Ashley Gorley and Warner/Chappell Win Big (Again), Lee Ann Womack Honored at ASCAP Country Music Awards

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Ashley Gorley speaks onstage during the 56th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards on Nov. 12, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. 

"I'm kind of a lonely person, and I love lonely songwriters," Womack said as she accepted the Golden Note Award.

Ashley Gorley is a machine.

A year after he established a record by winning his fifth ASCAP country songwriter of the year trophy, he strolled to the podium Nov. 12 at the ASCAP Country Music Awards to extend the mark to six years, by placing six of his songs among the 44 most-played country titles of the eligibility year.

Gorley counted the Dierks Bentley hit "Black," Thomas Rhett's "Marry Me" and Chris Janson's "Fix A Drink" among the night's honored titles, riding them to a fifth straight ASCAP crown. He also boosted Warner/Chappell, which owns a stake in his efforts, as it racked up a share of 19 winning songs to claim the publisher of the year honor a sixth consecutive time.

The rest of the membership is used to Gorley's victorious ways.

"You just expect him," noted singer/songwriter Jordan Davis, who earned his first medallion for "Singles You Up." "He probably just wears the same [medallion] he had last year: 'Don't give me any more. I'll just start recycling them.'"

But Gorley does not take it for granted. His career hit list now totals more than 50 singles, but he remains hungry for the next one.

"All the successful writers I know admit that they're still learning how to do it," says Gorley, who's been known to labor four hours on a song and then just scrap it. "They're not perfect, so we may stop, re-evaluate, 'Is this better than this?' Try it out. It's a lot of trial and error."

Gorley may remain dominant, but he shared the limelight during the ASCAP event, the second of three consecutive songwriter celebrations on the Nashville calendar for performing rights organizations. Sam Hunt performed an acoustic version of quintuple-platinum "Body Like a Back Road" with two of his three co-writers, Josh Osborne and Zach Crowell, as it picked up the PRO's country song of the year honors. And Brett Young snagged the songwriter/artist of the year award, though his honeymoon prevented him from attending.

"I moved to Nashville to be a songwriter," Brett said in a videotaped message. "It's a happy accident that the artist thing came my way. But I really hope to stay in the songwriting community for a really, really long time."

Young's wedding, in fact, provided some insight into his personality for his publisher, Big Machine Music GM Mike Molinar, who discovered that Young's family had nurtured his ability to comfortably identify and convey his feelings with unusual clarity.

"He's very comfortable in his own skin," Molinar says. "The family, they're very tight, they're very close and they have no problem expressing their affection for each other. You understand he comes from a family where you can verbalize your emotions. He comes by it honestly."

Difficult emotions were the order of the evening for an ASCAP career honor: the Golden Note Award, presented to Lee Ann Womack. Though her optimistic "I Hope You Dance" became her signature song, three bleak tributes underscored her appreciation for dark, heavy material: Buddy Miller captured razor-sharp heartbreak in "Don't Tell Me," Alison Krauss and songwriter Tony Lane offered a spacious and lonesome take on "A Little Past Little Rock," and Chris Stapleton caught primal, gut-punching defeat in a guitar/vocal version of "Either Way."

"I'm kind of a lonely person, and I love lonely songwriters," Womack told the crowd, "so if you're that person that's sitting at home late at night by yourself writing songs, chances are I'll probably like what you do."

The heaviness of those Womack songs was countered by a general optimism, fueled by the recent passage of the Music Modernization Act, which restructures how royalty payments are determined and is expected to bring larger revenues to songwriters after years of seeing their margins whittled away. The legislation required the industry to approach Congress in a mostly unified effort, and that solidarity contributed to the positivity.

"Everybody that came to the table on this was willing to give a little so that all ships rise," ASCAP chairman/president Paul Williams said. A vote of "415-0 in the Congress and complete support in the Senate – when has that happened in this country in the last few years?"

The country industry will be seen as a unified genre once more as Nashville's four-night trophy parade ends Nov. 14 with Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood hosting the 52nd annual Country Music Association Awards on ABC.


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