Nashville, TN -- Two country vocalists known for powerful interpretations of story songs joined a free-spirited maverick who shined at nearly every creative aspect of the music business as the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame during a star-studded, emotional Medallion Ceremony on October 27, 2013. Bobby Bare, Kenny Rogers and the late Jack Clement -- who died on August 8, four months after learning of his election into the Hall of Fame -- were feted with heartfelt testimonials and special performances of songs they made famous. The wide variety of artists paying tribute to the inductees underscored the crossover appeal and eclectic musical catalogs of the three men being honored.
In his opening comments, museum director Kyle Young pointed out that all three inductees were born during the Great Depression, when commercial music first was gaining a foothold in America. “They were present for the birth of rock & roll, the sixties folk revival, the ascent of hard country and the rise of sophisticated pop country,” Young said. “Each made significant contributions to one or more of these trends.”
Young also credited the inductees for their personal drive and artistry, and he noted how they all became known for their generosity toward other artists, songwriters and producers. “The Country Music Hall of Fame class of 2013 is a trio of unique individuals, each with his own muse,” Young said. “Through thick and thin, none ever wavered from a commitment to music, and all enjoyed collaborating with fellow talents as producers or duet partners, songwriters or mentors.”
Considered country music’s most prestigious event, the Medallion Ceremony represents the official induction of new Hall of Fame members. After a red-carpet arrival before a vocal crowd of more than a thousand fans, the ceremony moved inside the newly expanded Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. The private celebration, which features intimate performances and speeches, was the first held at the museum’s new, nearly 800-seat CMA Theater. It was an appropriate opening event for the theater, which became part of the museum’s current expansion thanks to a $10 million gift from the Country Music Association.
The Medallion Ceremony kicked off, as it always does, with a gospel song. Connie Smith, a 2012 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, performed a rousing version of Hank Williams’ “(When I Get to Glory) Sing, Sing, Sing.” Smith was backed expertly by the Medallion All-Star Band, led by keyboardist John Hobbs. The band included drummer Eddie Bayers, electric guitarist J.T. Corenflos, harmony vocalists Thom Flora and Tania Hancheroff, pedal steel guitarist Mike Johnson, bassist Michael Rhodes, fiddle and mandolinist Deanie Richardson and acoustic guitarist Biff Watson.
The audience at the private celebration was packed with Hall of Fame members, who welcomed the new inductees to their exclusive club. Hall of Famers in attendance were Bobby Braddock, Harold Bradley, Garth Brooks, Ralph Emery, Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers, Tom T. Hall, Emmylou Harris, Sonny James, Kris Kristofferson, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie McCoy, Charley Pride, Connie Smith, Mel Tillis, Jo Walker-Meador, E.W. “Bud” Wendell and Ray Walker and Curtis Young of the Jordanaires.
Young also acknowledged the passing of Hall of Fame members Jim Foglesong, George Jones and Gordon Stoker. “Country music lost three of its most beloved figures and greatest architects,” Young said, before asking for a moment of silence in their honor.
Steve Turner, chairman of the museum’s board, welcomed the families and colleagues of the new inductees. As Turner explained, the Medallion Ceremony gathers the Country Music Hall of Fame family together to celebrate the induction of new members to country music’s most elite body.
“We want the Hall of Fame class of 2013, their loved ones and all the members of the Hall of Fame, to know that we revere your important accomplishments and hold you in the highest esteem,” Turner said. “We appreciate your exceptionally fine contributions to American music, and we thank you for your role in the development of our worldwide reputation as Music City. You know and I know that Music City is how we got to be the ‘it’ city. It is fitting that these rites of induction take place in this ultra-fine music museum, where the bronze likenesses of Cowboy, Bobby and Kenny will now be forever enshrined.”
Ed Hardy, president of the CMA’s Board of Directors, spoke of the significance of being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “This is undeniably the highest honor achievable in country music,” Hardy said. “These are all highly deserving individuals.”
Moving on to the inductions, Young briefly summed up the early life and career significance of each new Hall of Fame member. Starting with Clement, Young mentioned the west Tennessee native’s “diverse and illustrious career, and a lifetime of creativity, generosity, influence and achievement.”
Young demonstrated Clement’s diversity by tracing his career path with stops in Washington, D.C, Memphis, Texas and Nashville. He noted that Clement “was a key activist in the cultural revolution that still orbits the world as rock & roll” while working as an engineer and producer at Sun Records. Young continued, “Jack would go on to earn respect, admiration and affection as one of the most accomplished producers, songwriters, and entrepreneurs in the history of country music.” Young later heralded Clement’s whimsical sense of humor and theatrical personality.
Performers for the Medallion Ceremony are kept secret until they walk on stage, so each was a surprise to the inductees and others in attendance. Singer-songwriter John Prine kicked things off, drawing a rowdy reception when he came out to perform a solo rendition of “Ballad of a Teenage Queen,” a Clement song that became Johnny Cash’s third #1 hit, when it spent ten weeks at the top of the country charts in 1958.
