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Vince Gill, Ralph Emery, Mel Tillis join the Country Music Hall of Fame

Monday, October 29, 2007 – Broadcaster Ralph Emery, contemporary country singer Vince Gill and entertainer Mel Tillis accepted their gold medallions in the Country Music Hall of Fame in a three-hour celebration Sunday, officially recognizing their entrance into the hall.

For the first time, at the invitation of the Country Music Association, the annual Medallion Ceremony became the formal night of induction for new members of the Hall of Fame. Tammy Genovese, chief operating officer of the CMA, talked about what a monumental moment this ceremony marked for Emery, Gill and Tillis. She recalled how, just days after they'd learned of their induction, they gathered for photos amid the Hall of Fame plaques hanging in the Museum's stately Rotunda.

"Walking into that hallowed space, the impact of what was about to happen registered on each of their faces," Genovese said. "Induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame is the greatest honor bestowed upon a country music artist." Sunday night, the medallions symbolizing membership were presented to the new inductees by longtime friends who preceded them into the Hall of Fame. Bud Wendell, former president and chief executive officer of Gaylord Enterainment, welcomed Emery, whom he had known since their early days together at WSM radio.

Bill Anderson, a Grand Ole Opry patriarch, inducted Gill by speaking of how the younger star helped bring him out of a songwriting hiatus by co-writing with him in the mid-1990s.

And Little Jimmy Dickens stood on a box behind the podium to place the medallion around the neck of Tillis, who had counted Dickens among the artists who recorded his songs early in his career.

Those performing songs honoring the careers of the new Hall of Fame members included Al Anderson, Bobby Bare, Dierks Bentley, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, the Gaither Vocal Band, Emmylou Harris, Con Hunley, Raul Malo, Michael McDonald, Kenny Rogers, Ray Stevens and Pam Tillis.

Backing the performers were music director John Hobbs on piano and the Medallion All-Star Band, featuring drummer Eddie Bayers, steel guitarist Paul Franklin, harmony singers Tania Hancheroff and Wes Hightower, guitarists Brent Mason and Russ Pahl and bassist Michael Rhodes.

Among the Country Music Hall of Fame members present to welcome the newcomers were Harold Bradley, Dickens, Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, Jim Foglesong, Sonny James, the Jordanaires' Gordon Stoker, Louis Nunley, Ray Walker and Curtis Young, Charlie Louvin, Jo Walker-Meador and Wendell.

The evening started with guitarist Randy Scruggs - son of Country Music Hall of Fame member Earl Scruggs - opened with an instrumental version of "Amazing Grace."

Calling Emery "the dean of country music broadcasters," Young paid tribute to him by recalling that he'd been voted country radio personality of the century by Radio & Records magazine. He recalled Emery's difficult childhood, born March 10, 1933, in McEwen, Tenn., during the Depression, to a biological father with alcohol problems who would disappear for years at a time. Emery's parents divorced when he was four years old, and he went to live with his grandparents. He eventually reunited with his mother, but struggled with an abusive stepfather until his mother divorced a second time.

As Emery grew into an adult, he found solace and support in listening to the radio. Out of broadcasting school, he worked his way through the ranks until, at age 24, he began to work the graveyard shift at radio station WSM, and he became country music's most famous all-night deejay, staying on the all-night job until 1972. In 1963, he hosted his first TV show, Opry Almanac, and he worked in several local and national shows until taking his seat in 1983 as host of The Nashville Network's flagship show, Nashville Now.

In 1991, he wrote his first book, Memories: The Autobiography of Ralph Emery, which spent 25 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Three more popular non-fiction books followed, all reflecting on his life in country music and his intimate knowledge of country stars. In 2007, he returned to TV as host of Ralph Emery LIVE on RFD-TV.

To pay musical tribute to Emery, Raul Malo sang "You Gave Me a Mountain," a favorite of Emery's written and originally recorded by his close friend Marty Robbins. The Gaither Vocal Band sang the gospel hit "Yes I Know," while soulful country singer Con Hunley, who appeared on the first and last Nashville Now programs, presented a dynamic version of "Since I Fell for You." Ray Stevens, whom Emery has called "a creative genius," performed his famous hit "Everything Is Beautiful."

Emery, in accepting the award, thanked his wife, Joy, for their 40 years of marriage. "Joy's been a tower of strength, compassion, love and support of my many endeavors, and without her I would not have succeeded," he said. "I dearly love you, and I appreciate all you have done for me."

For Vince Gill's induction, Young recalled the Oklahoman's trek through the ranks of bluegrass and country rock bands, which took him from his home in Norman, Okla., to Kentucky, California and, eventually, Nashville.

Born April 12, 1957, Gill learned banjo from his father and soon took up guitar and other instruments. After a high school band called Mountain Smoke, he joined Bluegrass Alliance and, while living in Louisville, played with Ricky Skaggs's Boone Creek band. Later, in Los Angeles, he worked with fiddler Byron Berline in the band Sundance and, in 1979, became lead singer of the group Pure Prairie League.

Gill moved to Nashville after becoming a member of Rodney Crowell's band, the Cherry Bombs. By 1983, he had signed with RCA Records. He had a few hits-"Cinderella," "If It Weren't for Him" and "Oklahoma Borderline"-before moving to MCA Records. His breakthrough album, "When I Call Your Name," gave him the first of many CMA and Grammy awards. As of 2007, he has won 18 Grammys for singing, songwriting, producing and instrumental work. He also hosted the CMA Awards from 1992 to 2003, making him the longest-running host of any televised awards show.

