Sunday, 2 December, 2007 7:14 PM
CMA: Country Music Hall of Fame
Welcomes Ralph Emery, Vince Gill and Mel Tillis
BY JOHN RUSSELL / CMA
Country Music Hall of Fame inductees Mel Tillis, Ralph Emery and
Vince Gill at the Medallion Ceremony on Oct. 8, 2007, at the Country
Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
As night falls in Nashville,
the skyline as seen from the lobby of the Country Music Hall of
Fame and Museum transforms slowly, its silhouette flecked by lights
in the deepening dark.
So it was on Oct. 8,
as the Museum welcomed guests to the annual Medallion Ceremony to
witness the inductions of Ralph Emery, Vince Gill and Mel Tillis
into the Hall of Fame.
Founded by CMA in 1961,
the Hall honors the individuals whose contributions to Country Music
have been judged most significant by their peers. All inductees
are chosen by CMA's Hall of Fame Panel of Electors, consisting of
more than 300 anonymous voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors.
Hall of Fame members were easy to spot among those who gathered
in the vast, glass-roofed Curb Conservatory. Whether in formal or
Western attire, each wore a black ribbon from which a handsome brass
There were 98 in this
august group as the day dawned; by evening's end, there would be
A festive feeling took
hold as the crowd filed into the Museum's Ford Theater. Harold Bradley,
Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, Jim Foglesong, Sonny James,
the Jordanaires' Louis Nunley, Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker and Curtis
Young, Charlie Louvin and former CMA Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador
were among the previous inductees whose presence makes this annual
event, in the words of Hall of Fame member E. W. "Bud"
Wendell, Chairman of the Museum's Board of Officers and Trustees,
It started with Boots
Randolph's "Yakety Sax" blasting into the room. As the
tune faded, Museum Director Kyle Young stated, simply, "We
miss Boots," and the crowd cheered for the late A-Team mainstay.
Wendell commenced the
cavalcade of music and memories by comparing Country Music to the
legacy of Michelangelo - an audacious proposition that rang truer
as the proceedings continued. Following this, Randy Scruggs performed
his Grammy-winning rendition of "Amazing Grace," which
prompted Wendell to observe, "That's what happens when Maybelle
Carter was your babysitter."
CMA CEO Tammy Genovese
then shared her thoughts. "Induction into the Country Music
Hall of Fame is the greatest honor bestowed on a Country Music artist,"
she observed. "This is an appropriate and meaningful place
for these gentlemen to receive the honor and accolades they deserve."
Young responded by thanking
CMA "for this honor and for the underwriting of staff support
that made tonight a reality." Then he noted that "the
great Porter Wagoner had planned to be with us tonight. . Please
keep the Wagonmaster and his family close to your heart and in your
prayers. Let's hear it for Porter," he concluded, leading the
room in an ovation for the beloved entertainer who, ironically,
was in his last moments of life in hospice care, not far away.
Emery, Gill and Tillis,
Young continued, had all "used the specifics of their life
experiences to create a body of work that reflects an understanding
of the cares and woes of their audiences as well as sympathy and
solidarity with the need of all people to feel free from care, from
want and from need, at least on a Saturday night. Who can count
the numbers of people who've been comforted and uplifted, amused
and relieved, or inspired and ready for another hard day, by the
music and stories these men made available for so long? We recognize
ourselves in this music and in these stories. That's why we love
them and why millions like us keep coming back for more."
This message underscored
every word spoken and note played over the next several hours. Artists
performed songs honoring the careers of the new Hall of Fame members.
Backing the performers were music director John Hobbs on piano and
the Medallion All-Star Band, featuring drummer Eddie Bayers, steel
guitarist Paul Franklin, harmony singers Tania Hancheroff and Wes
Hightower, guitarists Brent Mason and Russ Pahl and bassist Michael
Rhodes. The Great American Country television network taped the
event, portions of which can be seen on upcoming episodes of GAC's
"Master Series." The event was also taped for future broadcast
by WSM-AM 650.
