Four figures who have had an influence on the edgy direction of current country music will be added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame when the membership swells to 200 with an Oct. 11 ceremony.
Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, Craig Wiseman ("Live Like You Were Dying," "The Good Stuff"), Mark James ("Suspicious Minds," "Always On My Mind") and Even Stevens ("Suspicions," "No Matter How High") were announced as the 2015 class on July 16.
Cash, as an artist, and Stevens, primarily through his association with Eddie Rabbitt, landed a series of progressive, driving hits on country radio in the 1980s when the genre was presented as a ballad-heavy format. Cash's output often included metaphoric lyrics and beat-driven tempos through such titles as "Seven Year Ache," "I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me" and "Ain't No Money."
Stevens' collaborations with Rabbitt and co-writer David Malloy included such rhythmic crossover titles as "Drivin' My Life Away," "I Love a Rainy Night" and "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight."
"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."
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.