...Either there will be an unusually warm winter, or it's time to start thinking about the Country Music Hall of Fame voting. This blog is about the latter.
There is no set time for the announcements for the new inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Last year the inductees were announced on March 25. In 2012, it was March 6. In 2014, the announcement didn't come until late April.
Regardless of when it is done, here is what I'd love to see in the "Class of 2016:"
The list of deserving individuals who have yet to be inducted continues to be too long. The Browns' induction last year filled a large hole (although, sadly, Jim Ed Brown died two and a half months after the announcement of his induction with his sisters was made). The list continues to include what I consider the biggest oversight in the annual induction, the Wilburn Brothers, along with other stalwarts from the 40's-50's as Elton Britt (recipient of the first "gold record" in country music history), Al Dexter (a man so popular that his "Pistol Packin' Mama" led to the creation of the Billboard country music singles chart), the Stanley Brothers (who, along with Flatt & Scuggs and Bill Monroe, were the chief founding pioneers of bluegrass), Johnny Horton, Cowboy Copas, and Hank Locklin (whose 1960 hit "Please Help Me, I'm Falling" was the fourth biggest song of the entire decade of the 1960's).
However, if I had a vote, this year it would go to the Maddox Brothers and Rose.
The Hall of Fame closed an exhibit on the "Bakersfield sound" at the conclusion of 2014. That exhibit started with the Maddox Brothers and Rose and meandered through their career and their significance as pioneers who put Bakersfield on the country music map. Don Maddox, the final surviving member, turned 93 in December, and it would be wonderful to see the Maddox Brothers & Rose receive enshrinement while he's still alive to see and enjoy it. Once he's gone, so's the history.
This is another place where a backlog is starting to pile up, thanks to long-ignored superstars from the 60's-80's such as Ray Stevens (one of only two recipients of a gold record for a country comedy song ["The Streak," 1974), Jerry Reed (known worldwide thanks to his acting and singing in Smoky and the Bandit), Freddie Hart (one of four "20 biggest acts of the 70's" listed in the Whitburn who hasn't been inducted yet, he did the #1 song of the 70's, "My Hang-Up Is You" as well and became the first person to win the CMA "Song of the Year" two consecutive years for "Easy Lovin'"), and Charlie Rich. From the "neo-traditional" resurgence of the 80's acts such as Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, and Dwight Yoakam, and Keith Whitley (all of whom Garth Brooks mentioned in his induction speech in 2012).
My vote would go to -- and, oh, is my dad going to kill me for saying this -- Hank Williams Jr.
A lot of people -- myself included -- argue that Hank Jr. paved that slippery slope of "more-rock-than-country" country music that led Nashville down the pit it's in now (and cannot seem to climb out of). But if Hank Jr. paved that road Garth drove it, and he's in the Hall of Fame. If you go back to the late 60's and well into the 70's you'll see Hank Jr. was just as country as anyone; and, in many cases (the "countrypolitan" pop of acts like Olivia Newton-John and Bobby Goldsboro), more country, thanks to songs like "I Walked Out on Heaven" and "Cajun Baby." Earlier I mentioned those "top artists" listed in the back of the country Whitburn. Hank Jr. is lucky #13 on the ALL-TIME list of successful country singers based on singles chart success as listed in the 1944-1993 Whitburn. The twelve acts listed above him are all Hall of Famers. As for the acts below him, you have to go to #36 -- Tanya Tucker -- to find another person not in the Hall of Fame. Yes, I know he has ruffled a few feathers. However, much like the Wilburn Brothers, it's not supposed to be a hall of personal or corporate vendettas or CMA pets. It's a hall of fame, and -- like it or not -- Hank Jr. qualifies.
ROTATING CATEGORY: NON-PERFORMER:
This is the year for the non-performers to be acknowledged. Again, there are a wide variety of areas to look to find worthy people. Being a writer, I gravitate toward people such as Dr. Bill C. Malone, the man who literally wrote the book on country music (1968's Country Music U.S.A.), or legendary author and scholar Charles K. Wolfe, who wrote books on everything from the fiddle to the early days of the Grand Ole Opry (A Good Natured Riot) and everyone from Leadbelly to the Louvin Brothers. There are no historians inducted in the Hall of Fame, and that really needs to change.
However, again this year (and every third year until the Hall of Fame eventually wipes the egg off its face and inducts him), my vote would go to Sydney Nathan.
In the early 40's the hotbed of country music wasn't Nashville, it was Cincinnati. While publishing companies and record labels pooh-poohed the idea of signing "hillbilly" singers or, worse, publishing their songs, Syd Nathan used his keen businessman's sense and noticed that "hillbilly" records were selling very, very well in his Cincinnati record store. With a deep well of talent to draw from in the area (including future hall of famers Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones, Homer & Jethro, and the Delmore Brothers, and should-be hall of famers such as Moon Mullican and Cowboy Copas), Sydney Nathan founded the nation's first all-hillbilly music label in 1943, King Records. Nathan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the label's work with pioneering R&B acts such as James Brown, and into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame because of the presence of the Stanley Brothers and Reno & Smiley. He did much more for country music than either of those genres, and yet he continues to be ignored by the genre of music he helped popularize thanks to easy access to recordings.
The 2016 Hall of Fame inductees will be announced in the spring.