Luke Bryan was named Songwriter-Artist of the Year by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) last night (Oct. 23) at Nashville’s Music City Center. Hosted by the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the evening marked the NaSHOF’s 47th Anniversary Hall of Fame gala. The focal point of the evening was the induction of five new members into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Walt Aldridge, DeWayne Blackwell, Vern Godsin, Jim McBride and Tim Nichols became the newest members of the elite institution.
Prior to the Hall of Fame inductions, NSAI awarded the year’s top songs and writers. Keith Urban’s hit “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” written by Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg and Steven Lee Olsen was crowned Song of the Year. The trio performed their winning song and Lindsey was all smiles as she made history by tying a record held for 44-years by Kris Kristofferson as the only three-time NSAI Song of the Year winners. Ashley Gorley, who has co-written such hits as Carrie Underwood’s “Dirty Laundry,” Brad Paisley’s “Today,” and Thomas Rhett’s “T-shirt,” was honored with his third NSAI Songwriter of the year award.
“What an unbelievable room to be in,” Bryan said as he took the stage to accept the Songwriter-Artist honor. “I congratulate all the songwriters in this room that have won previous awards. I look at the list of Hall of Fame writers and it’s just inspiring. It’s been inspiring every time I’ve come to this night, and for all you young writers out there, take this night and use it as fuel to show up on Music Row in the morning and work even harder.”
Bryan expressed his appreciation to his manager, Kerri Edwards, his publishers, collaborators and his lovely wife Caroline. “I want to thank all my co-writers on all of my projects. I could not be anything in this business without my co-writers that keep my attention deficit disorder in line,” he laughed. “And I want to thank my wife for allowing me to do every aspect of this business and allowing me to be a songwriter.”
During the evening, Bryan also took the stage to honor Vern Gosdin, singing “Set ‘Em Up Joe,” a 1988 hit Gosdin penned with Dean Dillon, Buddy Cannon and Hank Cochran. “The first time I ever heard Vern Gosdin’s name I was seven or eight-years-old,” Bryan recalled. “I was sitting on the front steps casting. I used to tie a plastic worm to [a pole] with no hook and I would throw it out there in the yard and watch the cats chase the plastic worm through the yard. I was reeling in my plastic worm through the grass and my sister rolled in. She was 16 or 17-years-old in a Ford Escort with cigarette smoke piling out of the windows and I thought, ‘Mama is gonna whup your ass when she gets home.’ She comes up to the front steps and I said, ‘What have you been doing?’ She said, ‘Me and Brian Hatcher been riding around listening to Vern Gosdin.’
“That’s the first time I heard that name. I always thought about that—how country you must be for your sister to be riding backroads with Brian Hatcher listening to Vern Gosdin at the age of 16,” he said. “I never forgot that name. As I got older, that’s when I found out about the music, and when you play I honky tonks at the age of 19, it doesn’t get any better than being in a honky tonk playing Vern Gosdin music.”
Gosdin’s longtime friend and co-writer Buddy Cannon shared highlights of Gosdin’s career and introduced a clip of the legendary performer singing “Chiseled in Stone” on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Cannon accepted the award on behalf of Gosdin, who passed away in 2009.
Aldridge was inducted by fellow Muscle Shoals veteran Mac McAnally. James LeBlanc performed “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” and Earl Thomas Conley sang his 1983 hit “Holdin’ Her and Lovin’ You,” penned by Aldridge and Tom Brasfield.
McBride was inducted by his longtime friend/hit songwriter Jerry Salley. The Lonesome River Band performed “Rose in Paradise,” which was a hit for Waylon Jennings and has been recorded by many others including Chris Young.
Then Alan Jackson took the stage to honor McBride, performing “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Chattahoochee” and “Hole in the Wall.” “I’m so proud for you and so honored to be here,” Alan Jackson said addressing his longtime friend and collaborator. “When I came to Nashville, Jim was kind enough to share his talent with me and we wrote a bunch of songs together. Some of them were hits. He was already an established and mature songwriter and I’m sure his publisher said, ‘We got this young boy from Georgia we’d like you to write with.’ And he was probably thinking, ‘God almighty, another old boy coming to town wanting to be a star and I’ve got to write with him.’ I used to hear that a lot, but Jim was kind enough to write with me. We hit it off pretty good, being kind of similar Georgia/Alabama boys that grew up the same way so we related to a lot of these subjects.”
Nichols was inducted by longtime friend Rusty Gaston, one of his partners in the successful publishing company THiS Music. Gaston praised Nichols, not only for his songwriting accomplishments, but also his upbeat attitude and ability to inspire others. Dustin Lynch echoed those sentiments. “Back in 2003, I went to watch Tim Nichols play a Bluebird Café show. He shook my hand and I freaked out,” Lynch recalled “So Tim, thank you so shaking my hand that night. Thank you for writing songs with me. Thank you for your great spirit. Thank you for being a great teacher.”
Lynch performed “Cowboys & Angels,” which he wrote with Nichols and Josh Leo. He then launched into “Live Like You Were Dying,” the Tim McGraw hit Nichols penned with Craig Wiseman. Before Lynch took the stage, Lee Ann Womack performed “I’m Over You,” a hit for the late Keith Whitley, written by Nichols and Zack Turner.
Ken Paulson, dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, inducted DeWayne Blackwell. The Bundys performed “Mr. Blue” and Craig Campbell delivered the Garth Brooks hit “Friends in Low Places.” Blackwell is in poor health and couldn’t attend the event, but his son Gentry gave a speech that would have made him proud.
One of the highlights of the evening came when NSAI presented the “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written Awards” as voted by the organization’s professional membership. Early in his career, Bryan was honored in that category for “Good Directions,” the 2006 chart-topping Billy Currington hit he penned with Rachel Thibodeau. “Now years into my career and having never won one since then I understand, it’s such an important award,” he commented. “It’s such an important night and it’s such a hard room to get recognized in because of all the talent.”
Here’s a complete list of recipients:
“80s MERCEDES,” written by busbee/Maren Morris, recorded by Maren Morris)
“BETTER MAN,” written by Taylor Swift; recorded by Little Big Town
“BODY LIKE A BACK ROAD,” written by Josh Osborne, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally and Zach Crowell; recorded by Sam Hunt
“DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS,” written by JT Harding and Shane McAnally; recorded by Dierks Bentley ft. Elle King
“DIRT ON MY BOOTS,” written by Ashley Gorley, Jesse Frasure, and Rhett Akins; recorded by Jon Pardi
“DRINKIN’ PROBLEM,” written by Cameron Duddy, Jess Carson, Josh Osborne, Mark Wystrach and Shane McAnally; recorded by Midland
“H.O.L.Y.” written by busbee, Nate Cyphert and William Larsen; recorded by Florida Georgia Line
“KILL A WORD,” written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde and Luke Dick, recorded by Eric Church
“PETER PAN,” written by Forest Glen Whitehead, Jesse Lee and Kelsea Ballerini; recorded by Kelsea Ballerini
“VICE,” written by Josh Osborne, Shane McAnally and Miranda Lambert; recorded by Miranda Lambert