There was wall-to-wall glamour and lots of hugging and backslapping Tuesday evening (Oct. 30) as BMI,
the performance rights organization, honored its top songwriters and music publishers with a cocktail party and awards dinner
at its Nashville headquarters.
It was a long evening, too, wrapping up at 11:20 p.m., just after BMI chief Del Bryant
announced that Dallas Davidson and Luke Laird had tied for the songwriter of the year award. “Take
a Back Road,” co-written by Laird and Rhett Akins, won as country song of the year.
Sony/ATV Music Publishing emerged
as the year’s top publisher, with its name on 24 of the 50 most performed country songs.
After being proclaimed a BMI
Icon, the regal Tom T. Hall wowed the crowd with his irreverent acceptance
remarks, proving yet again that he’s earned his decades-old honorific, the Storyteller.
Guests began arriving for the
cocktail party at 6 p.m. The more recognizable ones alighted from their limousines and SUVs to the shouts and screams of fans
clustered across the street from the entrance.
Within minutes, the lobby where the cocktails were served was shoulder-to-shoulder
full of essentially the same people who had partied together at the ASCAP shindig the night before and the SESAC blowout the
night before that. On Music Row, partying is a marathon sport.
There was plenty to gawk at. Joey
Rory, she in cowgirl togs and he in his usual uniform of freshly pressed bib overalls, stood just inside the entrance
talking with songwriter friends.
A few yards away, football great (and sometimes country singer) Terry Bradshaw alternately
hugged Toby Keith or rubbed his back as they conversed with Keith’s always
dashing manager, T.K. Kimbrell.
Kimbrell’s fellow talent manager, Dale Morris, breezed by with his client Kenny
Chesney in tow. Hall and producer Tom Collins edged purposefully through the crowd, slowing only to recognize an occasional
Sugarland’s Kristian Bush planted himself back to the
wall and grinned broadly as one reveler after another pushed forward to greet him. The
Avett Brothers perched on a stairway overlooking the social clamor.
Guitarist Kenny Vaughan and drummer Harry Stinson
of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives band found a column to lean against
and chatted while the crowd swirled by.
At around 7:30, girls holding flashing signs high above their heads ushered
the guests toward the elevators that would take them to the broad sixth-floor parking garage where the stage and banquet tables
were laid out.
After dinner, songwriter Layng Martine Jr. began the official ceremonies by reading a tribute to Frances
Preston, BMI’s previous CEO and one of the great movers and shakers in the music industry, who died in June.
BMI president and CEO Bryant spoke to the crowd about country music’s integration into the larger music world.
is an unprecedented era for our community,” he said, noting that “you’re just as likely to meet Jack White as Clint
Black” on the streets of Music Row.
“Country music thrives,” he continued, “when innovation meets tradition.” Reminding
the crowd that “Country Is” was one of Tom T. Hall’s defining hits, Bryant riffed, “Country is not an exclusive club.”
the publishers who came to the stage to accept an award was former Highway
101 drummer Cactus Moser, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident in August. Visibly limping, Moser nonetheless stood
and moved about largely on his own. Sitting with him at a table near the stage was his wife, Wynonna
When about half of the awards for individual song had been handed out, it came time for the Icon presentation.
Bryant returned to the stage as the harmonica intro to Hall’s “(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine” wafted from the speakers.
Hall’s musical odyssey, Bryant noted that the Olive Hill, Ky., native won his first of 31 BMI songwriting awards in 1964,
the year he moved to Nashville. That year Grand Ole Opry star Jimmy C.
Newman scored a Top 10 hit with Hall’s “D.J. for a Day” and Dave Dudley
reached No. 6 with “Mad.”
It was also at a BMI awards show around this time that Hall met journalist Dixie Deen, whom
he would marry and dub “Miss Dixie.”
She and Hall now write bluegrass songs together and serve as mentors to young
singers and songwriters.
“He writes about what he sees, who he knows and where he’s been,” Bryant said of Hall’s journalistic
approach to lyrics — a trait to be expected from a man whose literary heroes, as Bryant pointed out, are Mark Twain, Sinclair
Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.
While Alan Jackson’s version of Hall’s
“Little Bitty” played, the Avett Brothers came to the stage and
to loud and persistent applause to sing “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Dailey Vincent followed with a bluegrass rendering of “Can You
Hear Me Now,” which resonated with Carter Family overtones.
harmonica wizard and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy came to the stage with a backup band consisting of bassist
Mike Bub, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and pianist Dirk Johnson.
“You not only let me play on a lot
of your records,” McCoy told his fellow Hall of Famer, “you made me a hero in my hometown.” With that, the band kicked off
a medley of such Hall classics as “I Love,” “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” “Old Dogs” and “Harper Valley P.T A.”
Hall “one of the greatest songwriters to ever walk the face of the earth,” Justin
Townes Earle serenaded him with “Homecoming,” Hall’s gut-wrenching dramatic monologue uttered by a feckless and wayward
son as he makes a feeble attempt to assure his father that all is well.