Gill's musical tribute opened with Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris singing the upbeat, philosophical "Some Things Never Get Old," from Gill's 2006 four-CD album, "These Days." Michael McDonald was joined by Gill's band members Tom Britt, Dawn Sears, Billy Thomas, Pete Wasner and Jeff White for a version of Gill's spiritual "Go Rest High on That Mountain." Gill's friend Guy Clark then performed his "The Randall Knife," a song Gill has often asked him to sing at events and parties. Guitarist Al Anderson, a co-writer and recording colleague of Gill's, led the All-Star Band through "The Next Big Thing," a song Anderson wrote with Gill and pianist Hobbs.

To induct Gill, his co-writer and Grand Ole Opry friend Anderson said, "What can you possibly say about a man whose talent has already said it all? Not just his talent, but his character, his integrity, his generosity, his sense of humor, his humility and humanity. They've all spoken volumes," Anderson said. Then dropping down to his trademark whisper, he added, "And a lot louder than I can." Anderson also told of how he'd left songwriting in the 1980s because he spent time on other activities, including acting and hosting a TV game show. By the 1990s, songwriting had changed, but Anderson wanted to return to it. Someone suggested he co-write with a younger singer, and Gill was suggested as someone Anderson should call.

Anderson figured Gill probably didn't even know who he was, but he called one day and got Gill's voice mail, which said, in a hushed voice, "Hi, this is Whispering Gill. Leave your name, and I'll return your call."

Not only did they write two songs that year, but Gill recorded both of them. "It opened up a door in Nashville for me that I'd been afraid had been closed forever," Anderson said, fighting back tears. "But because he took a chance on an old dinosaur, I've had a whole second childhood as a songwriter. Thank you, pal."

Gill, in accepting the award, joked that his friends were taking bets on how many times he'd cry during the evening. "I've always tried to be a great student," he said after acknowledging his fellow inductees and other Hall of Famers in the room. "I've always felt like a sponge. I took this music in, and it kept growing and growing and growing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for inspiring me with the records you made, the songs you wrote."

Gill recalled that his first reaction upon hearing of his induction was "that can't be right." He said he thought of all those who should be inducted before him, naming a list of veteran country stars who aren't Hall of Fame members. He thanked his wife, Amy Grant, for making him a better person and filling his life with love.

As for music, he realized he'd always tried to put others first, and that he never cared if he was the singer, he just wanted to be in the band. "I feel like I go in here as a musician, first and foremost," he said. "To every musician out there I've ever played a note of music with, you go into this Hall of Fame with me. We did this together."

In describing Tillis's career, Young recalled how poverty during the Depression resulted in his family moving 33 times in his childhood, and that a bout of malaria left him with a stutter.

Born Aug. 8, 1932, Tillis first performed professionally in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1951 during a Gator Bowl party at the Mayflower Hotel. He later sang regularly on Armed Forces Radio while serving during the Korean War. After visiting Nashville in 1956, Tillis moved to Music City the following year. Webb Pierce began recording his songs, including "I'm Tired," "Honky Tonk Song," "Holiday for Love," "Tupelo County Jail," "A Thousand Miles Ago" and "I Ain't Never."

In the 1960s, Tillis had scores of other hits with Bobby Bare, Johnny Darrell, Jimmy Dickens, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Brenda Lee, Ray Price and Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. Tillis had his first hit in 1958 with "The Violet and the Rose," and his 1966 hit, "Stateside," gave him his band's name, the Statesiders.

His first number 1, his version of "I Ain't Never," came in 1972 at a time when his career surged forward. In 1976, he was named the CMA's Entertainer of the Year and joined the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame the same year. By then, he'd started starring in movies, including W.W. & the Dixie Dancekings, Smokey and the Bandit II, The Cannonball Run and Uphill All the Way.

In the musical tribute, Bobby Bare revived his famous version of Tillis's "Detroit City." Kenny Rogers performed "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," Pam Tillis offered "Coca Cola Cowboy" after an emotional testament to her father, and contemporary star Dierks Bentley romped through "I Ain't Never."

To induct Tillis, Jimmy Dickens climbed on a box to reach the podium and told of Tillis's value and importance. "If you've never seen this man in concert, you've missed a lot," said Dickens, who said he's known Tillis for about 50 years. "He has pride, dignity and character, and when he steps on stage, he upgrades country music and the industry we all love and stand for. Men like this are hard to come by, and I'm proud to say Mel Tillis is my friend."

In accepting, Tillis recalled all the different jobs he worked on his way to songwriting, and listed many of those who helped him along the way. He heard people say, "We don't need any stuttering singers," which he said made him appreciate those who helped him all the more. He introduced the many members of the Statesiders band in attendance, thanked his five children and "my many wives," which brought a laugh from the audience.

As for entering the Hall of Fame, he said, "I never did think it would ever get this far. I dreamed about it. My mother always said, 'Remember your dream, and work towards it, and it will happen.'"

The evening ended with the honorees, performers and members of the Country Music Hall of Fame standing on stage performing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Afterward, while embracing and reminiscing over drinks and coffee in the Museum's Curb Conservatory, word spread that a member of the Hall of Fame family, Porter Wagoner, had passed away while the ceremony took place.

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Concert Review: Lambert refuses to rest on laurels – Watching this stop on Miranda Lambert's "Livin' Like Hippies Tour," one is struck by just how many great songs the country singer/songwriter already has in her repertoire. With most artists, it's relatively easy to guess which song a performer will choose to close a show. But Lambert has so many winners to pick from, many... »»»
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