There’s no other night in Nashville quite like it – an occasion for Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Vince Gill to tip their hats to the songwriting talents who helped shape their careers.
Those stars were all present at the annual Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction gala, which took place Sunday night in Music City Center’s Grand Ballroom.
Still, the spotlight remained firmly on this year’s inductees: Hillary Lindsey, Gary Nicholson, David Malloy and Steve Wariner, as well as the late Chips Moman and this year’s most high-profile inductee, Shania Twain.
Twain wasn’t able to attend Sunday’s gala, but expressed her gratitude in a prerecorded video.
For the remaining inductees, it was a striking opportunity to reflect on a long journey from their hometown to one of Music City’s most esteemed clubs – and the friends, mentors and champions they found along the way.
Underwood and Urban teamed up to perform one of each artist’s most popular songs: “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Both were co-written by Lindsey, a modern Music Row giant who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility.
From scoring her first No. 1 20 years ago with Martina McBride’s “Blessed,” the Belmont alumnae went on to work extensively with Underwood, Lady Gaga and Little Big Town, for starters.
“It’s like blind dating at first,” she told The Tennessean before the ceremony. “And you either get the feeling or you don’t. And for me, that’s kind of what it’s all about.”
Lindsey’s career began just as the music industry underwent a digital revolution, and adjusting to the streaming market in the past decade has brought its share of challenges and frustrations, she said.
“But then it never fails. You go in and you write something and you get those goosebumps. And you get the fire all over again.”
Wariner’s Sunday morning began with a congratulatory text from his pal Lee Roy Parnell.
“I told him, ‘I’m still waiting for the call, Lee Roy, where they’re gonna say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake. We meant (a different) Steve.’ And he goes, ‘No, brother, you’re not gonna get that call.’”
It’s safe to say everyone at Music City Center sided with Lee Roy. Wariner, a country star and acclaimed guitarist, wrote or co-wrote many of his own hits, including “Holes In the Floor of Heaven,” “Two Teardrops” and “You Can Dream of Me.” He’s also co-written hits for Clint Black, Urban and Brooks, and is member of the Grand Ole Opry and Musicians Hall of Fame.
Brooks took the stage Sunday to perform “Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” and Wariner was inducted by another self-penning country star, Bill Anderson.
“I’m living a dream, really,” Wariner said. “That stuff when you’re a little kid, in a small town in the cornfields of Indiana, you dream about coming here. I never did say, ‘I want to be a star.’ I always said, ‘I want to be a part of making records and writing songs.’”
Vince Gill took the stage to perform his 1993 hit “One More Last Chance,” which the country star wrote with Nicholson. He had one heck of a band with him, including Delbert McClinton, Shawn Camp and Michael Rhodes, while Rodney Crowell had the honor of inducting Nicholson.
The occasion had Nicholson reflecting back on his earliest days on Music Row. He and Gill had worked together a full decade before that hit, playing guitars on a Guy Clark album produced by Crowell.
“They’re all my most revered heroes to begin with,” he said. “So I was very fortunate to land where I did. … I would tell any budding songwriter to develop relationships with great singers. And in my case, there have been many great singers that have come my way for me to collaborate with.”
When he was in the ninth grade, David Malloy had to write an essay about what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer? “Future Nashville Cat.”
The son of Nashville recording engineer Jim Malloy grew up having legends like Roy Orbison stop by the house, and from an early age, he knew he was on a different tack.
“They were just bigger than life,” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can’t be bigger than life. This is too much for me. I just want to make music, but I don’t necessarily want to be out in front of a whole bunch of people.’”
From assisting his dad in the studio to going into A&R, Malloy eventually found his way to songwriting success, particularly through teaming up with Even Stevens and Eddie Rabbitt for hits like Rabbitt’s “Drivin’ My Life Away” and “Suspicions.” After Hall of Fame member Rhett Akins performed his version of “Drivin’” Stevens inducted Malloy into the Hall.
“We always felt like we were a trio,” Malloy said. “Eddie and Even are already in here. I feel like I’m the third leg of a three legged table, and finally, the third leg’s in. I get to hold up my part of it.”