2023 COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTEES
I'm not a big proponent of women "getting their due", especially when it comes to the Country Music Hall Of Fame. I do celebrate important artists getting their due. The decision to elect Tanya Tucker, songwriter Bob McDill, and Patty Loveless to the hall of fame was good, and it was sound.
I have my quibbles with how these decisions are made -- the electors are anonymous, although somebody knows who they are, based on the advocacy campaigns that are obviously conducted. The limit of one person elected from each of three categories -- veteran, modern era, and non-performer, is ludicrous. There is such a huge backlog, it guarantees that many, many deserving performers and non-performers will never make it.
And to repeat a point, it is political. Nashville, where the HOF is located, is still a cloistered musical community. Yes, both Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are in the hall, but how could they not be? Begrudgingly elected or not, the hall would be seen as illegitimate without these two giants' inclusion. But the Bakersfield sound, even after all these years, is still an ugly, albeit wildly successful stepchild, according to Nashville. Which explains why, once again, Dwight Yoakam has been overlooked. I'm not saying he deserved the honor before Patty -- okay, I am -- which is to say that, based on his wildly successful and long-term career, not to mention the influence he's had on new artists, he should already be in the hall. But I nurse little resentments every year when the announcement is made. I lobbied hard (on my blog that apparently no one reads) for years for Bobby Bare's election, and I whined incessantly (but justifiably) as Jerry Lee Lewis kept getting older and weaker and he still hadn't been inducted. Belatedly both artists finally made it, clawing and scratching, no doubt, but at least unlike Faron Young, they were both alive to savor the honor.
All that said, this year's selections are choice. Let's start with the Veteran Era.
I'd always had a quixotic dream of becoming a singer. I'd only sung in public a few times when I was nine, but I sang along with records always. (Does that count?) It was one of those romantic notions all kids have at some point. If only I had a chance to prove myself! Then they'd see! So imagine my chagrin when I was sixteen, applying my makeup in the bathroom mirror before school, and this little brat came on the radio. The DJ made a point of mentioning that she was only thirteen. Damn her, she was good!
Despite my pout, I went out and bought her first album, and her second, and then her third. She didn't sound like every other female artist on the radio. She sounded nothing like any female artist on the radio. She had a whiskey voice, although I'm assuming the whiskey drinking didn't happen until later. Through most of the seventies Tanya Tucker was an artist worth claiming. Then she had a period during which I guess she didn't much care, so neither did I. Her face was on the cover of the National Enquirer more than on the cover of a new album release. Everybody, especially somebody who became a professional before she even hit her teens, deserves to sow their wild oats, and thus Tanya did.
But almost as quickly as I cast off her memory, she suddenly reappeared. And boy, did she. Beginning in 1986 she released track after track, all good; superior, really, and didn't stop until the nineties were waning. If 1971 marked her zenith, the nineteen eighties were her resurrection.
Yea, Tanya Tucker is deserving.
And I got over my pique.*
I didn't know who Vince Gill was when I first heard When I Call Your Name. He clearly had a stellar voice and the song was superb, but it was that woman singing harmony that sealed the deal. Who was she? No clue. Even her face on the video was in shadow.
She was outstanding enough, though, for me to search out who the heck she was. I wouldn't have to wait long.
Her voice wasn't whiskey-tinged; it was sweet tea swirled with a teaspoon of bluegrass. Patty could belt out a trad-country tune like nobody since Loretta. And man, could she hit those high notes. Not like a pop diva, but enfolding the heartbreak and releasing it with a breath-catching cry.
Not that it was all heartache with Patty:
In the pantheon of female country singers, there is no disputing that Patty Loveless rests easily in the top five.
Good songwriting is deceptively difficult. One who's never done it thinks, well, how hard can it be? You just rhyme stuff. Right?**
No, songwriting isn't poetry and it isn't prose. Smart songwriting (see: country) requires the melding of emotion (in a few, tiny words) with a melody that somehow manages to punch you in the gut. Easy, right?
And everything Bob McDill wrote wasn't frankly sentimental. What country fan hasn't cheered this one on?
Successful songwriters don't hew to a formula. They write what they write. Some days they feel sad, some days wistful, some days a bit feisty. They're not trying to compile a catalog. Naturally-gifted songwriters let the chips fall, and if they don't manage to fall, ehh. There's always another song to write. Writers write; that's what they do. The great ones soar to the top. Bob McDill is a great one.
I don't know if the induction ceremony will be televised. They certainly haven't been broadcast in recent years. Sad. Maybe I can catch the highlights on YouTube. These rituals are important, as much as the world may have moved on. But I'd give three dollars and ninety-nine cents (what I paid for Tanya's first album) to watch her croak out her acceptance speech. I bet it'll be a good one.
~ Michelle Anderson, Senior County Editor
*I eventually became an indie recording artist.
**I eventually became a country songwriter.