Country Beat – November 2015
NASHVILLE – Music awards shows are becoming so common they’re losing their luster, despite artists’ innate desire for acclamation. Having just came off a period of honors here, including the CMA’s, BMI’s, ASCAP’s, SESAC’s, ROPE, we learn CMT’s citing Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Little Big Time as video artists of the year, and hey, something’s a-brewin’ down Texas way now, titled the Ameripolitan Awards, apparently to delight a broader array of genre artists, something the Americana honors already does. Even the Christian-based Dove Awards single out favorite country talents. Obviously, we’re all aware of the annual Grammys, IBMA (bluegrass), American Music Awards, Canada’s SOCAN and the Academy of Country Music statuettes, as well as those Billboard annual achievers, but do we need all these accolades? Here on Music Row, we already have weekly #1 parties to salute the highest-ranking song – fine. These celebrations occur when a disc sells well, sometimes even attaining Gold or Platinum status, which actually represents money in the pocket for artist, label and those who help make it happen. That makes sense, but on the tube fans and media alike are suffering award shows fatigue, not to mention the individual performers, who are expected to wear their best (read costliest) finery, parade onto the red carpet, then some put on a brave smile in losing to a fellow artist, and worst of all, participate gratis. Oh sure, we hear the cliché “being nominated is an honor in itself,” while knowing in their heart-of-hearts, it’s simply another opportunity for organizers to promote themselves and make money on the backs of freebie entertainers. It used to be CMA, ACM and Grammys were the most coveted awards, but even these are being devalued due to the glut of additional self-congratulatory specials. The labels love ’em, because it’s merely another marketing opportunity, but surely their artists aren’t that insecure that they crave so much adulation. Since the CMA awards, Nov. 4, is in competition with so many others, it chose to “ensure” greater visibility by teaming country acts with pop/rock performers including the likes of John (Cougar) Mellencamp, Justin Timberlake, Fall Out Boy, and actors such as Kiefer Sutherland, Chris Carmack and William Shatner. Apparently it worked, as CMA’s ABC special drew the night’s highest ratings, which not only accounts for viewership, but helps draw advertisers, as well. We hear, too, that some of the nominees even “campaign” for the big win, but as in a bad relationship, when do we get over ourselves and say enough is enough?
Honors: Nonetheless let’s congratulate the winners in the 49th annual Country Music Association awards, produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Paul Miller, and they include: Luke Bryan, top entertainer; Melinda Lambert, best female vocalist; Chris Stapleton, best male vocalist; Florida Georgia Line, best vocal duo; Little Big Town, best vocal group; and Chris Stapleton, best newcomer. Best single honors went to “Girl Crush,” recorded by Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce (Capitol); best album was “Traveller,” recorded by Stapleton, who co-produced with Dave Cobb (Mercury); best music event went to Keith Urban & Eric Church’s “Raise ’Em Up.” (Capitol); best music video to Maddie & Tye for “Girl In a Country Song,” directed by TK McKamy; best song to “Girl Crush,” co-written by Liz Rose, Lori McKenna & Hillary Lindsey (recorded by Little Big Town); and last but not least, best musician is Mac McAnally, guitarist . . . On Oct. 25, the official Medallion ceremony inducting the Oak Ridge Boys, The Browns (Bonnie, Maxine and late brother Jim Ed), and the late Grady Martin became the 2015 names inscribed into the Country Music Hall of Fame honor roll. The Oaks, celebrated for hits such as “Y’All Come Back Saloon” and “Elvira,” consist of Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban; while The Browns are best remembered for mega-hits “The Three Bells” and “Scarlet Ribbons,” though Jim Ed hit solo with songs such as “Pop-A-Top” and “Morning.” Martin, who died in 2001, was a renowned guitarist, session leader and boasted Top 10 singles with his Slew Foot Five combo on “Wild Side of Life” (with Burl Ives) and “Till The End of the World” (with Bing Crosby) . . . American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) gave its top trophies, Nov. 3, to Ashley Gorley, songwriter of the year, thanks to hits like “Play It Again” and “I See You,” both cut by Luke Bryan, marking 22 #1 career songs for her. At the 53rd annual awards, Sam Hunt was voted Artist-Songwriter of the Year, whose hits include the year’s best song “Leave the Night On,” co-written with Josh Osborne. Trisha Yearwood (“She’s In Love With The Boy”) received ASCAP’s prestigious Voice of Music Award, presented by former President Jimmy Carter, with whom she had participated 10 years earlier in building a Memphis house as part of his Habitat For Humanity program . . . Broadcast Music Inc., named Mac Davis as recipient of its ultimate accolade, the BMI Icon statuette, during its 49th annual awards program, Nov. 3. Mac, writer of such songs as Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto,” “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” and “Don’t Cry, Daddy,” also had hits with his own creations, among them “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” “It’s Hard To Be Humble” and “Hooked On Music.” Acknowledging his latest honor, he humbly added, “It’s