The three inductees for the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007 have been announced. They are:
MEL TILLIS. A prolific singer/songwriter who penned such hits as "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" and "Detroit City" as well as his own long string of hits is inducted for contributions to country music from World War II to 1975
VINCE GILL. The singer/songwriter who got his start as a member of Louisville's Bluegrass Alliance before moving to Pure Prairie League then a long and successful solo career is being honored for contributions to country music since 1975.
RALPH EMERY. From his longtime duties as disc jockey on WSM radio, where he hosted a Monday-Friday interview show with country music stars, to the host of Pop! Goes the Country (which can still be seen weekly on RFD-TV) and Nashville Now, to author of two best-selling autobiographies (Memories and More Memories), Emery is inducted in the non-performer category.
Now, here's the problem...
In music, timing is everything. The timing for the music inductions is way off. Tillis' induction is way overdue; Gill's comes too early. And Ralph Emery? Well...
Mel Tillis was probably kept from induction for so long because the people who put on the TV show were scared of his legendary stuttering lengthening a five-minute acceptance speech into a three-hour affair. (In actuality, Tillis' stuttering is now an act, as he successfully overcame it with speech therapy. And a bit of trivia: Tillis, in the liner notes to Jim Reeves' album Missing You, credits Reeves with offering to pay for speech therapy for Tillis when the latter was a young, struggling songwriter.) Tillis' songs are all over the place. Stonewall Jackson and Ray Price have recorded their fair share of Tillis compositions, and "(Sweet) Mental Revenge" has been recorded by acts as diverse as country's legendary outlaw Waylon Jennings to rock and roll's Long Ryders. "Heart Over Mind" was a hit for Ray Price and an early Tillis composition. Simon Crum (Ferlin Husky's alter ego) even recorded a Tillis song ("Stand Up, Sit Down, Shut Your Mouth") on his one album, The Unpredictable Simon Crum. "Lonely Street" is a gem in Tillis' songwriting repertoire. And this is saying nothing of his long performing career on his own. He had an early hit with "Sawmill" (which later became a top three smash for him in 1973) as a duet with Bill Phillips (who went on to some success with "Put It Off Until Tomorrow"). His band is called the Statesiders, after a minor 1966 hit ("Stateside"). He is so deserving, but this is so overdue.
In contrast, the only reason I can think of for Vince Gill's early induction is the political machine of the Country Music Association. (If you think "politics as usual" just happens in Washington DC, you are sadly mistaken, because I think it is safe to say that you haven't seen politics till you've seen Nashville music politics!) Vince Gill was host of the CMA Awards (as in, Country Music Association, the people who vote on induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame) for 13 years. Is it any coincidence that he's the third youngest living person (behind Cash at 48 and Atkins at 49) to be inducted?
Please do not misunderstand me. Vince Gill is one of the truly nice guys in the world, a gentleman's gentleman who loves his fans and has all the time in the world for them (I remember him being so patient with a Japanese couple who could not get their camera to work for a picture one night at the Opry). He is also a staunch supporter of traditional country music and the history of this wonderful genre. I would not argue his credentials; however, my question is the antithesis of the Tillis question: instead of "why so long," I'm wondering "why so soon?" And I cannot help but believe that the CMA is patting itself on the back with his induction because of his years of hosting their awards show instead of truly honoring Gill for his accomplishments.
And, as usual, the announcement of the inductions brings up a long list of HWAs (that's short for "Hey! What About....?"):
Ernest V. Stoneman. I told Harold Bradley (himself a Hall of Famer) this earlier this year, and I would walk into a room full of voters and say it to their collective faces: every year that passes without Pop Stoneman's induction makes the voters look more and more uninformed about the music they're supposed to know. This man was so vital to country music in the 1920s and 1930s. His recording of "The Great Titanic" is a masterpiece.
Al Dexter. If you open a Billboard magazine and see a "Country Singles Chart," you can thank Al Dexter. The popularity of Al Dexter and His Troopers in the early 40s caused Billboard to create the "Hillbilly and Western" singles chart in 1944, where the first two #1 songs were Al Dexter tunes ("Pistol Packin' Mama" -- first by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters, then Dexter's own recording). In 1997, Billboard charts guru Joel Whitburn listed Dexter as the #117 singles artist of all time -- a man who had not had a charted hit since 1948 ranked that high!
Hank Locklin. "Please Help Me I'm Falling" was the third biggest hit of the entire decade of the 1960s. Locklin (who will be at least 90 before he's inducted, assuming he is alive and inducted next year) began his career in 1948 and had his first #1 hit in 1953.
Jean Shepard. She scored top ten hits in three different decades and is still a popular figure on the Grand Ole Opry. Her contributions to country music, not to mention females in country music, are immense.
Ferlin Husky. The last of the superstars of the 50s who is not in, his megahit "Wings of a Dove" is entry number one on his resume for induction, followed closely by the #2 hit "Country Music is Here to Stay" by his good friend Simon Crum.
Stonewall Jackson. Here is a golden opportunity for the CMA to prove that there is NOT a game of politics going on: induct Stonewall Jackson. His career is worthy. The fact that he currently has a lawsuit against the Grand Ole Opry for age discrimination should not enter into the picture. How I would love to be proven wrong in the case of believing it's all politics, and the best way to prove that is to see Stonewall's plaque go up next year!
The Wilburn Brothers. One of the things that kept Webb Pierce out of the Hall of Fame for so long was the fact that he was loathed by more than a few people in Nashville. The same can be said of Teddy and Doyle Wilburn, who were so ruthless in their business dealings in their publishing company Sure-Fire Music that Loretta Lynn, under contract to Sure-Fire, reportedly refused to do songs she had written so as to not put any money in the Wilburns' pockets. (And, ironically, she was the "girl singer" on their TV show!) But now that Teddy has died (he died in 2003, just days short of his 72nd birthday), it's time to bury the bad feelings and recognize the music these two men made.
The Statler Brothers. When a country song is part of pop culture, it needs to be recognized. That is true of the Statler's first hit, "Flowers on the Wall" from 1965 (which was also a top five pop hit). The Statlers had a long career of hits and a very popular television series on the Nashville Network. They are legends and icons of country music, and their induction, like Tillis', is long overdue.
Bill C. Malone. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the publication of country's "bible," Country Music U.S.A. (which will be celebrated at next year's ICMC conference). No better way to celebrate the anniversary of the publication of this landmark, vital work on country music than to induct its author.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a controversy brewing because the Dave Clark Five received more votes than Grandmaster Flash, but the powers that be decided to put Grandmaster Flash in anyway. I would hate to see the Country Music Hall of Fame suffer a shameful decline with such a beautiful building, but the fact is that the people who vote for induction need to either do their homework on the music and induct people who are long overdue for the honor (such as Mel Tillis or last year's inductee, Sonny James) or submit their resignation from voting and turn voting rights over to someone who will do their homework.