As we get to mid February each year, it comes down to nut cutting time for deciding who the next class of inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame will be. Though who gets to decide is a big secret kept by the Country Music Association, or CMA, we all should feel like we have a say so and voice our opinions and hope the right people listen. After letting their announcement of new inductees creep later and later in the year over the last few cycles, the CMA was rather punctual in 2015 and announced the new inductees on March 25th.
Every year the top end of inductees seems to get more and more bunched up. The Country Music Hall of Fame appreciates the exclusivity of the institution, unlike some other Halls of Fame where it seems like everyone gets in. But the argument can be made that in the last few years, it has become a little too exclusive, and some names that should clearly be inducted are waiting in too long of a line to get their chance.
The Country Music Hall of Fame inductees are selected through a committee process appointed by the Country Music Association. 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, Grady Martin, selected in 2015, and a songwriter, Hank Cochran, selected in 2014, it would be a non-performer’s turn up to bat in 2015. A non-performer could be a record executive, producer, journalist, or someone else behind-the-scenes who had a significant impact on country music according to the committee.
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
One of the biggest questions always looming over the Modern Era category is where you start the clock. Artists like Alan Jackson and Ricky Skaggs who seem like shoo-in’s eventually are most certainly Modern Era nominees. But how about Hank Williams Jr.? He could be either a Modern or Veterans era nominee. The Oak Ridge Boys who were the Modern inductee in 2015 could have easily been a Veterans Era pick. The band officially started in the late 40’s.
” Last year’s inductee The Oak Ridge Boys
” Saving Country Music Prediction: Alan Jackson
” Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot: Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr. if he’s considered Modern Era.
Alan Jackson Jackson was first eligible in 2013. A huge commercial success, Jackson has sold 80 million records and amassed 35 #1 singles, and has always payed homage to the roots of the genre and the artists who came before him. Jackson is a guarantee for The Hall eventually, and should be considered a strong candidate for 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), but he also has a total of 16 CMA Awards, including 3 Entertainer of the Year wins. Though being named the Hall’s “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. Some thought Jackson may get the distinction last year to coincide with his big 25 Year Anniversary tour, but it didn’t happen.
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 bookended 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 Skaggs has been named a Hall of Fame “Artist in Residence” previously as well. Though he felt like a frontrunner in previous years, now that the Modern Era is so front loaded, it may be difficult for voters to select Ricky ahead of some of the commercial powerhouses like Alan Jackson or Brooks & Dunn. But you don’t just need success to get into The Hall, you need allies. And Ricky Skaggs has plenty of those.
Brooks & Dunn The duo was a commercial powerhouse if there ever was one, though their career was somewhat overshadowed by the success of Garth during the “Class of ’89” era. 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—a pretty incredible feat. Their success is not debatable, but did they have the type of influence to be considered over others in such a crowded field? And does the fact that they’re no longer a functioning act hurt them, or are they helped by the fact that they’ve had a few reunion shows lately, Ronnie Dunn has a successful solo career, including a new album coming from NASH Icon, and Kix Brooks has become one of the strongest voices in country radio through his Countdown show? 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 Randy will eventually be in the Hall of Fame. Randy’s role in reigniting interest in country music as a commercial enterprise in the mid 80’s 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. His health issues stemming from his stroke in 2013 may have kept him out of serious contention for the last couple of years as voters waited to see if he would improve. Now that he’s made multiple public appearances since then, and is even starting to speak and sing, he should be considered in good enough spirits to be able to appear at the announcement ceremony and induction. It would be hard to argue with a Randy Travis pick.
Keith Whitley – To get into the Hall of Fame, you don’t just need a good resume, you need a good, dedicated push and a promotional campaign that can get the attention of the right people on the committee and make a strong case for the induction. That is what fans of Keith Whitley have put together over the last year. A group named “Induct Keith Whitley into The Country Music Hall of Fame” has started a campaign to try and get the Kentucky-born singer and songwriter who died tragically in 1989 into country music’s most elite class. It has set up an online petition and is asking Keith Whitley fans to add their voices and signatures in support of the effort. Keith Whitley started in country music as a member of Ralph Stanley’s bluegrass band. In 1988, Whitley had two #1 singles “When You Say Nothing At All” and “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” off the album Don’t Close Your Eyes, and was expected to become a superstar in country music in the coming years. However on May 9th, 1989, Keith Whitley died of what was ruled as alcohol poisoning, and never got to reap the rewards of the career he’d worked to build. He was 34-years-old. Garth Brooks specifically named Keith as someone he believed should have been inducted before him.
Kenny Chesney As weird as it may seem Kenny Chesney was officially eligible for the Hall of Fame last year. He released his first major label album with BNA 21 years ago and had two Top 10 singles, “Fall In Love” and “All I Need to Know.” It’s hard to see him as a serious contender 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. 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 in the coming years.
Other Potential Modern Era Inductees:
- Dwight Yoakam You’d think with 25 million records sold, his name would be more associated with this distinction, or maybe he’s considered a niche act. As top heavy as the Modern Era is at the moment, Dwight remains a long shot, but someone to consider for future years.
