On the same day songwriter Ashley Gorley found out that a song he co-wrote with Thomas Rhett had reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, that song’s title, “Unforgettable,” proved apt for his evening.
Gorley was named the ASCAP Songwriter of the Year for the fifth time, setting a precedent in the country field, during the performing-rights organization’s 55th annual Country Music Awards at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium last night (Nov. 6). The unforgettable honor came as Gorley landed nine titles among the 49 most-performed country titles during the eligibility period, including the Carrie Underwood hit “Dirty Laundry,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt On My Boots,” Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here” and Blake Shelton’s “A Guy With A Girl.”
Making it even sweeter, Gorley was introduced as the victor by fellow songwriter Don Schlitz (“The Gambler,” “Forever And Ever, Amen”), who claimed the ASCAP title four times on his way to induction last month in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“I’ve got to, first of all, thank God for way more friends and way more blessings than I deserve,” Gorley said.
Old Dominion vocalist Matthew Ramsey snagged the songwriter/artist of the year honor after contributing three compositions to the most-performed list: the Old Dominion hits “Snapback” and “Song For Another Time,” plus the Sam Hunt recording “Make You Miss Me.”
The Dierks Bentley single “Somewhere On A Beach,” hailed by Carly Pearce as “the song of the summer of 2016,” swiped song of the year for Josh Mirenda and Dave Kuncio, two of the five authors credited with its creation. It was similarly named SESAC’s country song of the year in 2016.
Warner/Chappell picked up the publisher honor for the fifth year in a row after supplying 24 copyrights to the night’s procession, including “Mind Reader,” “Setting the World On Fire,” “Any Ol’ Barstool” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”
The five songs that logged the most public usage were performed by their authors. Bentley joined Kuncio and Mirenda for “Somewhere On A Beach” and Old Dominion recaptured the hooky nature of “Snapback.” Scooter Carusoe delivered a guitar/vocal version of “Wanna Be That Song,” Jimmy Robbins and Jordan Schmidt were joined by the Warren Brothers for their loud and proud “Lights Come On” and Jamie Moore used stripped-down instrumentation to demonstrate the power in the ascendant bass line of “May We All.”
In addition to celebrating the high-water marks of today, the ASCAP event also also dipped respectfully into the past and looked precipitously at the future. Jimmy Webb collaborated with a recorded performance of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by the late Glen Campbell, earning a standing ovation in the process, and Rodney Crowell took home the ASCAP Founders Award for several decades of artful writing. Keith Urban nabbed another standing ovation for an adventurous take on an album cut, “You Win,” that he co-wrote with Crowell. And Vince Gill served up a country/blues version of “Oklahoma Borderline” and a thoughtful cover of “Til I Gain Control Again.”
Crowell hailed music’s advantages beyond mere words in a pre-packaged video, describing how melody and chord structures bring depth to prose and poetry.
“With songs,” he said, “you can bend words, you can use voicing on the guitar or voicing in the background that allow you to imbue the words with [greater] meanings, where when they stand alone on the page, they actually mean what they mean.”
Crowell, who set a precedent in squeezing five No. 1 singles out of his 1988 album Diamonds & Dirt, looked even farther into the past in his wardrobe. His jacket, he told the crowd, was the one John Lennon wore in the Beatles’ 1964 film A Hard Day’s Night.
Looking forward, Kelsea Ballerini collected the Vanguard Award, an honor that anticipates a significant role in shaping country music’s future. Following a breakthrough debut album that brought numerous awards nominations, Ballerini released her sophomore project, Unapologetically, on Nov. 3, stocked with songs of increasing depth. She performed “In Between,” a shrewd interpretation of the emotional ping-pong between adulthood and youth that marks the 20-something experience, for the first time, joined by co-writer Hillary Lindsey, who copped three titles among the most-performed songs.
“Her innate ability to write a song absolutely blows my mind,” Lindsey said of Ballerini. “I swear she can do it in her sleep without blinking. She was born with it, she’s always had it, and she always will. And even though I was — for real — nearly a senior in high school the frickin’ year she was born, I look up to her in so many ways.”
The ASCAP Country Music Awards were the second in a four-night succession of ceremonies. SESAC threw its soiree Nov. 5, BMI hosts its country awards Nov. 7 and ABC airs the Country Music Association’s 51st annual awards Nov. 8.