Miranda Lambert, Ronnie Dunn Help Induct Texas 2024 Songwriters

Jack Ingram / Tanya Tucker / Miranda Lambert / Ronnie Dunn / Jon Randall

In Texas, songwriting is a different animal from what it is in Nashville, Los Angeles, or other places. Instead of trying to make hits, they’re trying to stand on the shoulders of the greats that came before them. They’re trying to live up to the legacy minted by folks like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt. Sure, if they can have a hit too, that’s great. But they’re trying to join the pantheon of great Texas songwriters who came before them, and become part of the fabric of Texas history.

On Saturday night, February 24th, six more Texas songwriters were elevated to that stature as inductees into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame. This is not some state-specific accolade that is mostly symbolic. The names inducted previously, and the people who show up to honor these songwriters bestows a weight to the honor that is comparable to any other songwriter hall of fame in the world. After all, this is Texas.

Jack Ingram, Jon Randall, Ruthie Foster, Terry McBride, and guitar maestro Eric Johnson made up the 2024 inductees, with Miranda Lambert, Ronnie Dunn, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett all appearing and performing with the inductees as part of the evening. Tanya Tucker was also honored with the Darrell K Royal Texas Music Legend Award. A theme that emerged over the night way trying to define what songwriting is, and where it comes from.

“Hell, I don’t know,” Jack Ingram said at one point. “Merle Haggard grew up in a boxcar. I grew up on a golf course.”

When he was handed the Texas Heritage Songwriters trophy fashioned out of a sculpture of Willie Nelson, Ingram looked at it and said, “How am I going to roll this up and smoke it?” making reference to the famous Willie Nelson song. But then the weight of both the trophy and the moment seemed to hit Ingram.

“I picked up a guitar because I couldn’t listen to music anymore without wanting to climb inside of it,” he recalled. “I just was consumed by it … When you give up control, or trying to control, and you just let the universe come to you, that when this kind of magic happens. Because you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re not supposed to. That’s why it makes us feel the way we do when we write a song. I talk about anxiety, and I found the answer. I mean, I take drugs too. But for me, about two or three hours after writing a song, I feel like I’m flying.”

Jack Ingram, pondering how to smoke Willie

Ruthie Foster had a similar notion about songs. “I think they come from the ether. They come from everything, and they belong to everyone.”

Foster told a story of one time staying in Latvia. “They knew I was Tracy Chapman,” she said with a laugh. She then talked about moving away from Texas to New York to pursue her career, and then losing her record deal, and her marriage to come back to Texas to be with her mother in her final years, and how her experience as a Texan became such an important part of her songwriting.

Ruthie Foster

For Jon Randall, he made sure to highlight how he didn’t get where he was without the help of others, telling an anecdote he once heard from Bill Anderson, who he wrote the 2005 CMA Song of the Year “Whiskey Lullaby” with. “If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, rest assured it didn’t get there by itself. I’m a turtle on a fence post tonight if there ever was one.”

Randall also told a story of two birds for sale in a cage. One bird was pretty and singing songs, and the other was ugly and sitting in the bottom of the cage. The owner said you can’t just buy one bird, because the pretty bird sings the songs, but the ugly bird writes them. That’s how he introduced Emmylou Harris, who came out to sing with him. Lyle Lovett also showed up to sing “The Girls From Texas” with Randall.

Emmylou Harris and Jon Randall

Ronnie Dunn has worked as the emcee of the event over the last few years, but his presence in 2024 seemed even more fitting. Terry McBride scored numerous hits with McBride and the Ride in the early ’90s. But when that project wound down, he found second life as a songwriter, and specifically through writing some 20 tracks for Brooks & Dunn, including 10 of the band’s bigger hits.

“I’ve been nominated for a few awards,” McBride said. “Brooks & Dunn won all of them.”

Holding a trophy fashioned like Willie, Terry McBride explained how two of his earliest inspirations were the Willie Nelson albums Shotgun Willie, and especially Phases & Stages. “It was a concept album about divorce. So at 15, I wanted to be like Willie. I couldn’t wait to grow up and get divorced,” McBride said to laughter. “My wife of 43 years is going, ‘what the hell?'”

The ’90s country fans in the house were treated to Terry McBride and Ronnie Dunn tearing into songs Brooks & Dunn made famous.

Terry McBride and Ronnie Dunn

But perhaps the performance of the night was when Miranda Lambert showed up to sing “Tin Man” that she wrote with inductees Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. Few if anyone in the mainstream shows up for their songwriters like Miranda Lambert. And show up is exactly what Miranda Lambert did for Jack and Jon.

Few dry eyes were left after the trio performed “Tin Man,” which eventually earned them two Grammy nominations, two CMA Award nominations, and won the ACM Song of the Year in 2018. And of course, you can hear all three singing on the album The Marfa Tapes from 2021.

There are few accolades that Tanya Tucker hasn’t received recently. In 2020, Tucker won her first ever Grammy Award for Best Country Song for “Bring My Flowers Now.” Ever since then, that is exactly what has happened, with now multiple Grammy Awards and nominations, her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and now this distinction, which Tucker said might be the sweetest, since it’s from her home, the Lone Star State.

Tanya Tucker

Guitarist Eric Johnson helped underscore that songwriting isn’t just about words, but about notes and melody as well. He’s a good lyric writer as well, but you can’t overlook the musical component to a great song. Eric Johnson never did. And instead of coming out and blazing on electric guitar, he decided to go for a more classy move, performing on the piano first, and later on an acoustic guitar.

Also as part of the induction ceremony, the trailer to an upcoming documentary on the life of Texas songwriter Cindy Walker was shown, who was inducted in 2011 as the first woman into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame.

It was a night to remember in Texas, honoring songwriters who will never be forgotten in the annals of Texas lore.

Eric Johnson
Lyle Lovett
Terry McBride
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