It's that time of year again when the annual voting is taking place for the Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition to the annual categories for Modern and Veterans era candidates, this year the rotating category is for Recording and/or Touring Musician.
To review how the election takes place, "the Veterans and Modern Era categories will have separate Nominating Committees, each made up of 12 industry leaders who serve three-year terms. The Modern Era Nominating Committee will also oversee the Rotating Categories. Two anonymous Panels of Electors will be established, with one panel voting for the Modern Era and Rotating Categories, while the second votes for the Veterans Era category. Among all voters, there will be two rounds of ballots. In the first round, each voter will choose five candidates from the nominated list of 10-20 candidates. In the second round, voters will select one nominee from the top five."
As far how the categories are defined:
Modern Era: An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 20 years after they first achieve national prominence. They will remain eligible for that category for the next 25 years. For this year, that would be the years 1995-1970.
Veterans Era: An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 45 years after they first achieve national prominence. For this year, that would be prior to 1970.
Since these categories were established in 2009, here are the names that have been elected, listed in order of Modern Era, Veterans Era and the Rotating category:
2009: Barbara Mandrell; Roy Clark; Charlie McCoy
2010: Don Williams; Jimmy Dean; Ferlin Husky (tie); Billy Sherrill
2011: Reba McEntire; Jean Shepard; Bobby Braddock
2012: Garth Brooks; Connie Smith; Hargus "Pig" Robbins
2013: Kenny Rogers: Bobby Bare; Cowboy Jack Clement
2014: Ronnie Milsap; Mac Wiseman; Hank Cochran
Over the past several years, the announcement has come in April but the voting is now taking place. Various lists have already been posted on internet sites and magazines, listing candidates who these writers feel are finalists or at the very least, should receive serious consideration. As a reminder, when looking at these lists, they are not always accurate. You just have to look at the last several years. The two previous Veterans Era inductees, Mac Wiseman and Bobby Bare, were both missing from any finalist lists for the year they were elected (although they had appeared in prior years), while Cowboy Jack Clement was missing totally. So in many ways, the writers are just making guesses, like many of us will be doing.
In looking at possibilities for this year, let's start with the Rotating category, which this year is for Recording and/or Touring Musician. Since this category was established, those elected have included Floyd Cramer, Harold Bradley, Charlie McCoy and Pig Robbins, all Nashville based musicians and session players. Seems like a trend is developing! If you follow that trend, you would have to look at Pete Drake, Buddy Harman, Hank Garland and Weldon Myrick. Certainly no voter would go wrong voting for any of these. Now if you were considering a Touring Musician, the two names that come first are Don Rich and Beecher Ray Kirby, better known as Brother Oswald.
There seems to be a lot of support and people for Don Rich to get elected to the Hall. Don was a member of The Buckaroos and helped to develop the Bakersfield sound in the early 1960s. He was a guitarist, fiddler and vocalist. While other members of The Buckaroos would come and go over the years, Don was the one constant member until his death in 1974. Buck Owens was devastated by his death and would later say, "He was like a brother, a son, and a best friend. Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he died." As talented as Buck was, Don clearly helped to make Buck's sound and contributed greatly to his success. If there was one person who could get elected this year who is not connected to Nashville, it would be Don Rich.
In looking at the Veterans Era category, which is in many ways the category most are interested in, the names most frequently mentioned seem to be Jim Ed Brown, either individually or with The Browns and Dottie West. Other potential names that have surfaced in the past have included Jerry Reed, Archie Campbell, Ray Stevens, Wilburn Brothers, and if you go way back, Bradley Kincaid.
Bradley Kincaid is probably the last of the pre-World War II pioneers that has not been elected that probably should have been. Somehow he got missed and while it was a surprise that the voters went way back and elected Mac Wiseman last year, I don't think the same thing will happen this year with Bradley. For those who don't know, Bradley performed early on with Grandpa Jones and was a star of the WLS Barn Dance. In fact, Bradley gave Grandpa his nickname.
Archie Campbell was a great comedian, songwriter, Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw star. Archie came to Nashville in the late 1950s and was a member of the Opry until his death in 1987. In addition to his on-air role, he was one of the chief writers on Hee Haw. The Wilburn Brothers, Teddy and Doyle, were child stars who originally came to the Opry in 1940. Due to child labor laws, they were forced to leave, but they came back in the 1950s. For over 10 years they hosted their own syndicated television show and were instrumental in the careers of several artists, including Loretta Lynn and Patty Loveless. Despite all of the albums and records they recorded, they never had a #1 hit. They joined the Opry in 1953. Doyle died in 1982 while Teddy continued as a solo act until his death in 2003.
Jerry Reed was a singer, guitarist, songwriter, comedian and actor. During his career, Jerry recorded 49 albums and had 59 singles on the charts, 4 of which went to #1. He was in over a dozen movies, the majority with his friend Bert Reynolds. Jerry is also one of only 4 individuals to be tagged with the honor of "Certified Guitar Player" by Chet Atkins. His career lasted from the late 1950s through the 1980s. Jerry passed away in 2008 and after his death, Rich Kienzle wrote, "Reed set a standard that inspires fingerstyle players the way Merle and Chet inspired him." Without question, Jerry deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Ray Stevens is another interesting candidate. This prolific singer, songwriter and comedian has recorded 43 albums and has had 93 singles on the charts, in a career that started in the late 1950s and is still going strong today. 2 of those singles have gone to #1 on the charts. He has been nominated for 11 Grammy awards and has won 2. He is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and I tried to count how many songs he has actually written but the list is way too long.
