Paul Franklin’s Been Nominated for CMAs 30 Times. He’s Never Won.
Susan Lucci is the name people love to cite when it comes to someone who’s accrued a long string of nominations for a certain award without ever actually winning it. The iconic actress on the ABC soap opera All My Children was nominated a whopping 19 consecutive times by the Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress before she finally won the award in 1999. In total, Lucci was nominated for the award 21 times. The way history recalls it, Susan Lucci is the most nominated person for any award before finally winning it, making the “Susan Lucci of X” a common colloquialism.
But legendary country music steel guitarist Paul Franklin actually has Susan Lucci beat, and by more than a decade. And even worse, Paul Franklin has yet to actually win in the category he’s been nominated in. Now that Paul Franklin is 68 years old and the steel guitar is making a comeback in country music, perhaps it would be as good a time as any for Paul Franklin to finally win. After all, looking over his resume, he most certainly deserves it, at least once.
The numbers really are quite astounding. By receiving a nomination this year for the CMA’s Musician of the Year, this marks the 30th time Paul Franklin has been considered in the field. Only four times since 1989 has Franklin not been nominated in the Musician category. But of course, he’s never won it. In fact, Franklin is the most nominated person in the 56-year history of the CMA Awards in any specific category. Susan Lucci, eat your heart out.
One of the reasons Paul Franklin has been locked out of the CMA’s Musician of the Year award over the last many years is due to the runs other musicians have enjoyed in the winners circle. From 1991 to 1996, fiddle player Mark O’Connor won it every year. Between 2008 and 2018, guitar player Mac McAnally won every year except for 2016. Fiddle player Jenee Fleenor has won the award the last three consecutive years starting in 2019. As the first woman to ever win the award and how she’s been a part of the return of the fiddle to country music, it’s hard to argue with Fleenor’s reign.
But the consistency of who wins the award shows the lack of effort the CMA’s voting ranks put into this decision. Once you start winning CMA Musician of the Year trophy, you tend to accrue quite a few. Chet Atkins won the award 9 times as well. But country music draws from such a great pool of talent in recordings, there should be a whole host of musicians with this award. It would be a shame if Paul Franklin reacheed retirement age, and never actually won a CMA trophy.
When it comes to the rest of the music world, Paul Franklin is well-recognized as the one of the most important steel guitar players and musicians of this era. Having credits on over 500 recordings, he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2000, the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019, and his name has been brought up as a potential Country Music Hall of Fame musician inductee when the category comes around every three years.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Paul Franklin started his career as a touring musician playing in the band of Barbara Mandrell. Those who know their country music history know that Mandrell was a skilled steel guitarist herself, and recognized the unique talent Paul Franklin brought to the table. He later toured with Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed, even British rock band Dire Straits, and also Vince Gill, where a lifelong friendship was forged.
One of Franklin’s first bits of steel guitar work in the studio came on the pop rock hit “Nice to Be with You” from the Detroit-based band Gallery in 1972. As time went on, Franklin became country music’s go-to steel guitar session musician, playing on albums from Alan Jackson, George Strait, Clint Black, Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, and obviously Vince Gill.
Paul Franklin has also been an innovator of the instrument. His father was also a musician and developed an instrument called the Pedabro, which is basically a dobro with pedals. That’s how Franklin got into the steel guitar at such an early age. The unique sound of the dobro found on the iconic hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis, that is Paul Franklin playing a Pedabro.
But Paul Franklin also has played on the recordings of many contemporary artists as well like Luke Bryan, Kane Brown, and Lauren Alaina. He’s also the go-to guy for those who want steel guitar who reside outside of the country music genre. Toni Braxton, Peter Frampton, and even Megadeth have all solicited his services.
And perhaps most importantly, Paul Franklin is not just a creature of the recording studio. He’s been a long time member of Nashville’s resident Western swing band The Time Jumpers. He was one of the guys who helped convince Vince Gill to join in. The two also released a collaborative record in 2013 called Bakersfield.
