Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees

The 2017 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame were announced on Wednesday.

The Hall of Fame is right to induct members from three classes:  Modern Era, Veterans Era, and Songwriter. The Veterans Era gives artists a second chance -- artists who are largely forgotten. It's like the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you don't get enough votes in the first few rounds, you're out of luck. You've gotta wait several years for the Veterans Committee to give you a pass or forget it. Your career meant nothing. You know, guys like Johnny Paycheck. Or of a more recent vintage, Dwight Yoakam (who will probably never get in, because, you know, California). The Hall could at least hold a mass induction -- all the artists they "forgot". Give them a plaque and an smattering of applause. Omitting them is like Jack Morris or Roger Maris (what?) being labeled inconsequential.

Nevertheless, the Hall tries its best, and sooner or later (mostly later) it gets around to the guys and gals without whom country music wouldn't exist.


Songwriter:  Don Schlitz

If you wanna talk about country music in the seventies and eighties, the name Don Schlitz had better roll off your tongue. There is magic in writing a hit song: one part formula, one part wisdom, one part luck, and one thousand parts heart. You have to mix all the parts together in just the right amounts to have a songwriting career like Don Schlitz has had.

Let's start:

You get the picture.

Of course, we're always, as luck would have it, remembered for  things that seemed inconsequential at the time. I said something witty once -- I don't remember saying it, but I must have, because someone remembers it and they repeat it, ad nauseam, to every person they encounter. That's sort of like Don Schlitz's most-remembered song. It was probably a fun way to spend an afternoon with his songwriting buddies. And thirty some-odd years later, it's become a TV movie and a line everybody throws out every time they hear the words, "you gotta".

I saw Kenny Rogers in concert around 1980. When I say "saw", I mean I was in the nosebleed section of an arena in Duluth, Minnesota. I had a four-year-old and a two-year-old that I somehow convinced the ticket-taker I could balance on my lap, thus avoiding the expense of buying two additional tickets. I was on vacation with my mom and dad and the concert was an impulse decision.

Kenny was a little too "pop" for my country sensibilities, but shoot, I was on vacation! Thus, I threw caution to the wind.

Don was no doubt sitting around with his guitar one afternoon and hollered out, hey! How about this? It has a catchy chorus; who knows? Maybe in 2017 they'll make a funny commercial about it. It could happen! And The Gambler was born (luck, wisdom, formula, and heart).

It's an earworm if there ever was an earworm.

Veterans Era Artist:  Jerry Reed 

I'm not sure I'm on board with the selection of Jerry Reed, because to me, he will forever be known as Burt Reynolds' sidekick. I suppose that's not entirely fair. 

As songwriters go, well, eh. Trust me; I was around in the seventies. FM radio was new. FM radio in a car was a novelty; unless, I guess, you owned a Lincoln like my dad did (my dad wasn't rich, but he loved his cars). My dad owned a creme brulee Lincoln Continental -- a huge boat of a car -- that sometimes my mom slipped behind the wheel of and deigned to drive me somewhere. FM radio loved Jerry Reed. I was afraid to laugh, nay chuckle, in the presence of my mom, but this song made me laugh out loud:

Ironic, because smoking isn't too hilarious, in hindsight. Maybe I should blame Jerry Reed for setting me on that dark path. But I'll be magnanimous and give him a pass. I was quite impressionable at the time, though.

Jerry also wrote this song, which was recorded by a guy who, in his time, was a country music titan. Jimmy Dean, before he determined to make tasty sausage, had an actual network TV show -- on ABC -- and he introduced the early Muppets to a national audience. "Rowlf" got his start on Jimmy Dean's show, but that's neither here nor there. By the time Jimmy recorded this Jerry Reed song, Jimmy's career was on the downslide. Jimmy was known for doing recitations like "Big Bad John", but he did record this one:

Speaking of Burt Reynolds, one who surfs the channels for old kitschy movies might remember this:

Hot. When you're hot, you're hot. When you're not, you're not. Words to live by.

