“It takes a village,” songwriter Hillary Lindsey, one of the 2022 inductees into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, told the audience that gathered for the organization’s 52nd Anniversary Gala on Sunday evening (Oct. 30) at Nashville’s Music City Center.
Indeed, even as the vaunted Hall of Fame added six new inductees into its exclusive institution, nearly every inductee throughout the evening made a point of thanking the co-writers, publishers, artists, musicians, engineers, producers, record labels and others within the music industry ecosystem who help turn their lyrics and melodies into hit records — and many of those within the honorees’ musical villages were among the 1,150 attendees that evening.
Lindsey, known for her hit songs including a string of lauded songs for Carrie Underwood (“Jesus, Take The Wheel,” “So Small,” “Wasted”), as well as hits recorded by Martina McBride (“Blessed”), Little Big Town (the Grammy, CMA and NSAI Award-winning “Girl Crush”) and Keith Urban (the CMA and NSAIAward-winning “Blue Ain’t Your Color”) was inducted in the contemporary songwriter category.
Lindsey accepted her accolade with humility. “When [Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame executive director] Mark Ford called me to tell me this was happening, I could not believe what I was hearing and my first thought was, ‘Somebody has clearly gotten something wrong here,'” she said. She thanked her college roommates for turning in tapes she had recorded of her songs to publishers around town, leading to her first publishing deal. She thanked numerous writers and publishers she has worked with on her journey, including Troy Verges, Brett James, Gordie Sampson, Blair Daly, Aimee Mayo, Shane Stevens, Chris Lindsey, Luke Laird, Kos Weaver and more for “your dear friendship. I love y’all so much,” and “for believing and slinging those songs.” She also thanked her “Love Junkies” co-writers, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose saying, “I love y’all for more reasons than I can count.”
To all of her fellow song crafters in the room, she said, “You are the ones who make up the pulse of this town,” she said, “and I am beyond lucky to be part of it.”
Gary Nicholson was inducted in the same category, known for writing songs recorded by Don Williams (“That’s The Thing About Love”), Charley Pride (“The Power of Love”), Waylon Jennings (“Working Without a Net”), and Montgomery Gentry (“She Couldn’t Change Me”), among others.
Nicholson accepted his honor, saying, “Through the years, in Nashville I’ve always hoped for an occasion for me to stand before my friends and offer my heartfelt thanks to Jim Ed Norman, who brought me to Nashville in 1980.” In 1983, he signed with Tree Publishing (now Sony), in the company of many of his songwriting heroes.
“Harlan Howard would say, ‘If you want a Cadillac, write you a Cadillac. If you want a swimming pool, write you a swimming pool,'” Nicholson recalled. “Buddy Killen and Donna Hilley gave me great support, and Walter Campbell was my main song plugging man in those years. The players on the demoes at Tree were playing on most of the records. I want to thank all of the musicians and engineers that made my songs sound like they belonged on those records. I also want to thank all the artists and producers who have chosen my songs over the years…Here’s to all my friends who have shared their talent with me through the years.”
Previous Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees were on hand to induct the new class. Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame class of 2019 inductee Sharon Vaughn inducted Twain. Bill Anderson (1975) inducted Wariner, Matraca Berg (2008) welcomed Lindsey, Even Stevens (2015) ushered Malloy into the Hall, and Rodney Crowell (2003) inducted Nicholson.
Shania Twain, who wrote many of her own hits, placing 22 self-written top 20 songs on the Billboard charts (including seven chart-leaders), was inducted in the contemporary songwriter-artist category. Among Twain’s pop-country mainstays are “You’re Still the One,” “Come On Over,” “No One Needs to Know,” “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “From This Moment On.” Twain was not in attendance, but she did send in a video acceptance speech, calling songwriting her “saving grace,” and thanking those in the Nashville community for their support.