Of course, to many traditional country music fans and proponents of the steel guitar, they don’t need Paul Franklin to win any award to be convinced of his value. No matter what the CMAs do, Paul Franklin will go down as one of the greatest steel guitar players in country music history. But at the same time, he shouldn’t go down as the Susan Lucci of country musicians who never won, neither should other deserving musicians such as Ilya Toshinskiy, who just helped rescue the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and has been nominated four times for the CMA’s Musician of the Year, or Derek Wells, who’s been nominated the last seven years in a row himself.
The CMA’s Musician of the Year award should not be an afterthought, or a default to whomever won it last year. In country music, the musicians matter, just like the songwriters. And when it comes to steel guitarists over the last 30 years, arguably nobody has mattered more than Paul Franklin.
September 29, 2022 @ 8:48 am
Agree with everything you said. I have had some personal communications with Paul and can attest he is just a super nice guy on top of all his achievements. He is a humble fella and very respective of the past steel guitar greats. He also is very innovative. His work with Dire Straits was killer. A consummate professional.
Bad Side of the Moon
September 29, 2022 @ 1:21 pm
What Dire Straits song(s)/album(s) did he perform on? Can’t find much info about this online.
September 29, 2022 @ 2:24 pm
Paul played on the On Every Street album, and toured with Dire Straits on their last tour,
Was blessed to see him on that tour, with the Time Jumpers, and with Vince Gill.
So deserving of best steel guitar player of our time!!!
September 29, 2022 @ 5:02 pm
I was referencing his tour. Bring up some YouTube videos. You will enjoy how he conforms that sweet instrument to a different format.
Todd J Peterson
October 3, 2022 @ 8:06 am
Mark Knopfler introduces Paul Franklin at the 4:15 mark of the video.
September 29, 2022 @ 9:42 pm
Check out his solo on the live version of “walk of life” at the end of the song, it’s insane.
September 29, 2022 @ 9:26 am
It’s a shame. PAUL IS THE BEST! The steel is for real!
September 29, 2022 @ 9:49 am
Funny, the only CMA’s that Twitty ever won were for duets with Loretta.
September 29, 2022 @ 9:48 am
He doesn’t need a CMA award.
Being at the top of his game it its own reward.
September 29, 2022 @ 10:28 am
The only artists or albums he hasn’t played on are ones where he was already booked for another session. He helped “modernize” steel guitar playing with his approach and kept it relevant thru the 80’s when it’s presence in country music was fading. – Listen to any of the 80’s George Strait records. He’s on almost every major country album with steel since the 80’s with only a few exceptions.
September 29, 2022 @ 10:32 am
Steel guitar playing doesn’t cut thru and scream like a guitar solo can because of the sound of the instrument, but it influences the sound of a recording to the core. Ralph Mooney is sometimes credited (rightfully so) as being the main element of the Bakersfield sound. Really listed to “Just to see you smile” or “Red Dirt Road” or “All my exes live in texas” and specifically listen for the steel guitar and realize that a lot of the signature sounds of those recordings arent coming from a regular guitar.
September 29, 2022 @ 11:44 am
Mooney’s steel on Wynn Stewart’s Wishful Thinking or Playboy just SCREAM out of the mix, and they’re both very aggressive band with an screaming fiddle really digging in at the same time. It definitely cuts through and can be almost as rhythmic as electric guitar in the right hands. Paul Franklin is one of the greatest people to carry that legacy forward and I think he’s probably introduced more people to the steel guitar then most country steel players his generation did.
September 29, 2022 @ 11:55 am
@Stellar, Mooney was one of the first guys to play steel in a very heavy-handed way. Also in the 60’s and 70’s the steel guitar was much higher in the mix to stand out on car speakers. This was common on the early Paycheck records on Little Darling records. And the steel often played on top of the vocals on verses. As the trends changed the older style of steel guitar playing fell out of style, Paul was a main guy who changed with the times and kept his playing fresh and relevant to the changing trends. Also Paul’s solo records are phenomenal. The Play by Play album is amazing.
