It’s about that time of year again to start considering who the Country Music Hall of Fame will include in their list of 2015 inductees. That said, this announcement seems to inch later, and later (and later) each year. 2012, the inductees were announced on March 6th. 2013 stretched to April 10th. In 2014 they made us wait all the way to April 22nd. Hopefully this year they’re a little more punctual, but there’s no set time they’ll be announced. (UPDATE: The inductees will be announced at 10 AM CDT on Wednesday 3/25) Nonetheless, if you want your opinion to amount to anything, you better get it out there early in the year as the people who make the picks for the final ballots and eventually inductees are doing their homework.
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 songwriter, Hank Cochran, selected in 2014, and a non-performer in “Cowboy” Jack Clement selected in 2013 (though he was a performer and songwriter, it was more for his producer role), it would a recording and/or touring musician’s turn up to bat in 2015.
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 – Ronnie Milsap
”Saving Country Music Prediction: Alan Jackson
”Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot: Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam
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, Jackson has sold 80 million records and amassed 35 #1 singles, and the whole while 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 considered this year’s strongest candidate. 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), but he also has a total of 16 CMA Awards, including three Entertainer of the Year wins. Though being named the Hall “Artist-in-Residence” is in no way associated with induction, it sometimes has been a precursor to the distinction, and Jackson was named to the residence post in 2014. Coinciding with his big 25 Year Anniversary tour, Jackson would be an excellent choice.
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. And just like Alan Jackson, Skaggs was named a Hall of Fame “Artist in Residence” in 2013. Skaggs has to be considered a frontrunner.
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 an ever crowded of a field? And does the fact that they’re no longer a functioning act hurt them, or is their upcoming Las Vegas residency with Hall of Famer Reba McEntire and Dunn’s signing with NASH Icon make it a good excuse to make it their year? A few more names may have to tick off the list before its their turn, but they have to be considered contenders.
Randy Travis – There is no question he will eventually be in the Hall of Fame, but with the star continuing to battle with health issues in what might be a very long recovery after a serious stroke, the committee may still wait for a more appropriate time in the future to honor Randy with this distinction. Randy’s role in reigniting interest in country music as a commercial enterprise laid the groundwork for the “Class of ’89.” He’s sold over 25 million records and had 22 number one hits. Many of the eligible and inducted members to the Hall of Fame in the Modern Era category directly owe at least a portion of their success to Randy Travis. Regardless of his short round of strange behavior where the star faced multiple arrests for drunkenness, he’s still a much loved and respected artist who deserves this honor.
The Oak Ridge Boys – With the induction of Ronnie Milsap last year, this brings into focus some of the more veteran acts in the Modern Era window as strong possibilities, either for this year’s selection, or for selection in the coming years. The Oak Ridge Boys hold a special place in the hearts of many country music listeners for their invaluable contributions like “Elvira,” and “(I’m Settin’) Fancy Free,” but will their history as a predominantly gospel band hold them back from this country music distinction? What nobody can take away from their Oak Ridge Boys was their massive influence on vocal arrangements with their unique baritone, bass, tenor, and lead lineup. The Oak Ridge Boys took singing to an entirely new level for groups in the mainstream, and they continue to hold a special place in the hearts of many country music listeners.
Kenny Chesney – That’s right, as crazy as it seems, it was 20 years ago that Kenny Chesney released his first major label album with BNA and had two Top 10 singles, “Fall In Love” and “All I Need to Know,” making him officially eligible for Hall of Fame distinction. It’s hard to see him seriously considered until a few other names tick off the list, principally Alan Jackson, but stranger things have happened. Consider this: Chesney has been country music’s only active and consistent stadium draw for the last decade or so. Taylor Swift and George Strait have moved on, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan only recently reached the stadium level, and even the returning Garth Brooks is settling for arenas (though in fairness, usually on multiple nights.) Chesney’s sold 30 million albums and had 30 Top 10 singles. Get ready for a reality where Kenny is a serious contender for Hall of Fame distinction.
Other Potential Modern Era Inductees:
- 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 since he didn’t start to peak until the 2000’s.
- Marty Stuart – With all Marty has done and continues to do for the music, it’s time to start considering him to join his wife Connie Smith in The Hall.
- Travis Tritt
- Tim McGraw
- The Judds
- Charlie Daniels
- Tayna Tucker
- Crystal Gayle
- Gene Watson
- Mickey Gilley
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
”Last year’s inductee Mac Wiseman
”Saving Country Music Prediction – Jerry Lee Lewis
”Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot – The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Jerry Reed, John Hartford, Johnny Paycheck.
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees. Mac Wiseman from last year came in as a complete surprise to some, but apparently was a final ballot name for years leading up to his induction.
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. Rose Maddox as a sole inductee is also a possibility.
Jerry Lee Lewis He felt like the front runner last year, and with the lack of a clear front runner this year, this might be his opportunity. 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. And yes, let’s not discount the possibility of putting him in as a session player since 2015 is the year for such a distinction in the rotation. It may be the best way for Jerry Reed to get in.
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 by 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 women are right on the bubble, as they have probably been for many years. Since there wasn’t a woman inductee the last couple of years and there’s no strong female contenders in the Modern Era category, the pressure to include a woman from the veteran field in 2015 might be greater.
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 years 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 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 was the induction of Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement in 2013. 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.
Other Possible Veterans Era Inductees:
- Jimmy Martin
- Vern Gosdin
- Ralph Stanley
- Johnny Horton
- The Browns and/or Jim Ed Brown
- June Carter Cash
- Wynn Stewart
- Jimmy C. Newman – Should be considered in future years, but a stipulation in the rules saying recently-deceased performers have to wait a year will keep him off the ballot in 2015.
Potential Recording / Touring Musician Inductees
”Last year’s inductee – Hank Cochran (songwriter)
”Saving Country Music Prediction – ??? Grady Martin maybe.
”Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot – Jerry Reed, Jesse McReynolds, Don Kelley, Redd Volkaert, Ralph Mooney.
This is a hard one, but as said above, this may be a way to put Jerry Reed in the Hall without having to wait in line in the overcrowded Veteran’s category. Jesse McReynolds is another maestro of his instrument who may be known just as much as a performer, but might be a solid consensus pick for this position. Guitarist Grady Martin is a real possibility, as is steel guitarist Pete Drake. Don Kelley and Redd Volkaert are some older names it would be nice to see get some attention, and nobody did more for the steel guitar than Ralph Mooney. Mac McAnally is the perennial winner of the CMA’s Musician of the Year, so maybe he has a shot. In a few years, Sam Bush and “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan should start to be considered. But really, this is a wide open field, and it’s anyone’s guess.