It’s that time of year again when we’re on the verge of hearing who the next class of inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame will be. Though the date seems to be getting later and later each year (last year it stretched all the way to April 10th—2012 was announced on March 6th), as soon as spring starts to break, you can be assured an announcement is coming soon.
It must be said whenever broaching the subject of the Country Music Hall of Fame that it has been The Hall’s desire over the years to have it be an exclusive institutions when it comes to inductees. Where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and certain sports seem to throw the barn doors wide and accept all comers, the Country Music Hall of Fame would rather take gruff for who is not in the The Hall as opposed to who shouldn’t be, but is. You can always induct someone in the future, but it’s nearly impossible to throw someone out.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association, or CMA. Since 2010, the selection process has been split up into three categories. 1) Modern Era (eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 2) Veterans Era (eligible for induction 45 years after they first achieve “national prominence”). 3) Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician active prior to 1980 (rotates every 3 years). With a musician, Hargus “Pig” Robbins selected in 2012, and a non-performer in “Cowboy” Jack Clement selected last year (though he was a performer and songwriter, it was more for his producer role), it would a songwriter’s turn up to bat this year.
Since 2001, anywhere from 2 to 4 names have been added to the Hall of Fame each year. Usually one name from the above mentioned categories makes it per year, but if no name gets enough of a majority vote, a category may not be represented in a given year. Or, if two names get enough votes from a category, then both may come from that category.
Potential Modern Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Kenny Rogers
Ricky Skaggs Ricky Skaggs is the artist that has felt like he’s been right on the bubble of being inducted over the last couple of years. Skaggs has bookened his career as a mandolin maestro, studied under Bill Monroe, and is now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between then, he had tremendous commercial success in the 80”²s when country was searching for its next superstar. Few could argue with this pick and Skaggs is very well liked across country music. He was also announced recently as the Country Music Hall of Fame’s “Artist in Residence.” Though there is no official correlation between being named an Artist in Residence and being inducted the next year, that coincidence has happened numerous times, including for last year’s modern era inductee, Kenny Rogers. Skaggs has to be considered a frontrunner.
Ronnie Milsap – Milsap is a name that has probably been on final ballots for the Hall of Fame for going on two decades, and in a couple of years will cycle over to a veteran’s era candidate, if he hasn’t already depending on where you want to start the clock on him. Though his commercial success is unquestionable, the fact that he started outside the genre and found a lot of his success as a crossover star might make him a hard name for voters to pull the trigger on. Having said that, seeing another name who started outside of country and had a lot of his success in the crossover world get inducted last year in Kenny Rogers, might move Milsap one step closer.
Alan Jackson 2013 was Jackson’s first year of eligibility, and there was a sense he just missed out on being a first year Modern Era inductee like Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire. A huge commercial success in his day who always payed homage to the roots of the genre and the artists who came before him, Jackson is a shoe-in for The Hall eventually, and should be a very strong candidate this year. He’s well-liked, with little to no baggage (there was that whole George Jones “Choices” thing back in 1999 at the CMA Awards, but hey, that was a long time ago). Alan Jackson is a strong contender.
Randy Travis – At this time last year, despite Randy’s fresh eligibility and unquestionable credentials for the Hall, he was facing a string of drunk driving charges, and spinning the unsavory story of trying to bum a cigarette at a gas station naked. In such a crowded field, it was easy to give Travis a pass. But this year the story is much different. After suffering from a heart condition and stroke while in the midst of a strong recovery from his personal issues, Randy Travis has to be considered the sympathy favorite for the distinction. Will it be enough? Maybe not, but Randy will be a frontrunner in the Modern Era until he’s inducted.
Brooks & Dunn A commercial powerhouse whose career was somewhat overshadowed by the success of Garth and their strange place as a non-familial country duo, their first album Brand New Man sold 6 million copies, and they won the CMA for Vocal Duo of the Year every year but one between 1992 and 2006. Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence it takes to be Hall of Famers this early in their eligibility window, and with this crowded of a field? And does the fact that they’re no longer a functioning act hurt them, or is Kix with his radio work and Dunn with his brewing country revolution still visible enough? A few more names may have to tick off the list before their turn, but they have to be considered contenders.
Other Possible Modern Era Inductees:
- The Oak Ridge Boys – Another Strong Contender
- The Judds
- Dwight Yoakam – You’d think with 25 million records sold, his name would be more associated with this distinction. Maybe in the coming years.
- Keith Whitley – Garth Brooks a couple of years ago said he deserved induction before him.
- Clint Black – If it wasn’t for his career’s disappearing act, his name would be right up there with Travis, Jackson, and Brooks & Dunn
- Toby Keith – Officially eligible because he had his first success in 1993, but probably on the outside-looking-in for the next few years
- Charlie Daniels
- Tayna Tucker
- Crystal Gayle
- Gene Watson
- Mickey Gilley
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
Last year’s inductee – Bobby Bare
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees. It’s made one measure harder by a general lack of chatter out there surrounding potential nominees compared to previous years. But here’s a few educated guesses.
Jerry Lee Lewis – He’s a definite possibility for induction, and with the lack of a clear front runner, this might be his year. He may be held back some since he came from rock & roll, and his antics on The Grand Ole Opry and other places over the years. But his contributions as one of country music’s preeminent piano players cannot be denied. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studios buddy can’t be counted out.