Luke the Drifter
September 29, 2022 @ 11:46 am
I second your thoughts on Paul Franklin. I really wish the CMA’s were different. Why does only one musician get an award in a year? For that matter I wish they did like the Blues Awards and give separate awards for traditional and contemporary music. They just aren’t a well-rounded presentation of what is happening in country music (even in Nashville).
September 29, 2022 @ 1:41 pm
Paul Franklin’s the man. He’s been out on the road this year with Chris Stapleton. I caught the show in Detroit where he killed all night and got a roaring ovation when Chris introduced the band.
September 29, 2022 @ 4:06 pm
Here is an amazing video of “Calling Elvis.” The camera spends lots of time on Franklin.
September 29, 2022 @ 4:09 pm
At about 8:30, I think Knopfler actually plays air guitar to Franklin’s pedal steel.
September 29, 2022 @ 9:27 pm
That was really cool. Can’t say enough about Knopfler. He also played a role in forging John Anderson’s comeback in the ’90s. And Franklin’s great, too.
September 29, 2022 @ 4:06 pm
September 29, 2022 @ 9:35 pm
: D Wow.
September 29, 2022 @ 4:19 pm
If you believe what you read online, he is worth $17M. A PMS award or whatever could or couldn’t sit above his high noble plated fireplace
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
September 29, 2022 @ 5:23 pm
Dude just sits there. If he stood more often maybe he’d win?
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
September 29, 2022 @ 6:24 pm
^^ my last comment was a joke obviously but is there some truth to it?
Do the musician of the year awards have a “showman” criteria to it? Because if it does then I get why the guitar player or the fiddle player would win. They are typically the centerpiece of a concert compared to the slide guitar
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
September 29, 2022 @ 9:30 pm
Wait, does Paul tour or is he only a recording studio musician??
Jenee does touring in addition to her studio sessions. She used to tour with Blake and do stuff with The Voice. She recently left Blakes band and as of lately I don’t believe she is officially in anyone’s band.
September 29, 2022 @ 9:43 pm
It seems like I just read somewhere that Paul Franklin also tours, is a member of The Time Jumpers, and is “not just a creature of the recording studio.”
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
September 30, 2022 @ 10:05 am
But would touring for a mainstream artist like Blake or Jason Aldean or Carrie Underwood swoon Cma voters?
I feel that it helped Jenee because she was with Blake touring and doing Voice episodes.
September 30, 2022 @ 10:09 am
That definitely helped Jenee, and I’m glad that she has won it, and won it multiple times. I also think it would be cool if she won it in the future. But goodness, there is such a vast population of great musicians in country music. Let’s try to spread the love around just a little bit more.
September 30, 2022 @ 10:32 am
Paul occasionally goes on tour. He tours most with Vince Gill and Chris Stapleton
September 30, 2022 @ 3:35 am
Paul also has a new teaching course where you can get a subscription and can access a wide variety of top quality instruction. I dont know where he gets all the energy, I’ve seen him with the Time Jumpers twice in NYC, and with Vince on his tour in Morristown.
And don’t forget his great playing on Midland albums too.
My vote is for him this year!
September 30, 2022 @ 5:47 am
I was a subscriber of the course. The shear volume of content on the site is borderline overwhelming. He puts a lot of time into it. What impressed me the most, though, is that each subscriber has access to the course’s private Facebook group. And not only would Paul answer each student’s message, the responses were typically paragraphs long. He doesn’t half ass anything.
September 30, 2022 @ 12:19 pm
The King of Cats.
March 12, 2023 @ 2:59 pm
Paul Franklin is hands down the most prolific and best steel guitarist there is in Nashville. Whenever George Strait decides to record an album, Paul is the one that is requested. Paul continues to keep the steel guitar sound front and center to the country music community while helping to provide that sound to other genres of music.
He certainly is deserving of the CMA’s Musician of the Year Award many many times over.