Prine recalled first meeting Clement in 1977, and he became a regular at Clement’s Cowboy Arms Hotel & Recording Spa over the years. “No matter how I was feeling when I went in there, I always walked out feeling like I was nine years old,” Prine said. “I felt like I was the kid at the candy store.”
Others honoring Clement included Kris Kristofferson growling through “Big River,” another Cash hit, produced by Clement, who also contributed guitar. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives presented a beautiful, three-part-harmony version of “I Know One,” a Clement composition that became a 1967 hit for Charley Pride. As Young noted, Clement financed Pride’s first Nashville demos and was instrumental in getting him signed to RCA Records and launching his career. Clement went on to produce 13 albums for Pride.
Stuart also talked of his first visit to Clement’s studio—“one of the most musical places in the world,” Stuart said. When Stuart opened the door, he found himself staring at Clement and Johnny Cash, both of whom would end up hiring him and greatly boosting his career.
“John was sitting there, it looked like his suitcase had exploded, and his glasses were on crooked, and he was twitching and sweating and singing ‘The Wabash Cannonball,’” Stuart said. “Cowboy was dancing with a martini on his head. I said, ‘I have found my crowd.’ And Cowboy never missed a lick. He just waltzed by me and handed me a mandolin. He saw something in me, and I appreciated him.”
Emmylou Harris then brought out guitarists Rodney Crowell and Buddy Miller to join her in performing “When I Dream,” a Sandy Mason song that Clement recorded for his 1978 debut solo album, All I Want to Do in Life. “Jack was such a treasure,” said Harris, who performed in Pennsylvania on Saturday night and rushed back to honor Clement. “He meant so much to all of us.”
Pride, a member of the 2000 class of the Hall of Fame, inducted his mentor and friend. “I can say this for all of us: I wish Jack was here,” Pride began. “But my mother used to say to me, if I’m the shortest liver, don’t you die because I die. You got too much to do. Don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder. There are good people everywhere. My mother also believed the dead knew what the living was doing. I think Jack’s watching right now.”
Pride also addressed Clement’s importance to his career. “First time I ever went into a recording studio, it was with Jack Clement,” he said. “I came down on vacation, I met him. The second time we cut seven songs he gave me to learn.”
One was “Just Between You and Me,” which Clement wrote. The song was Pride’s favorite of the bunch, but the producer didn’t want the young singer to release that song as his first single because he didn’t want anyone to think he was taking advantage of his protégé. But when Pride did finally release the song, it became his first Top 10 hit.
Pride also pointed out that, at the time of the recordings in 1966, Clement told him, “Charley, these songs we are recording, fifty years from now people are going to still be playing them.”
Alison Clement, accepting her father’s Hall of Fame medallion, talked of the difficulty of giving an acceptance speech for a man of a thousand personas. The answer, she said, came to her in dream in which her father sent her an interplanetary memo. He started by telling her he was right, there indeed was music in heaven.
“He was blessed with believing that what he was doing was fun and pleasing, and he achieved it,” she said. “He was grateful for all of his pals who surrounded him, the artists and cast members who trusted him and took the road less traveled.”
She ended by quoting her father’s advice to all musical types: “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing your job.”
For Bare’s induction, Young mentioned how the Ohio native overcame the early death of his mother and the Depression-era struggles of his farming father by focusing on music—and his love for a great song. As Young pointed out, Bare’s talents as a storyteller led his former manager, famed concert promoter Bill Graham, to describe Bare as “the Bruce Springsteen of country music.”
The performances honoring the singer started with Rodney Crowell performing “Detroit City,” Bare’s first big hit. Crowell received a career boost thanks to Bare’s willingness to take chances on new material from promising young songwriters. Buddy Miller followed with a soulful take on “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” one of many Tom T. Hall songs Bare cut over his career—another sign of his ability to spotlight important country songwriters.
“There’s something about Bobby Bare’s voice, I just believed every word he was saying,” Miller said. “You knew when you heard that voice, it was the epicenter of telling a story in a song.”
Kris Kristofferson came next, performing his own “Come Sundown,” yet another Bare hit that helped lift the career of a songwriter who would go on to make a significant mark on American music. “Bobby Bare was more than just the greatest artist I ever knew,” Kristofferson said. “He’s one of the nicest—and that’s not a dirty word—and one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.”
John Anderson concluded the musical portion of Bare’s induction with a spirited take on “Marie Laveau,” one of many Shel Silverstein songs Bare cut in his career. “I want to say that some of the very first very real country music shows I was ever on, Bobby Bare was the headliner,” Anderson said. “I’ll never forget just how nice he was to everybody on the show. I don’t believe you’ve changed a bit. God bless you, brother.”