Jerry Reed – Such a great ambassador over the years for country music from his work with Smokey & The Bandit to Scooby-Doo, but Jerry Reed should be inducted for his stellar and influential work as both a performer, songwriter, and a musician. There weren’t many better guitar pickers back in the day than Jerry Reed. And his work as a session musician with so many of country music’s big names made him a well-known and likable character throughout the genre.
Hank Williams Jr. – It’s somewhat hard to know if Hank Jr. should be considered a Veteran or Modern Era candidate because of the double-era aspect of his career, but he’s a contender either way. However despite his two CMA Entertainer of the Year awards and millions of albums sold, you don’t get the sense it’s his time just yet. Only playing around 18 shows a year these days, and generally being once removed from the moving and shaking of the country genre while he pursues a quasi political career, Hank Jr. could be passed over this year others pushing harder for the distinction.
Lynn Anderson & Dottie West Lynn and Dottie are the two ladies that likely lead the field for female veteran inductees. Both of these ladies are right on the bubble, as they have probably been for many years. Since there wasn’t a woman inductee last year and there’s no strong female contenders in the Modern Era category, the pressure to include a woman from the veteran field in 2014 might be greater.
The Maddox Brothers & Rose The Maddox Brothers & Rose was a name that probably wasn’t on many people’s radar until the last couple of years. With their prominent place at the very beginning of the Hall of Fame’s current Bakersfield Sound exhibit, it is hard not to see how important their influence was on country, especially West Coast country, and the flashy dress of country performers that still influences the genre today. It may be a long shot, but if groups like The Jordanaires and The Sons of the Pioneers are in The Hall, certainly The Maddox Brothers & Rose should be. And it would be great to see happen while the final member, the 91-year-old Don Maddox, is still around.
Gram Parsons – Gram’s inclusion here is always a topic of great discussion. In 2013 there was a greater push than ever to induct him, with influential Country Music writer Chet Flippo personally making the case for him, and other chatter that 2013 might be his year. But it wasn’t, and it may be years before it is, but his name is always in the field for this accolade, and looking at the influence Gram had showing millions of rock and roll fans the beauty of country music, it should be.
John Hartford This is a long shot pick, but he deserves induction. As I said in my prognostications from a couple of year ago, “The Country Music Hall of Fame works like a timeline as you walk through the displays that weave around the massive archive in the center of the building. As you start from the beginning, each artist and their impact is displayed on a plaque that includes their Hall of Fame induction date. When I came to the John Hartford display on my last visit to The Hall this summer, he was the first to have a display, but no Hall of Fame induction date.”
Tompall Glaser & The Glaser Brothers – Probably another long shot, but one that has to be considered a more legitimate contender in 2014 with the passing of Tompall last year. It probably helps that his brothers-in-Outlaw-country-arms Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement were inducted last year, moving folks like Tompall and other Outlaw-esque country music personalities one step closer in the process.
Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe These names come up every year from hard country fans, and are names regularly held up as evidence of the Hall of Fame’s illegitimacy. The simple truth is that with these two performer’s shady pasts, Hall of Fame induction is going to be difficult. Johnny Paycheck has a more distinct possibility than David Allan Coe, because Coe could create a public relations nightmare for the Hall of Fame from people (correct or not) who label Coe a racist, sexist, etc. etc. Patience mixed with persistence is what Coe and Paycheck fans need to see their heroes inducted, as time heals all wounds. One positive sign for them is the induction of Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement last year. This means the CMA committee is willing to pick Outlaw artists and personalities for the Hall, and those two inductions move Paycheck and Coe two steps closer.
Randomly, I also think there’s a strong chance that the next major rotating exhibit at The Hall could be a feature on the Outlaw era of country, which might also give people like Paycheck, Coe, Tompall, and others a chance to be featured at the Hall of Fame beyond induction.
Other Possible Veterans Era Inductees:
- Jimmy Martin
- Vern Gosdin
- Ralph Stanley
- Johnny Horton
- The Browns
- June Carter Cash
- Wynn Stewart
- Jim Ed Brown
Potential Songwriter Inductees
Last songwriter inducted – Bobby Braddock in 2011
The 3rd category rotates between a musician, a non-performer (executive, producer, journalist, etc.), or songwriter on different years. 2014 would be a songwriter year.
Though there may be some artists that would technically qualify for induction under this category like Keith Whitley, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, or any number of other artists that have extensive songwriting credits, this category is meant for behind-the-scenes songwriters who would never be inducted if not for this category. Though the award might go to someone with a little more modern success as a songwriter to go along with their storied history, here’s two interesting names that deserve strong consideration.
Hank Cochran – Hank would be a worthy inductee, and it just might happen for him as a songwriter of both critical acclaim and commercial success. It can’t hurt that Jamey Johnson also recently release a tribute to Cochran, making him front-of-mind when voters are thinking of songwriters who deserve this distinction. Cochran should be considered a front runner.
John D. Loudermilk – A cousin to The Louvin Brothers that had great commercial success as a songwriter in the 60’s and 70’s, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1976, and certainly deserves consideration for this distinction. Nonetheless, it’s probably a long shot.
Shel Silverstein would be another interesting name.
Picks and Predictions
Who I Think Will Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs or Alan Jackson – Modern Era
- Jerry Lee Lewis, Vern Gosdin, or Jerry Reed – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter
Who I Think Should Be Inducted
- Ricky Skaggs – Modern Era
- Maddox Brothers & Rose / Tompall & The Glaser Brothers – Veterans Era
- Hank Cochran – Songwriter