The final 2 veterans era artists that I want to mention, and the 2 that will probably receive the most attention are Dottie West and Jim Ed Brown/The Browns. For the last three years, there has been an every growing campaign to get Dottie elected to the Hall of Fame. There are some heavy hitters involved including Kenny Rogers, Steve Wariner, Larry Gatlin, Jeannie Seely and her daughter Shelly West. It seems that each year her support has been growing and many think that this could be the year. Dottie had a successful career as a solo artist and as a duet partner. Her career started in the late 1950s and was she was still doing well when she passed away in 1991. For the first part of her career, she presented herself as a wholesome country gal, but then in the late 1970s, she presented herself in a new "sexy" that led to new success for her. During her career, she recorded just over 70 singles and had 7 #1 hits. In addition to her successful recording career, she also influenced and helped many artists along with way including Larry Gatlin and Steve Wariner, along with a number of female entertainers. You can't talk about Dottie without considering her personal life, which included a lot of struggles. Yes, she had a tough life, no doubt about that, but I have not heard of any voter who has said that they were holding that against her. If anything, there is sympathy for her. Without question, Dottie should be in the Hall.
Jim Ed Brown, either individually or with The Browns, Maxine and Bonnie, has had a remarkable career. A solo artist, a duet partner, and a member of a trio, he has had success each time. Jim Ed has had 22 albums on the charts, along with 51 singles. The amazing thing is that he has had only 1 #1 record, "I Don't Want to Have to Marry You" with Helen Cornelius. The argument against the Browns might be that their career was very short, with "The Three Bells" being their only #1 record. Their recording career started in 1954 and by 1968 they were done. They joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1963, but by 1967 the sisters had retired. They made a lot of beautiful music during that time. The voters are going to have a decision to make: do they elect The Browns as a group, or Jim Ed Brown as a solo artist?
There are a lot more Veterans era names that will be talked about, some very deserving including Hank Williams Jr., Ralph Stanley and Charlie Daniels. But if I had to list any favorites, it would those listed above.
The Modern Era will also provoke a lot of discussion. Back in 2012 when Garth Brooks was elected, there was a lot of thought that it would lead to others of his generation going into the Hall, while other artists who's careers had started earlier, would be left out. That has turned out not to be the case as in the years after Garth, Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap have been elected, both who had careers that started in the 1970s. It was always assumed that after Garth, who was proceeded into the Hall by Vince Gill, that Alan Jackson would be the next of that generation to be elected, and then the flood gates would open for others, including The Judds and Brooks & Dunn among others. Assuming that Alan Jackson does not get elected this year, which I think will again be the case, there are several others to watch for that will receive strong consideration.
Numerous names have been mentioned in the past including Clint Black, Tanya Tucker, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis and Oak Ridge Boys. From that list, I would say that Clint Black has no chance of getting elected this year. He is still young and his time will come. Tanya Tucker is an interesting name. She has had a career that started in her teens and then continued as she grew older. She has had 66 singles on the charts, including an impressive 15 #1 hits. At the age of 56, the majority of her career is behind her and while I am pretty sure she will be in the Hall of Fame someday, it will just not be this year.
Ricky Skaggs has had a career as a country singer, bluegrass singer, songwriter, musician and producer. In the early 1980s, along with Randy Travis, they helped to turn the direction of country music back to a more traditional sound. His careeer started before the age of 10 as he was playing with Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, among others. His peak career was in the 1980s when he won numerous awards including the CMA's Entertainer of the Year award. 32 albums have produced 39 singles, including 13 #1 records. Switching his career focus from country to bluegrass might have hurt him, but at the time his country recording career was already on the downhill cycle. Like a few others in Nashville, there is a reputation about Ricky and the famous nickname of "Pricky-Ricky." No matter what some might think, Ricky deserves election to the Hall of Fame.
That brings me to the 2 names that will probably receive the most consideration, as well as they should: Randy Travis and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Randy Travis has had his recent issues and who knows if he will ever record or sing again. But what a voice and what a string of hits he had. In the 1980s, he was a regular award winner, yet for all his success he never won the Entertainer of the Year award. At last count, he has had 54 singles on the charts, including 23 #1 hits. His album total is 36. In addition to his singing talents, he is also a fine actor and has also made some memorable music videos. The knock on Randy has always been that he is nothing more than a singer, that he has never written any of his songs or plays any real musical instruments. I don't know how much that will play into the discussion but what I know is that in the 1990s I saw Randy in concert and it was one of the finest shows I have seen. Randy was in Nashville last week and was backstage at the Opry, a place where he was noticed. He spent time talking to Connie Smith and Loretta Lynn, both Hall of Fame members. With the voting currently taking place, it doesn't hurt to be seen and making sure people remember. I am sure his behavioral issues prior to his health issues hasn't helped, but I think there is a sympathy toward Randy and what has happened to him. I would not be surprised at all to see Randy elected to the Hall of Fame.
Finally, there are the Oak Ridge Boys. Why there guys are not in the Hall is anyone's guess. They are about the nicest people you will find, very involved in the music community, still making records and doing heavy touring. While the Oak Ridge Boys have been around since the late 1940s, the country version first came alive in the early 1970s, which is why I think they would be considered in the Modern era category. Since that time, they have recorded 45 albums that has produced 63 singles. 17 of those went to #1. I honestly thought that after the Statler Brothers were elected, it was just a matter of time before the Oaks joined them. As with Randy Travis, I would not be surprised if this was the year for the Oaks.
Who do I think will get in? Honestly, I have no idea. I have my favorites like many others. It would be nice to see Jim Ed get in while he can still enjoy it. Same with Randy Travis. Yet the Oaks have waited a long time, as did Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers. Or the voters could have their own ideas, like they did with Cowboy Jack and Mac Wiseman. Only time will tell and like the rest, I will be watching.
Now, what do others think?