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"We weren't trying to change anything, but I do believe it did change with our help, and I think for the better sometimes," says Stevens. "Country music used to be one of the rare boxes that you couldn't expand out of, and most music's not that way. We didn't really try to change it. We just thought it could go to a bigger audience, and we were just really writing what we got off on."
James, through an affiliation with Memphis-based producer Chips Moman, garnered mostly pop hits, including B.J. Thomas' "Hooked On a Feeling," a 1968 release that pushed boundaries with an overt drug reference at a time when songs mostly kept such allusions hidden.
"When you've really got it bad for somebody, it can be just like drugs," observes James. "It can be like booze, it can be like any of those things, because you're addicted to somebody."
Decades later, controlled substances -- mostly weed -- are commonplace in the lyrics of numerous country songs, including Darius Rucker's "Wagon Wheel," Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" and Florida Georgia Line's "Sun Daze."
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Wiseman, as a co-owner of FGL's management firm, Big Loud Mountain, has had a direct impact on the edginess of modern country. He co-wrote Kenny Chesney's "Summertime" and "Young," which were considered boundary-pushing songs in the early 2000s, and co-authored Blake Shelton's hip-hop-influenced "Boys 'Round Here." In his way, Wiseman is following a creative path similar to Cash, James and Stevens.
"They blended a few more elements besides just pure country and had this huge audience because of it," he says. "Not to do that for the contrivance of it, or the money of it, but that's where you naturally are. Everybody now is almost a blended mix."
The new members will have their stories told in a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame display at the Music City Center, and their names will be embedded in the bricks on the sidewalk outside at Songwriters Square.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.