Once again as spring nears, it becomes time for the annual exercise to ponder who perhaps the CMA will deem worthy for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. About this time the secret CMA-approved committee is going over their final ballots and whittling down the precious names to the few who will make it, as those on the outside of the process do their best to promote who they believe should be picked.
Unlike other Halls of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame tries to keep the institution distinguished by letting only a few names in each year. This way a bad name never slips through the process, hypothetically. This has also caused a glut of good names being left out in recent years, always stirring controversy in itself. But it also keeps the honor exclusive and distinguished.
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 songwriter, Don Schlitz, selected in 2017, and a Non-Performer, Fred Foster, selected in 2016, it would be a Recording and/or Touring Musician’s turn up to bat in 2018. Recording/touring musicians can also be known as performers themselves. But the spirit of the rule is to elect someone who otherwise would not likely go in.
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.
Another rule worth mentioning with all of the high-profile deaths in country music recently is that no candidate is eligible for the Hall of Fame a year after they pass away. This is to avoid sympathy votes in the aftermath of an artist passing away. In recent years though, this has also accelerated artists being inducted before they die to avoid the one year penalty, and to honor them while they’re still alive.
Potential Modern Era Inductees
One of the biggest questions always looming over the Modern Era category is where you start the clock. By rule it is “20 years after you achieve national prominence,” but where that 20 years starts is the big question. Charlie Daniels was inducted as a Veterans Era candidate a couple of year ago when most put him in the Modern category. This most applies to Hank Williams Jr., who feels like one of the top front-runners in 2018, and could potentially go in via either the Modern or Veteran category. Hank Williams Jr., an which era he’s inducted in, could be the lynch pin for the 2018 inductees—if Hank Jr. is elected at all, that is.
• Last Year’s Modern Era Inductee: Alan Jackson (after feeling like the front-runner for the three years previous)
• Saving Country Music Prediction: Hank Williams Jr. (if Modern era), Dwight Yoakam, or Ricky Skaggs
• Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot: Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr. if he’s considered Modern Era.
Ricky Skaggs: Ricky Skaggs is the artist that has felt like he’s been right on the bubble of being inducted over the last few years. Skaggs has bookended his career as a mandolin maestro, he studied under Bill Monroe, and is now firmly ensconcing himself as a country music elder. In between he had tremendous commercial success in the 80’s 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. 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 Skaggs ahead of some of the commercial powerhouses like Dwight Yoakam 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.
Dwight Yoakam: You’d think with 25 million records sold, his name would be more associated with Hall of Fame distinction, or maybe he’s considered a niche act by those in Nashville. Yoakam’s contributions, despite the gaudy sales numbers, comes in the influence he had in country music in his time, and that he still wields today over generations of performers. Dwight Yoakam made country music cool to millions on the West Coast and beyond, just like Hall of Famer Buck Owens and other Bakersfield legends did. Dwight’s also not showing any signs of slowing down, and has earned additional stripes as a country music ambassador through his acting career. Now with Alan Jackson finally out of the way and a new SiriusXM station dedicated to Dwight launching, it feels like Dwight has finally graduated from a future hopeful to a bona fide front runner.
Travis Tritt – Now that two of his brethren from the “Class of ’89” are in (Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson), Travis Tritt will start to be much more heavily considered in the next few years. There’s probably still a few names ahead of him, and since his commercial career cooled out somewhat quickly—and he hasn’t kept completely free of controversy by speaking his mind on the ills of the industry—his induction ceremony may still be far off, but it’s inching closer. And why not consider Tritt, with two Grammys, four CMAs, five #1 singles, and 19 Top 10’s. Travis Tritt helped put the drive into country, both sonically and commercially. But Tritt still feels like one of those names that others must go in first before he could be considered, especially Hank Williams Jr.
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, at least at the moment? And does the fact that they only operate as a duo part time hurt them, or are they helped by the fact that Ronnie Dunn has a fairly successful solo career, 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 serious contenders.
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 two years. 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 in 2015. He released his first major label album with BNA 23 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, 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 every year.
Other Potential Modern Era Inductees:
- Clint Black If it wasn’t for his career’s disappearing act, his name would be right up there with the other front runners. Instead, he seems like probably the last of the “Class of ’89” that can expect induction.
- 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, and he remains a fairly controversial character.
- 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. But his lack of commercial success in his career probably keeps him on the outside looking in for now.
- Tim McGraw – McGraw never amassed the major CMA hardware as some of the other potential inductees, but he has shown a longevity in his career and is well-liked into the industry to the point where in a few years, you can expect him to be bumped up to a front-runner.
- The Judds – Too bad their career only lasted six years, but it was a productive six years. But you have to imagine Brooks & Dunn goes in before they do. The Judds might also be helped by the efforts of Wynonna’s solo career.
- Crystal Gayle – Her recent induction into the Grand Ole Opry proves that Hall of Famer Loretta Lynn’s sister and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” singer has fans and allies.
- Rosanne Cash- Folks sometimes forget just how big Rosanne Cash got in the 80’s with ten #1 hits, and a huge influence on the genre at the time. She’s not just Johnny Cash’s daughter, or an Americana icon. Nonetheless, it’s hard to see her going in before Hank Jr.
