Down With the CMA (Part 2-Corruption in Performances)

Well, if you liked Part 1 of ‘Down with the CMA’, this part is gonna blow your doors off.

In the last part we learned from Waylon Jennings about the backroom deals that go on when the CMA decides who to give awards to. Waylon also talked about how he and Ricky van Shelton were asked to cut the songs they were going to perform short for time reasons, and how Waylon and Ricky got in hot water for daring to cross paths with the CMA.

Well these weren’t the biggest altercations over performances at the CMA Awards. That distinction lies with George Jones and Alan Jackson.

Just before the 1999 CMA Awards, George Jones was asked to perform an ‘abbreviated’ version of his song ‘Choices.’ George, feeling that he wasn’t a “baby act” as he put it, refused, and boycotted the show. And in a super act of class, Alan Jackson, while preforming his song “Pop A Top,” cut his own song short, and launched into George’s “Choices.”

‘We were all so nervous,” Alan Jackson later recalled. “The guitarist had this solo in the middle of ”Pop a Top,’ and the song sort of modulates up at the end of the solo. I signaled to him that we were going to do it, and he just stopped. I looked over at him and he was sweating. The boy looked like he was going to bite his lip off. Then I hit that C chord to start ‘Choices.’ ”

As you can see in the above video, the crowd began to roar and rise to their feet when Jackson launched into the George Jones’ comeback hit.

Later in the Awards season, at the ACM Awards, George Jones performed “Choices” in full. Listen to what he has to say at the beginning:

But this is where the story gets juicy. So George’s boycott caused a stir that eventually exposed corruption in the way the CMA decides who gets to play on the awards show. Long story short, there is a committee of 20 major Nashville label people who decide who gets to play, and they push their performers while other performers get left behind.


“According to a report in Tuesday’s (9/14) Nashville Tennesseean, the two events relate to a controversy surrounding the make-up of the board that selects the awards show’s performers. A CMA Awards performance is considered to be one of country music’s prime gigs because exposure to a network TV audience of millions can often result in a significant spike in album sales.”

Six of the 15 members of the CMA television committee — who decide which acts are invited to perform by majority-vote — have ties to the Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and the Universal Music Group, according to the newspaper. Of the 20 available performance slots for this year’s show, 15 were allotted to BMG and Universal acts. Jones’ current album is distributed by WEA, as is Curb’s label. (Mike) Curb was the only member of the TV committee with ties to WEA, which he reportedly feels is a major reason that Jones wasn’t asked to perform a full song.”

“Curb Records President Mike Curb announced that he will step down as a member of the Country Music Association’s television committee after this year, and has asked others with ”conflicts of interest” to resign as well…CMA Executive Director Ed Benson and others have speculated that, rather than shady label politics, Curb’s resignation had to do with the fact that Curb Records’ LeAnn Rimes wasn’t invited to perform this year. She reportedly was asked to be a presenter, but declined the invitation.”

The next year, at the 2000 CMA’s, Alan Jackson performed “Murder on Music Row” with George Strait.

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