awesome. I’ve said so many times, I don’t feel like I deserve it. There’s a lot of people writing great songs every day; I guess it’s just that I’ve lasted a long time and I’m still writing songs and having some sort of success . . . I’m very proud of it.” Rodney Clawson took home Songwriter of the Year trophy, due in no small part to these numbers: “American Kids” (Kenny Chesney), “Til It’s Gone” (Lady Antebellum), “Dirt” (Florida Georgia Line), and “Burnin’ It Down” (Jason Aldean). Lee Thomas Miller became the first to cop a new category, the Champion award, thanks to his unstinting efforts on behalf of writers for fairer pay, statewide and on the national scene in Washington, D.C. Best Song honors went to “Beat Of the Music,” co-written by Ross Cooperman, Heather Morgan and Brett Eldredge, who also cut it. Sony/ATV Music won top publisher . . . Veteran tunesmith Richard Leigh was honored with the SESAC Songwriter Legacy Award, Nov. 2, in recognition of such songs as “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “I’ll Get Over You,” “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” and “In No Time At All.” At the event, he was feted musically with performances by Reba McEntire and Crystal Gayle. Voted best songwriter during the ceremony was Cary Barlowe, who suppled songs to Florida Georgia Line (“Sun Daze”) and Dustin Lynch (“Where It’s At”) this year; while “Homegrown” won as best song, co-written by Nico Moon, Wyatt Durrette and Zac Brown, the latter’s band recording their hit. Magic Mustang Music was named top SESAC publisher . . . The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum plans an exhibit titled “Keith Urban So Far” from Nov. 20 on to May 2016, in part for his efforts on behalf of the organization via its “We’re All For The Hall” fund-raiser. Of course, Urban’s chalked up 19 #1 songs and a total 34 Top 10 tunes thus far.
Scene Stealers: Singer-yodeler Jean Shepard, who’s missed some shows this year due to ill health, can boast a 60-year membership on the Grand Ole Opry, making her its senior cast performer. Sad to say, the show’s legendary star says she’ll retire to spend more time with her family and concentrate on getting well. Meantime, WSM salutes its diva on her 82nd birthday, Nov. 21, in the Opry’s winter home, the Ryman Auditorium, where she first sang on the show. The lady leaves an envious legacy for the ladies who follow, including 45 Billboard chartings with a Top 10 in three decades, since scoring her #1 debut “A ‘Dear John’ Letter” (with Ferlin Husky) in 1953, a million selling crossover single for Capitol Records. Her first husband and fellow Opry member Hawkshaw Hawkins died tragically in that infamous 1963 plane crash near Camden, Tenn., that also claimed the lives of Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and his son-in-law musician Randy Hughes. It occurred a month before the birth of Jean’s second son, leaving her with a baby and 2 year old to raise. Shepard later married musician Benny Birchfield, with whom she also has a son. Among her other hits are “A Satisfied Mind,” “Beautiful Lies,” “Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar)” and “Then He Touched Me.” In 2011, she was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame . . . The CMA, with an assist from stars Kix Brooks and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, presented a $3 million donation to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Oct. 20. The hospital, which focuses on critically ill or injured youngsters, will be able to expand and add another 80 beds to the treatment center. Brooks told The Tennessean, “I can’t imagine anyone with a heart not embracing what is going on” at the children’s hospital . . . Macy’s has called upon country stars Jennifer Nettles and Jake Owen to join Christian rock group MercyMe for appearances in the nationally-renowned Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC-TV, Nov. 26 . . . Songwriter Dixie Hall, the late wife of Tom T. Hall, is being honored with the ninth annual Louise Scruggs Memorial Award, presented Nov. 19 at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. The Ford Theater program there will feature chats between her friends and colleagues, accompanied by rare photos and video performances of her music by such artists as Sierra Hull and Chris Jones. Scruggs also was the wife of an artist, Earl Scruggs, and earned renown for her service as an agent and manager for him and other bluegrass greats . . . The Voice’s Blake Shelton was invited to host Nickelodeon network’s 2016 Kid’s Choice Awards program, live on March 16. The show recognizes the tops among the young crowd, including TV, films and music, but watch out Blake, judging from past performances, VIPs usually get doused with green slime! . . . British actor Tom Hiddleston visited Nashville Oct. 15, for the premiere of his new film “I Saw The Light,” in which he portrays country singer-songwriter Hank Williams. At the after-screening bash on Lower Broad, Tom took the stage at the Acme Feed & Seed nitery to sing some of the Hall of Famer’s hits including “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and “Jambalaya.” So is it a stretch to imagine an Englishman playing the Alabama hillbilly? After all, Vivien Leigh played Scarlett O’Hara so well, she copped an Oscar for being so believable, and a dozen years later added a second Oscar to her collection, playing Blanche DuBois, another Southern Belle. The Hank Williams movie is slated to open in U.S. theaters, March 25. No word on its overseas bookings.