Country Music Hall of Fame member Tom T. Hall inducted Bare, recalling he met Bare fifty-one years ago and the two became life-long friends. They also frequently toured together.
“Bare is allergic to Freon,” Hall said. “That’s the stuff you put in the air conditioner to make the air cold. Here’s an example. Bare and I were driving through Mississippi in July, two cowboys in a brand new Cadillac with the windows rolled down. We got stopped about every twenty-five miles. They thought we were drug dealers.”
Hall also said there were many more tales he could tell, noting he was now 77 and Bare was 78. “So it’s beginning to look like we’re going to get away with it,” Hall said to a burst of laughter from the audience.
The two old friends laughed together on stage before Bare removed his hat so Hall could carefully put the medallion around Bare’s neck.
“This is a big, big deal,” Bare said of his Hall of Fame honor. “This is as far as you can go and as high as you can go.” He traced his career, thanking those who played a major role in his success, “because you can’t make it without them.”
After citing his list of thank yous, punctuated with heartfelt remembrances, Bare said, “It’s a combination of all the very talented people I have come in contact with and learned from. I’ve been blessed. The Gods have smiled on me. I’m just a singer, it’s all I am. But ain’t I something?”
Honoring the night’s third inductee, Young said, “A life of vigorous and diverse creativity has established Kenny Rogers as a major superstar who has made an indelible mark on popular culture at home and abroad.” The museum director also noted Rogers’s work as an actor, author, photographer and humanitarian while acknowledging that music was always central to his creativity.
Launching the musical celebration, Darius Rucker—another music star who crossed from pop to country—applied his supple baritone to “Lucille,” Rogers’ first #1 country hit and an example of the Hall of Fame inductee’s ability to find memorable story songs.
Rucker described his childhood as a devoted “radio kid” who came to love Kenny Rogers songs. “‘Lucille’ was a song I wanted to hear every day of my life,” he said.
Don Schlitz delivered “The Gambler,” a song he wrote that initiated his career as a top Nashville songwriter. “I was one of the post-Kristofferson generation of songwriters,” Schlitz said. “We came to Nashville and wrote what was in our hearts, and maybe, maybe, maybe one of the great singers would sing one of our songs and the whole world would hear it. Kenny—and Bobby and Cowboy…you chose to nurture the folks who came to town to pursue our dreams. You chose to find the best songs you could sing and do your best to make sure the whole world would hear them.”
Schlitz noted that many of his fellow songwriters treasure a Kenny Rogers cut, often calling it the favorite of their careers. “That’s the generation you nurtured,” Schlitz said. “That’s the Nashville, the Music Row, the heart of country music that came from your heart. There is nothing more important that we could say than, ‘Thank you.’ When it is deserved, it can’t be said often enough. On behalf of my fellow songwriters, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, who co-wrote and produced the hit “Islands in the Stream” for the double-barreled duet team of Rogers and Dolly Parton, drew a thunderous reception when he came out to recreate the classic sing-along with duet partner Kelly Lang.
Rogers’s songwriting talent was recognized when Alison Krauss emerged to sing “Sweet Music Man,” a song Krauss had produced in a version by Reba McEntire.
Before her gorgeous rendition, Krauss testified about how everyone in her life knows how much she loves Rogers’ music. Her friends regularly send her photos of Rogers, she said, and she joked about how much time she spends seeking new photos of him on the internet. She also recalled the Christmas gift her son gave her when he was six. “He came back with Kenny Rogers’ Love Songs. He said it was easy to know what to buy.”
To induct Rogers, 2012 Country Music Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks took the stage. “In this business, anyone who comes before you is a God,” Brooks began. “Anyone who comes after you is a punk.” Acknowledging that his career came after Rogers, yet he joined the Hall of Fame prior to him, he said, “This is so backward.”
Brooks continued, talking of Rogers taking him on the road as an opening act early in his career, and how much his career gained from playing to such big audiences, and how much he learned watching Rogers entertain crowds night after night.
“If there was an entertainment university,” Brooks said, “when it comes to Entertaining 101, I can vouch firsthand that Kenny Rogers can be the professor of that class.”
Rogers, after accepting the Hall of Fame Medallion from Brooks, said, “This is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I do not take it for granted. It is the pinnacle of all my success, and I appreciate it more than you could ever know.”
Rogers, too, traced his career, thanking those along the way who were crucial to his success. He started with his brother Leland Rogers, who believed in him and helped him get his first record deal. “There’s an old saying that most people who are successful, are successful because someone they treasured believed in them, and they didn’t want to disappoint them,” Rogers said. “I think that’s the way it was with my brother.”
Rogers concluded by recognizing his family in attendance, noting, “This is such a joy to be able to give this to my kids. The one thing I’ve learned, if nothing else, is that music comes and goes. Songs come and go. Singers come and go. But the Hall of Fame is forever, baby.”
The night ended, as always, with the Hall of Fame members and the evening’s performers gathering on stage to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”