his front porch when this stranger rode up on this “cool bike” [“cool” seems to be the operative descriptor
when it comes to Lovett] and told him he liked his music.
Keen said he was instantly impressed by Lovett’s look and
good manners, which somehow struck him as incongruous considering the scene.
“It was like Kelsey Grammer walked into
Hee Haw,” Keen observed.
With that, Keen sang “The Front Porch Song.”
Bush and Jon Randall wrapped up the musical tribute with the delightfully surrealistic “If I Had a Boat.”
said he was touring with New Grass Revival when he first came to
know Lovett. Later, he played in Lovett’s band. “He’s a wonderful bandleader and guitar player,” he noted.
a tux and looking not a day older or a pound heavier than he did when he made his musical breakthrough, Lovett told the crowd,
“It’s overwhelming when your friends come together and do something nice for you. … I am deeply moved by this honor.”
tradition, ASCAP had the writers of its top five songs of the year sing them onstage.
Hayslip, backed by fellow Peach Pickers Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson, sang “I
Don’t Want This Night to End,” a hit for Luke Bryan.
and Ed Cash reprised their Blake Shelton chart-topper, “God
Gave Me You.”
Backed by the Vanderbilt University drum line, Paslay and Sawchuk rocked out with “Barefoot Blue
Jean Night,” the Jake Owen summer fantasy.
Finally, Hayslip and Akins
returned to the stage to sing “Honey Bee,” another Shelton rhapsody.
ASCAP presented its Partners in Music Award to
Sirius XM Satellite Radio for its massive broadcasting of country music new and old.
Here are ASCAP’s award-winning country songs for 2012.
Little Bit Stronger”
“Am I the
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night”
Eric Paslay, Terry Sawchuk
Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace
Must Be Country Wide”
“Don’t You Wanna Stay”
Andy Gibson, Paul Jenkins, Jason Sellers
“God Gave Me
“Heart Like Mine”
“Here for a Good Time”
Bentley, Dan Wilson
“I Don’t Want This Night to End”
Darius Rucker, Clay Mills
Jason Sellers, Keifer Thompson
Won’t Let Go”
Jason Sellers, Steve Robson
Be a Man”
Mike Reid, Rory Bourke
Gonna Love You Through It”
Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”
“Let It Rain”
David Nail, Jonathan Singleton
a Little (Love a Lot)”
David Lee Murphy
“Love Don’t Run”
Glover, Joe Leathers, Rachel Thibodeau
“Love’s Gonna Make It Alright”
Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois, Dave Turnbull
Brad Paisley, Chris DuBois, Kelley Lovelace
on This Town”
“This Ole Boy”
Jaren Johnston, Chris Lucas