- 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. Unfortunately his new album didn’t make lots of noise.
- 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 – Another who will have to wait for some bigger names to tick off before he’s considered a major threat for induction.
- Tim McGraw – McGraw never amassed the major CMA hardware as some of the other potential inductees, but he has a strong advocate in Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records. It will be a while, but there’s a good chance he gets in.
- The Judds – Too bad their career only lasted six years, but it was a productive six years.
- Charlie Daniels – The fact that he’s considered just as much Southern rock, and his country influence boils down to just a few songs instead of a few decades may keep him on the outside looking in for a while. But his name will always be in the running.
- Tayna Tucker
- Crystal Gayle
- Rosanne Cash
- Gene Watson
- Mickey Gilley
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
There is a rule in the Hall of Fame bylaws that states that artists cannot be inducted the year after they pass away. Call it the sympathy clause that is put in place to make sure someone isn’t inducted just because voter’s hearts are heavy from a recent passing. Because of this, Lynn Anderson, whose name has been mentioned for many years as a potential Veteran inductee, is not eligible this year. However what this rule has done is front-loaded inductees who there may be health concerns for in recent years. Jim Ed Brown was inducted last year right before he passed away. So was “Cowboy” Jack Clement a couple of years back. Mac Wiseman was also inducted in the midst of health concerns. Because of this, artists who may be getting long in years or poor in heath have to be considered at the front of the pack.
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees.
” Last year’s inductee The Browns
” Saving Country Music Prediction The Maddox Brothers & Rose
” Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Jerry Reed, Gram Parsons, John Hartford, Johnny Paycheck, Hank Williams Jr.?
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 recent 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. 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 92-year-old Don Maddox, is still around. There has been some additional chatter about The Maddox Brothers and Rose this year due to Don’s age. Don Maddox is arguably the oldest living country legend at the moment. Marty Stuart has been a friend of Don’s in recent years, and rumor has Marty working behind-the-scenes to at least get the family band considered. Rose Maddox as a sole inductee is also a possibility.
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. Two CMA Entertainer of the Year awards, three ACM Entertainer of the Year awards, 70 millions of albums sold, 13 #1 albums, and 10 #1 singles, Hank Williams Jr. has the resume and then some for the Hall of Fame. And despite saying in a recent interview that he didn’t particularly care about a Hall of Fame induction, with a new album out, and a new lease on his career with Scott Borchetta’s NASH Icon, there could be some strong lobbying behind him. A new movement called Bocephus Belongs is also helping to push Hank Jr. over the top and into the Hall of Fame.
Jerry Lee Lewis Jerry Lee 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 Lee Lewis now 80-years-old, possibly bringing him closer to consideration of induction. But with so many names eligible in the Veteran’s category, nobody feels like a shoo-in.
Jerry Reed Such a great ambassador over the years, 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. There’s also the possibility Jerry could be put in as a session musician when that distinction comes around again in the rotation. That may be the best way for Jerry Reed to get in with such a crowded field.
Gram Parsons Gram’s inclusion in Hall of Fame consideration 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 a couple of years ago that helped raise awareness in the influence of him and his brothers. It probably helps that his brothers-in-Outlaw-country-arms Bobby Bare and “Cowboy” Jack Clement were inducted a couple of years ago, moving folks like Tompall and other Outlaw country 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.
- Jimmy Martin
- Vern Gosdin
- Dottie West
- Ralph Stanley
- Johnny Horton
- June Carter Cash
- John Denver
- Wynn Stewart
- Jimmy C. Newman Eligible again after passing away last year.
- Lynn Anderson – NOT eligible after passing away in 2015.
The non-performer inductee can be an industry personality like a label head, a producer, or some other individual who made a significant impact on country music.
If Saving Country Music had a vote, it would be for country music writer Chet Flippo. Along with writing the liner notes to many of country music’s most iconic albums, including Wanted: The Outlaws and Red Headed Stranger, Chet’s work with Rolling Stone in the 70’s exposed country music to entirely new crowd and generation. Chet Flippo helped make country music cool, and continued in a journalistic capacity to become an elder statesman and one of the most respected opinion makers in the business.
Flippo was an editor and writer for Rolling Stone until 1980 when he left to write a biography of Hank Williams, but continued to contribute to the magazine over the years. From 1991 to 1994 Flippo was a lecturer in journalism at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, before moving to Nashville. From 1995 until 2000, he was the Nashville Bureau Chief for Billboard, leaving in 2000 to become the Country Music Editor for Sonicnet.com.
But Flippo was known more recently for his work on CMT.com in his always-enlightening Nashville Skyline columns. For 12 years he oversaw editorial content for CMT. A writer who had seen it all with the courage to say what he believed, Flippo had the ability to stimulate discussion like none other in his field. Though he never seemed exactly at home on CMT with his more traditional country mindset, Flippo’s air brought a sense of legitimacy to the whole CMT operation. If there ever was a writer who deserved Hall of Fame induction, it is Chet Flippo.