Bits & Pieces: A news item discloses country superstar Toby Keith has donated $2,700 to the (now troubled) Presidential campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, not too surprising considering the conservative bent of many Nashville acts. But alas there are some Democrats on the scene, as well, such as Tim McGraw and Bobby Braddock . . . Meanwhile, Charlie Daniels, who is openly critical of President Obama and his administration, railed against Congress as well, Nov. 9, during attendance at the Mt. Juliet Rotary Club’s annual Veterans’ Breakfast (Nov. 11 is the U.S. veterans holiday): “What in hell has happened to our country?,” citing a lack of support for veterans and allowing “political correctness” to downplay American patriotism. The country rocker, now 79, delivered a tearful rendition of “The Pledge of Allegiance” before departing. Earlier in the week, Daniels helped dedicate a new $329,000 Veterans & Military Family Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with $50,000 of it paid via funds raised by Charlie’s Journey Home Foundation. The MTSU’s mission is to assist returning military and their families further their education and seek a degree. Speaking before the dignitaries and an SRO crowd in the campus theater, Daniels stated emphatically, “We’re here today to say that we, we the people, are here to help shoulder the load, to help take up the slack, to accept the mission to help those who have given so much, to transition back to civilian life. This Center is dedicated to the purpose of cutting through the reams of paperwork, the miles of red tape, the meaningless studies of bureaucratic crap, and supplying hands-on guidance through the maze of government assistance.” . . . Good news for music folk is an agreement struck in which the internet’s Pandora radio streaming service, a competitor to SiriusXM, will ante up $90 million in royalties to a trio of major music firms – Sony Music, UMG Recordings, Warner Music Group – and the indie ABKCO Music & Records, as a settlement regarding pre-1972 songs. A loophole in the federal copyright law resulted in non-payment for music released prior to that year, by Pandora and SiriusXM. Lawsuits were aimed at those Internet agencies, along with calls to Congress to correct copyright laws, by reversing the policy. The retroactive agreement was jointly announced in late October by Pandora and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a trade organization representing the music industry. SiriusXM had reached a settlement regarding pre-1972 royalties before. “That is a significant milestone and a big win for the music community,” said Cary Sherman, RIAA chairman. “We appreciate the collaborative and constructive approach of Pandora’s team in resolving this longstanding issue for artists and labels.” . . . Country singer Kellie Pickler is the latest artist to star in a reality TV series. “I Love Kellie Pickler,” debuted on CMT Nov. 12, featuring songwriter-hubby Kyle Jacobs (“More Than a Memory”) as co-producer, attracting more than 2.5 million viewers in its first night. Kellie’s successes include the Top 10 single “Best Days Of Your Life.” . . . Proud pop Tim McGraw’s pleased to have daughter Gracie singing with him on the track “Here Tonight” for Dad’s “Damn Country Music” CD. He insists the title doesn’t put down country, but is designed to get attention: “A lot depends on how you pronounce it, or where the punctuation should go,” he adds with an impish grin . . . That “Miles & Music For Kids” charity ride instigated by singer-motorcyclist Dierks Bentley, Oct. 30, reportedly was a rousing success. According to Dierks, “It’s the 10th year for Miles & Music and to say it’s still growing is an understatement. It’s a good place to be. I’ve always appreciated it, always enjoyed it and never taken any of it for granted. I feel very relaxed and blown away, too.” He and his friends and followers have helped raise $3 million to benefit Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in that decade.
Ailing: Singer-songwriter Rory Feek has announced that his wife Joey Martin-Feek’s cancer treatment has ended and she is now in Hospice care, following a week-long visit with her family in Indiana. Rory revealed that most of Joey’s immune system is gone now and she is “frail and thin . . . where she once jumped out of bed before the sun rose to rush out to her garden . . . she now quietly sleeps away most of the days.” Her husband lies beside her at night, holding her hand, “and I pray.” Readers, too, can do that for both Joey & Rory.
Final Curtain: Pianist Thomas Rowland McBryde, 66, died Oct. 13 in Nashville. The Oak Ridge, Tenn., native learned to play keyboards at age 13, formed his own band to perform in and around Clinton, Tenn. Before long, he was performing on TV in Knoxville. McBryde moved to Nashville in 1974, where he was a bandleader at the Opryland Theme Park in the 1970s, and did studio sessions and toured with such artists as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Brenda Lee, Dobie Gray and Garth Brooks. Tom later became music director for two decades at Dollywood Theme Park. In 1998, he recorded and released the instrumental album “Tom McBryde: PianoTime.” Survivors include his wife Anne, son Josh and father William McBryde of Clinton; plus a sister and three brothers. Services were held at Crievewood Methodist Church, Nashville, Oct. 25.
Accordionist Rita Munsey Doss, 71, died Oct. 15 in Nashville. A former Miss Tennessee, Rita Munsey began performing as a youngster, singing and playing accordion in the late 1950s. She was appearing on Knoxville TV with the Cas Walker Country Show by the early 1960s. A 1962 graduate of Claiborne County High School, the blonde beauty attended the University of Tennessee, where she was named Miss Scabbard & Blade by the Army ROTC, going on to win both Miss Knoxville and Miss Tennessee contests in ’64-’65, though less successful in the Miss America contest. Among artists she performed with were Country Hall of Famers Ray Price and The Statler Brothers. Survivors include her husband of 35 years, Dr. Leslie Doss, daughter Rebecca Greene, step-children Randle and Brandon Doss, and step-grandchildren. Services were conducted Oct. 19 at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, Nashville, followed by a private interment at Woodlawn Memorial Park.