The final musical tribute came from Toby Keith
and his writing and singing partner, Scotty Emerick.
Before singing the song they were assigned, Keith told of being
in Afghanistan to entertain American troops and hearing Emerick play a riff on his guitar that sounded familiar — sort of
like Hall’s “Ravishing Ruby.” Keith and Emerick then sailed into a segment from “Ravishing Ruby” and rolled on to a sampling
of “I Like Beer.”
“We wanted to honor you,” Keith said, “with these two songs we do all the time.” That done, they
sang their assigned tune, “Faster Horses,” Hall’s wry assessment of the things that really matter in life.
Hall to the stage and presented him the Icon “bucket” trophy, on which was engraved, “In recognition of your unique and indelible
influence on generations of music makers.”
Looking dapper in his tailored black tux, the silver-haired songster accepted
the award with characteristic self-deprecating humor.
“I thought you might like to know what an icon looks like,” he
told the crowd. “They’re old, aren’t they? You wouldn’t want to be one.” (Hall is 76.)
“Tonight would be the second
luckiest night of my life,” he said, implying that his luckiest one was the night he met “Miss Dixie” at a BMI soiree.
started to read from John Donne’s “Meditation 17,” which begins, “No man is an island entire of itself,” remarking, “It’s
a very important poem to me.” But possibly noting the lateness of the hour, he put the poem aside and proceeded directly to
thanking people who have been important to him.
It was a long list, and Hall interrupted it to say that the last time
he was similarly honored, “somebody reviewed [the event] and said that I’d thanked everyone but my dog. So I’d like to rectify
that terrible mistake and thank my dog.”
The animal in question, he explained, was “a five-thousand-dollar dog” for
which he had traded “two twenty-five-hundred dollar chickens.”
One of the people he thanked was his bookkeeper. “She
has been counting my money for 38 years and has now reduced her workload to 30 minutes a week.”
Hall said he wanted
to make it clear he was not “one of those old farts” who have nothing good to say about the new generation of songwriters.
His only complaints, he stressed, are that “they’re too talented, too good-looking and have too much money.”
had kind words to say about Tom Collins, who bought his publishing catalog and lured him out of retirement. But he was less
flattering to Collins’ son, Bradley, who works for BMI.
Assuming a mock-censorious tone, Hall grumbled that Bradley
was nothing but a drain on BMI coffers. “He comes out every two or three months and takes me and Miss Dixie to lunch — on
your dime. You songwriters pay for it. And we don’t go to Shoney’s [a chain restaurant] either.”
that he lives on a farm and generally associates with people unfamiliar with the music industry. He said he feared that when
the people at the store where he buys his feeds and seeds hear he’s been named an icon, they’ll assume that means he’s “a
At last he reached the end of his list. “I’m sorry if I forgot anybody,” he said, looking not the least
contrite. “Hell, if I did, I’ll buy you a car.”
After that, the songwriting awards resumed and Hall sat there watching
until the end.
Here is the complete list of BMI’s 2012 Top 50 country songs.
Little Bit Stronger”
“All Your Life”
Henningsen, Clara Henningsen
“Am I the Only One”
Beavers, Jon Randall
You Gonna Kiss Me or Not”
Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird, Miranda
“Bait a Hook”
Rhett Akins, Justin
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night”
Andrew Dorff, Tommy Lee James
Coy Bowles, Zac
Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey
Girl (Shake It for Me)”
Luke Bryan, Dallas Davidson
Brice, Liz Rose
“Dirt Road Anthem”
“Drink in My Hand”
Church, Michael Heeney, Luke Laird
Jon Henderson, Joel Shewmake
“Heart Like Mine”
Miranda Lambert, Ashley
“Here for a Good Time”
Dean Dillon, Bubba Strait
Don’t Want This Night to End”
Rhett Akins, Luke Bryan, Dallas Davidson
Paul Jenkins, Shawna Thompson
Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”
Dallas Davidson, Rob Hatch Jr.
Gonna Love You Through It”
Sonya Isaacs, Jimmy Yeary
Dallas Davidson, Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley
Casey Beathard, Monty Criswell, Ed Hill
Me in Mind”
Zac Brown, Nic Cowan, Wyatt Durrette
Coy Bowles, Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Jeffrey Steele
“Live a Little”
“Love Done Gone”
Shawn Camp, Marv
“Made in America”
Toby Keith, Bobby Pinson,
“One More Drinkin’ Song”
Brown, Jerrod Niemann
“Smoke a Little Smoke”
Jeff Hyde, Driver Williams
“Take a Back Road”
Rhett Akins, Luke Laird
on This Town”
Michael Dulaney, Wendell Mobley
Frank Myers, Chris
“We Owned the Night”
Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley
“What Do You Want”
Bradshaw, Richie Brown, Jerrod Niemann
Pahanish, Joe West
Luke Laird, Chris Young
Preston Brust, Chris Lucas
Henningsen, Brian Henningsen, Clara Henningsen