It’s becoming a familiar sight. Ashley Gorley walked off with the ASCAP country songwriter of the year trophy during the 54th annual ASCAP Country Music Awards Oct. 31. It’s the third successive year Gorley has won the award, and fourth time total since 2009.
With a whopping seven songs among the most-played ASCAP country titles during the eligibility period, Gorley’s proven himself a prolific hit-maker, accruing such successes as Luke Bryan’s “Kick The Dust Up,” Dan + Shay’s “Nothin’ Like You,” Jason Aldean’s “Tonight Looks Good On You” and Frankie Ballard’s “Young & Crazy” during the eligibility period.
“I’m really excited about it,” Gorley said on the red carpet outside the Ryman Auditorium. “It obviously never gets old – totally different songs, totally different year. I’m very humbled to get it again.”
Gorley was hardly the sole winner during the event, presented by one of the nation’s three performance rights organizations. Brothers Osborne — a.k.a. John and T.J. Osborne — swiped song of the year with “Stay A Little Longer,” while Chris Stapleton received the ASCAP Vanguard Award and Ricky Skaggs picked up the Founder’s Award.
In the process, the night included a bundle of music. Kelsea Ballerini kicked the event off with her first hit, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” before the five most-played songs — “Gonna,” “Save It For A Rainy Day,” “I’m Comin’ Over,” “Nothin’ Like You” and “Stay A Little Longer” — received unique, mostly acoustic treatments.
Skaggs was celebrated with some of the finest performances of the evening. Peter Frampton applied joyous guitar licks to composer Gordon Kennedy’s rock-infused version of “My Cup Runneth Over” (from the 2010 album Mosaic). Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson and Sidney and Suzanne Cox layered disciplined harmony atop a fragile read of “Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine.” And Garth Brooks led a spirited take on Skaggs’ 1983 hit “Highway 40 Blues,” with the musicians paying homage to a rash of well-defined solo parts in the original. The performances were an appropriate match to the honoree.
“I came to this town to make music,” said Skaggs, recognized for his influence on his fellow artists. “I didn’t come here to win awards, I didn’t come here to make big records. When I was born, I was hearing music.”
The music is likewise the focus for Stapleton, whose willingness to step outside the accepted boundaries of country are a hallmark of his raw vocal sound. Beyond the outlaw strains in his album Traveller, Stapleton picked up an award for writing Thomas Rhett’s Motown-flavored hit “Crash And Burn,” recognized among the year’s most-played country songs.
“Getting invited to this party is a huge, huge deal,” Stapleton said in his acceptance speech. “When I found out you could have a job being a songwriter, (I thought) ‘That’s the greatest job in the whole world. I gotta figure out how to do that.’ I did it, and I continue to do it, and it’s a wonderful thing.”
Warner/Chappell garnered the country publisher title a fourth straight year, landing 18 songs among ASCAP’s most-played country titles.
The evening was the second of three straight performing-rights organizations awards nights in Nashville, with the high-profile 50th annual Country Music Association Awards slated to air on ABC Nov. 2. The honors put the focus on individual accomplishment at a time when the vocation of songwriter is under siege. As digital consumption continues to grow, streaming royalties are small in comparison to broadcast revenues. And a complex web of regulations has tamped down the rates publishers are able to charge for many uses of their copyrights.
“I’m very Jiminy Cricket about the whole deal,” ASCAP president Paul Williams said of the transition occurring in the financial end of the business. “I believe we’ll not only survive, we’ll thrive. You know, ASCAP is 100 years old, we’ve had other battles.
“Somewhere there’s a young lady trying to write with headphones on so she doesn’t wake the baby in the next room. I’ve been talking about her for eight years. I don’t know her name, but I know that when she has a hit finally, she deserves to make a living with it.”
In the meantime, Gorley is a key player in Nashville’s creative community, in part because he’s still as driven to succeed as the fictitious newcomer in Williams’ example.
“I’ve got some writers that I publish, I know how good they are, and it’s enough to keep you very hungry,” Gorley said prior to the awards. “All those guys moving to town are trying to get on the same records I’m trying to get on. I just have to continuously raise the bar, try to change up things, try to offer new stuff. You can’t do the same thing over and over. You’ve got to try to keep it fresh. So it’s not anything that gets old. It’s a constant fresh hunger.”