- Mickey Gilley – With his first big hit in 1974, this would (hypothetically) be the last chance for Mickey to make it in via the Modern Era category. Once you slip into the Veteran’s Era, it’s seen as a harder task in a much more open field.
- Lorrie Morgan
- Gene Watson
Potential Veterans Era Inductees
A rule in the Hall of Fame bylaws 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, all of the artists who passed away in 2017 are not eligible this year. However what this rule has done is front-loaded inductees who may be suffering from health concerns for in recent years. Jim Ed Brown was inducted right before he passed away. So was “Cowboy” Jack Clement a few 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. Two such artists who may receive extra consideration are The Maddox Brothers & Rose since the final member Don Maddox is now well into his 90’s, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Predicting the Veterans Era nominees is notoriously foolhardy because they pull from such a wide field of potential inductees.
• Last Year’s Inductee: Jerry Reed
• Saving Country Music Prediction: Hank Williams Jr. (if a Veteran Era candidate), Jerry Lee Lewis
• Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot: The Maddox Brothers & Rose, Gram Parsons, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Paycheck, Hank Williams Jr.?
– – – – – – – – – –
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. Hank Jr. has said himself in interviews that he doesn’t care if he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, but there is still lots of strong lobbying behind him. A movement started a couple of years called Bocephus Belongs is hoping to help push Hank Jr. over the top and into the Hall of Fame in the coming years. Right now, Hank Jr. feels like the guy most on the Hall of Fame bubble to go in.
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. 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 94-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. She made great strides for women in country music.
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 overstated. If Elvis is in the Country Hall (and he is), his old Sun Studios buddy can’t be counted out. Jerry Lee Lewis is now 82-years-old, possibly bringing him closer to consideration for induction. Meanwhile an online petition has been started trying to push Jerry Lee over the top. Jerry Lee’s name has been rumored to have been in contention and on final ballots for many years. Maybe 2018 will be his time.
Ralph Stanley or The Stanley Brothers – Eligible once again after passing away in 2016, Ralph Stanley all-of-a-sudden emerges as a glaring omission in the ranks of Hall of Fame members. A seminal figure in the emergence of bluegrass in both the original era, and during its second wind after the success of O Brother Where Art Thou, he’s the type of influencer and ambassador the Hall of Fame rotunda is built for. Universally beloved inside Nashville and beyond, a Grand Ole Opry member, and a powerful name to represent the bluegrass side of country, Ralph Stanley would be a strong pick.
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 always should be.
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 last year and there’s no strong female contenders in the Modern Era category for the foreseeable future, the pressure to include a woman from the veteran field in 2018 might be greater.
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 few 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 in recent years, 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. 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 these two in the coming years is that the Hall of Fame’s featured exhibit will be on the Outlaw era. What better time than to feature one of its most important figures with an induction. If nothing else, maybe it will warm the Hall to the idea in the future.
- Tayna Tucker – Recently moved from a Modern Era candidate to a Veterans Era candidate because he first big commercial success was in 1972. With ten #1’s hits and a diverse, long-lasting career, she should get good consideration.
- Vern Gosdin (sign the petition) “The Voice” has to be considered a strong candidate, but the log jam in front of him may have to break before he’s given serious consideration.
- John Hartford
- Jimmy Martin
- Johnny Horton
- June Carter Cash
- John Denver
- Jack Greene
- Slim Whitman
- Wynn Stewart
- Jimmy C. Newman
- Jeannie Seely
Potential Recording / Touring Musician Inductees
Last inductee – Grady Martin (2015)
Saving Country Music Prediction – ??? – Ralph Mooney
Saving Country Music’s Final Ballot – Ralph Mooney, Johnny Gimble, Redd Volkaert, Lloyd Green, W.S. Holland
This is a hard award to pick, and Saving Country Music’s perspective may be slanted towards overlords of the past, when it might be some session player from the 80’s who gets in. But here’s some ideas.
W.S. “Fluke” Holland – Drummer for Johnny Cash, and a great ambassador and torch bearer for the music. Has kept a high profile over the years.
Ralph Mooney – Arguably one of the most important musicians to ever play steel guitar, he enjoyed a long, prolific career, first in Bakersfield playing for Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard, and then becoming the long-time steel player for Waylon Jennings.
Johnny Gimble – One of the most influential fiddle players in the history of country music, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. It’s beyond time he made his way to the Country Hall of Fame.
Redd Volkaert – A living legend who is still making faces smile in Austin and beyond, he was seminal to the sound of Merle Haggard and many others, and still regularly engages in session work.
Mac McAnally – A perennial winner of the CMA’s Musician of the Year, a younger name who has a shot, helped by his solo career, and well-liked nature.
Lloyd Green – Seminal steel guitar player during the Countrypolitan era who played on so many of the classic hits.
Mickey Raphael – May be a little young for this distinction yet, but he will be in some day. His harmonica is one of the most immediately-identifiable sounds in country music, and he is incredibly prolific.
- Sam Bush
- Don Rich
- Pete Drake
- Don Kelley
- Jerry Douglas
- Jesse McReynolds – Though may be considered too much of a solo performer.