Remember Elvis Presley? Who above the age of eighty doesn't? Well, Jerry Reed wrote this song, too:

Okay, I'm not a rabid Jerry Reed fan, but he did what he did, and Burt and his toupee can thank Jerry for his bulging bank account.

And there you go. I never said I worshiped everybody who ever caught the eye of the HOF.

Modern Era Artist:  Alan Jackson

You know that kid in your sixth grade class? The one you suspected might be a bit "slow"? That kid had fortitude, though, boy. He plowed on. That kid never once gave up. Sure, he had to repeat the sixth grade, and he was way taller and beefier than the other boys in the classroom, but he kept on keeping on. He also had a wisp of a mustache, though no one commented on it or pointed it out. 

Well, that boy is Alan Jackson.

I like Alan; don't get me wrong. He knows how to write a hit song and he reveres the classics. And he has persistence. In the wonder that was country music in the eighties, Alan Jackson was the guy who was dependable. One could always lean on him to whip out a classic country tune, but I never once uttered the words, "Alan Jackson is my favorite singer."

I saw Alan Jackson once in concert. The word "charisma" doesn't rhyme with "Jackson". Among the top male artists from that era, in descending order of dynamic performances, it would go Garth, Dwight, Randy, George (Strait), Vince, with Alan Jackson bringing up the rear. (I never saw Clint or Ricky Van Shelton, so I cannot judge.) In fairness, Alan Jackson was a songwriter at heart who suddenly found himself with a few hit songs on his hands, and thus had to put together a stage show. Maybe he's better now. I don't exactly think so, but it's possible.

Being present at the dawn of Alan Jackson's career, I can say with authority that he recorded one good album, "A Lot About Livin' (And a Little 'bout Love)". One can't exactly count "Under The Influence", although I loved the hell out of it, but alas, it was an album of cover songs. The first album by Alan I purchased, though, was "Here In The Real World.". The first time I saw Alan Jackson on CMT, he'd made a video of a song called "Blue Blooded Woman". It wasn't a great song, but he certainly was tall! And he had a tall mustache to match. That was my first impression of Alan Jackson. His next song was miles better:

I'm just going to throw here some of my favorite Alan Jackson recordings, willy-nilly. My blog, my videos, I say.

So, let's look back, shall we?

Yes, this is a Jim Ed Brown song, but kudos to Alan for this version:

My all-time, most favorite, Alan Jackson recording is right here. For this song alone, I say give him whatever award you want to bestow. The video is awesome, too. Aside from "Here In The Real World", whose vibe is rudimentary, yet has that old-time country music twang, this song landed Alan smack-dab in the zenith of the eighth decade of the twentieth century.

Yee haw.

Bob McDill wrote this song. He was probably having a bad day, like all of us have from time to time. I think Bob was pissed off, and I don't blame him. At the time, everybody was jumping on the country bandwagon, because country was outselling every other genre of music, but pretenders? Ick. It's not as if we didn't know what they were up to. Alan no doubt found this song among the tapes he was given and who else but Alan would take it to heart?

In keeping with that theme, Alan got to record with his (and everybody's) idol, George Strait, and this is an excellent, excellent song:

As life goes, Alan is remembered most for two songs that, while not bad, per se, are annoying in their over-exposure. Plus, they're three-chord songs, essentially, and nobody has done great three-chord songs since Roger Miller was writing for Ray Price, and even those songs at least threw in a B chord for good measure.

Nevertheless, here we go:

All in all, Alan deserves this award, and you know he won't take it for granted. He reveres Hank and George (Jones) and George (Strait) and others who've essentially been forgotten, so having his portrait hanging in the Country Music Hall of Fame will be more than a throw-off for him. As it should be. Alan is a caretaker of country music, much like Marty Stuart, and much like (if I should be so bold to say) me. Music's past may be passe to some, but we don't get to here without scrubbing the "there". 

And thus time marches on.

The Country Music Hall of Fame induction announcement (brought to you by Vince Gill):

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