BMI Country Awards: Jesse Frasure Wins Top Songwriter Honors, Steve Cropper Honored as an 'Icon'

Mike Steinberg, Jesse Frasure, Mike O'Neill and Jody Williams
John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI

Mike Steinberg, Jesse Frasure, Mike O'Neill and Jody Williams pose onstage at the BMI Country Awards 2018 at BMI Nashville on Nov. 13, 2018 in Nashville.

If songwriters are prone to sensitivity, Jesse Frasure epitomized the trait Nov. 13 at the BMI Country Awards in Nashville.

Hailed as the performing rights organization's country songwriter of the year, Frasure acknowledged a ton of fellow Nashvillians who were influential in his "dream job," then shifted the focus to his wife, Rhythm House vp of creative Stevie Frasure, and an emotional diagnosis she received at Vanderbilt Breast Clinic.

"My wife had a double mastectomy three weeks ago," said Jesse, who was honored for writing five of BMI's most performed country songs of the year, including Thomas Rhett's "Marry Me" and LOCASH's "Ring On Every Finger." "She's sitting here looking stunning. So the only thing that could be more special than me standing here right now is the fact that she's cancer-free."

"Everyone in this room that knows her knows that she's a bad ass," he continued. "And everybody in this room knows I wouldn't be here without her."

Sensitivities were key to the evening, which fell on the eve of the 52nd annual Country Music Association Awards. "In Case You Didn't Know," which became a modern-day wedding classic after it was written and recorded by CMA new artist of the year nominee Brett Young, claimed most-played country song for two of Young's three cowriters: Tyler Reeve and Trent Tomlinson.

Additionally, songwriter/producer/guitarist Steve Cropper was celebrated as a BMI Icon, recognizing a musical sensitivity displayed via classic recordings that used minimum notes to create maximum emotion. Session guitarist Kenny Greenberg recreated Cropper's spacious signature licks as Mike Farriss and Lucie Silvas conveyed the energy in "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'," and as Maggie Rose belted "In The Midnight Hour." Luke Combs gave a commanding read of "Knock On Wood," and surprise guest John Legend offered a rich and slinky rendition of the Cropper/Otis Redding standard "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay."

"I wish there was a formula to it," Cropper said of "Dock," which topped the pop and R&B charts, and was also tabbed among the 500 greatest country songs of all-time in a Country Music Foundation book, Heartaches by the Number. It's also been played a staggering 11 million times on terrestrial radio.

While a formula may not exist, Cropper and Redding were able to meld a series of interlocking elements with appropriate sensitivity on "Dock Of The Bay."

"The tone matches the story matches that voice matches that lyric," said 2017 BMI Icon Bob DiPiero ("Wink," "Blue Clear Sky"). "They're all perfectly in line, and that's as good as it gets."

John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI
Jody Williams, John Legend, Steve Cropper and Mike O'Neill pose onstage at the BMI Country Awards 2018 at BMI Nashville on Nov. 13, 2018 in Nashville.

A night after Warner/Chappell snagged ASCAP's country publisher of the year honors, Warner-Tamerlane nabbed the BMI equivalent by landing 20 of the PRO's most-played songs of the year, including LANCO's "Greatest Love Story," Old Dominion's "No Such Thing As A Broken Heart" and Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line's "Meant To Be."

Each of those titles mines the fragile territory of romantic relationships, which "In Case You Didn't Know" did in a masterful way. The triple-platinum single captures the emotional dysfunction of many males in a manner that connected with both genders.

"It's a common struggle that was never really written about, and that's the fact that guys aren't good at saying ‘I love you' to girls," Reeve suggested. "We never said ‘love' in the song – it's kind of the point – and it rang true with guys and girls. Girls know that guys are not good at it, and guys know they're not good at it, so I think it just worked for all the listeners."

It's that kind of nuanced sensitivity that distinguishes Music City composers, suggested Rita Wilson, who employed Nashville songwriters Darrell Brown, Kristian Bush and The Warren Brothers to write material for her album Bigger Picture, released Sept. 28.

"For me," she said, "it's always about the story, and there's nobody really better than the Nashville songwriters for that."