Tribute was paid first
to Emery, through "You Gave Me a Mountain," delivered
as a chilling solo piece by Raul Malo. The Gaither Vocal Band then
romped through "Yes, I Know," and Con Hunley extolled
Emery's interview technique by recalling one night on his show at
"I'd invited this
young lady over to dinner in my trailer," Hunley said. "There
was a place in the bathroom where the floor was rotted out, but
the linoleum still covered it. All of a sudden, I heard this big
scream . Anyway, I told Ralph about this when we were in the dressing
room. We'd already discussed what we were going to talk about on
the show - songs, my current single and all of that.
"Well, first pop
out of the box," Hunley said, "I sat down, and Ralph says,
'What about that girl in the trailer?'" And as the laughter
subsided, Hunley and the Medallion All-Star Band gave a steamy reading
of "Since I Fell for You" that brought the room - not
for the first or last time - to its feet.
Ray Stevens followed,
with a story about an Emery radio contest that involved a chicken
and a plane flight to Louisiana and an irresistible rendering of
"Everything Is Beautiful." Wendell then called Emery to
the podium for his induction. Speaking with his customary dignity,
Emery thanked his wife, Joy, for their 40 years of marriage and
then quoted from a spiritual poem of gratitude, written by the late
Hall of Fame member Tennessee Ernie Ford, whose final lines - "Almost
despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered / I am, among
all men, most richly blessed" - touched something close to
the heart of music as well as faith.
To open the next part
of the ceremony, Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris sang "Some
Things Never Get Old," from Gill's monumental These Days. Michael
McDonald, joined by Gill's band members Tom Britt, Dawn Sears, Billy
Thomas, Pete Wasner and Jeff White, sang "Go Rest High on That
Mountain," his smoky vocal riding the slow gospel roll like
a ship sailing home after too long at sea. Guy Clark walked onstage
after that to perform "The Randall Knife" with a rugged
eloquence that inspired Gill to leap from his seat and embrace his
longtime mentor. And Al Anderson rocked Gill's "Next Big Thing"
with an energy that dared listeners not to party.
Introduced by Hall of
Famer Whisperin' Bill Anderson, mixing gentle humor with a profession
of love for his wife Amy Grant, Gill confessed to still being surprised
at his admission to the Hall. "Maybe it affirms the way I've
tried to live my life, and that was trying to put everybody else
first," he mused. "I felt that's the kindest way to live.
And I enjoyed every role I was able to play in music. It never mattered
if I was on the side; I just wanted to be in the band. I was just
dumb enough to sing, and look at what happened."
He did allow himself
a flicker of satisfaction. "As I look around this room, I see
so many fellow Hall of Famers," he began. And then, after stopping
for a moment, Gill beamed and said, "That felt . great!"
Tillis' segment was preceded
by Bobby Bare's familiar yet powerful treatment of "Detroit
City." ("Here's a song I never get tired of," the
denim-clad singer growled before Brent Mason hit the famous E-string
opening lick.) Kenny Rogers then reminded listeners of the meaning
behind another Tillis composition, "Ruby,Don't Take Your Love
to Town," a meditation on the impact of the Vietnam War that
still bears relevance. "Mel, I'll just tell you this,"
Rogers summed up. "A lot of people in this world can write
great songs. Very few people can write important songs."
After performing, Rogers
yielded the spotlight to Pam Tillis, who allowed that "so much
of what I've done in my career has been an effort to make my Dad
proud." She performed "Coca Cola Cowboy," Dierks
Bentley followed by tearing through "I Ain't Never," and
then it was time for Hall of Fame member Little Jimmy Dickens to
"You folks in our
audience here tonight, if you've never seen Mel Tillis in concert,
you've missed a lot," the Opry legend said. "When he steps
on the stage, he upgrades Country Music and the industry that we
all love and stand for. Men like this are hard to come by, and I'm
proud that Mel Tillis is my friend."
With that, Dickens presented
Tillis with his medallion. The newest member of the Hall spoke,
with his impeccable comic timing, about his failure as a stuttering
salesman for "Harrie's Cookies" ("I wouldn't eat
a hairy cookie either," he said), his appreciation for girlfriend
Kathy DeMonaco and the other special people in his life, and finally
for "this little angel on my shoulder" who had stayed
with him through good and tougher times.
The inductions concluded
with all Hall of Fame members in attendance joining in a performance
of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and a promise to meet
again next year, in harmony with the music that brings this circle
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