David Malloy was inducted in the veteran songwriter category. Malloy is known for collaborating with Eddie Rabbitt and Even Stevens on several Rabbitt-recorded hits, including “Drivin’ My Life Away,” “I Love a Rainy Night,” “Step by Step,” and “Gone Too Far.” Another Rabbitt hit, “Suspicions,” was named BMI’s 1980 country song of the year, and was also a hit for Tim McGraw in 2008. The Kenny Rogers-recorded “Love Will Turn You Around” was named ASCAP’s 1983 country song of the year. Malloy and Stevens also teamed to launch Emerald Sound Studio together in 1981. Malloy also thanked his father, recording engineer Jim Malloy, who produced “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and worked with artists including Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
“I’ve heard so many great songs from great songwriters my whole life and it’s been an incredible joy to be around so many super talented people and then to get the pleasure of getting to work with them,” Malloy said. “I’m a co-writer and a record producer. I produced every song that I’m up here for tonight, that was my thing that I did.”
Respected author, journalist, historian and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame board member Robert K. Oermann presented the Hall of Fame honor to the late Chips Moman, who was inducted under the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame’s new legacy category, which is designed to honor Hall of Fame-worthy songwriters who are deceased. Moman, who died in 2016, saw his songs recorded by Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, Brenda Lee, Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash and more. He earned R&B and pop hits in the 1960s with James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street” and Aretha Franklin’s “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.” He earned a Grammy in 1976 for best country song for the B.J. Thomas-recorded “(Hey, Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song”). Moman also wrote the Waylon Jennings classic “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” David Houston’s “Love Looks Good on You,” and George Strait’s “So Much Like My Dad.” Moman’s wife and children accepted the honor on his behalf.
Steve Wariner was inducted in the veteran songwriter-artist category. In addition to his much-lauded vocal and guitar prowess, Wariner is also a writer on his own songs including “Two Teardrops,” “Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” (which was named 1998 CMA song and single of the year as well as 1998 ACM song of the year) and “Baby I’m Yours,” as well as hits made popular by Clint Black (“Nothin’ but The Taillights”), Keith Urban (“Where the Blacktop Ends”), and “Longneck Bottle,” a duet Wariner recorded with Garth Brooks.
“I’m really honored and humbled tonight,” Wariner said, thanking his wife Caryn (who also publishes his music) for her influence and support. He also recounted key moments in his career, including going on the road with Dottie West while he was still in high school and recalling her encouragement of his songwriting. He recalled “Mr. Guitar” Chet Atkins signing him to RCA and while they were making a record, Wariner began playing bass and touring with Atkins (“The guitar position was taken in that band,” he quipped).
“I’m looking out here at so many songwriters who are my heroes, that I grew up wanting to be part of that, wanting your approval,” Wariner noted. “Bill Anderson spoke so eloquently a moment ago…the way you guys and girls put the words together and write, I always wanted to be accepted into your club and I feel like that I’m finally maybe there tonight. This feels so special.” He also thanked all of his co-writers. “Thank you so much for putting up with me and like Hillary said so beautifully, no one does this alone.”
The evening also included a moment of remembrance for two recently-deceased Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame members, Loretta Lynn (inducted in 1983) and Dallas Frazier (inducted in 1976). Jon Randall performed Frazier’s “If My Heart Had Windows,” while Jessi Alexander took the lead for a spot-on rendering of Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
Throughout the evening, the writers were feted by several artists. The Isaacs honored Twain with renditions of “Forever and For Always” and her Grammy-winning song “You’re Still the One.” Underwood and Urban took the stage together for a rendering of Underwood’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel” (with Urban accompanying Underwood on guitar) and Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color” (with Underwood offering harmonies). Rhett Akins performed a rendition of his 1998 recording of “Drivin’ My Life Away.” Vince Gill feted Nicholson by taking the stage with Delbert McClinton, Shawn Camp and Michael Rhodes for a performance of “One More Last Chance.” Clint Black performed the Moman-written “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” Meanwhile, Brooks closed out the evening’s performances with an acoustic performance of Wariner’s “Holes in the Floor of Heaven.”
In Nashville, the popular refrain (and slogan for the Nashville Songwriters Association International) is “It All Begins With a Song.” However, it was new inductee Nicholson who perhaps encapsulated the evening’s purpose, saying, “Actually, it all starts with a songwriter.”