Sign up for newsletter
 

Brooks, Robbins, Smith join Hall of Fame

Monday, October 22, 2012 – Two country singers who started off with record-breaking success, only to set aside their careers to raise families, and a blind piano player who became a studio luminary even though he couldn't read charts, were welcomed into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the annual Medallion Ceremony on Sunday.

Singers Garth Brooks and Connie Smith and pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins all joined the hall.

"I'm so honored to become a member of this organization," Robbins said. "I can't come up with the words to express myself. It's really an honor to join in the musician category." He thanked the producers who invited him to play on sessions and who "had confidence in me to get a good feel on a session or add a lick that would help them express a line better. I appreciate all of them."

Smith said, "It is such an honor to be here. I feel like I deserve it the least because I didn't aim for it. I wanted to sing and to feed my kids. I love my music, and I love my family. I believe with all my heart this was God's destiny for me, to be a girl country singer. I will continue to be until he tells me otherwise."

"Each of these performers is a gifted individual considered among the best in the world at what they do," said Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. "Yet they share humility and a personal generosity. They are known as remarkable human beings as well as remarkable talents."

Vince Gill, president of the museum's board of officers and trustees, opened with a performance of his original song All Prayed Up,a bluegrass-style gospel roof-raiser with Gill on mandolin and vocals, accompanied by guitarist and harmony singer Jeff White.

The audience at the private celebration was packed with fellow Hall of Fame members, who came to welcome the new inductees to their exclusive club. Hall of Famers in attendance were Bobby Braddock, Harold Bradley, Roy Clark, Ralph Emery, Jim Foglesong, Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers, Gill, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Sonny James, Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell, Charlie McCoy, George Strait, Jo Walker-Meador, E.W. "Bud" Wendell and Ray Walker and Curtis Young of the Jordanaires.

Steve Turner, chairman of the museum's board, welcomed the families and colleagues of the new inductees. As Turner explained, the Medallion Ceremony gathers the Country Music Hall of Fame family together to celebrate the induction of new members to country music's most elite body.

"We want the Hall of Fame class of 2012, and all the members of the Hall of Fame, to know that we revere your important accomplishments and hold you in the highest esteem," Turner said. "We appreciate your exceptionally fine contributions to American music, and we thank you for your role in the development of our worldwide reputation as Music City. It is fitting that these rites of induction take place here, where the bronze likenesses of Pig, Connie and Garth will now be forever enshrined."

Steve Moore, chief executive officer of the CMA, spoke of the significance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. "Of all my duties as CEO of the CMA, the one I enjoy the most is our announcement of the inductees each year," Moore said. "Their response is always heartfelt, sometimes emotional, often funny, and I am genuinely humbled seeing them enter the rotunda for the first time, knowing their likeness and career accomplishments, will soon grace those hallowed walls."

Young briefly summed up the early life and career significance of each inductee. Starting with Robbins, Young spoke of the struggles he overcame to become a renowned session musician and how quickly Music Row embraced the piano player from East Tennessee, who played on thousands of country hits by everyone from Patsy Cline to Shania Twain, as well as classic rock recordings by Bob Dylan, Leon Russell and Neil Young. "Pig Robbins has played an indelible role in Nashville's rise to prominence as a recording center for popular music," Young said. "His talent for knowing exactly what to play brought out the best in singers and their songs."

The performers for the Medallion Ceremony aren't announced ahead of time, so each was a surprise to those in attendance. Ronnie Dunn, formerly of Brooks & Dunn, kicked things off with a rollicking take on the 1959 George Jones classic, White Lightning, the first country hit to feature Robbins on piano.

Playing off the song's theme, Dunn came out carrying two Mason jars of clear liquid that he said was moonshine - or white lightning - passing one to bandleader John Hobbs and opening the lid on the other. "I'm going to try and set a record by drinking this much moonshine in a three-minute song," Dunn joked. He did take a few long sips from the jar during vocal breaks.

Other performances honoring Robbins included Crystal Gayle singing her signature hit, Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, with Gordon Mote recreating Robbins's great piano part. "Your magical touch to this song has been with me forever," Gayle said. "You have meant so much to my career - my whole career."

Gene Watson perfectly intoned his honky-tonk standard Fourteen Carat Mind with Dirk Johnson taking the piano bench for the rendition. In his introduction, Watson emphasized the importance of Robbins in his musical career.

"Every #3, every #2, every #1 song I ever had, Pig Robbins played the piano on it," Watson said. He told of recently working on an album where he re-recorded 25 of his biggest hits, with his producer Dirk Johnson taking Pig's role on the songs. "Pig, you ain't got no idea what we went through trying to duplicate some of those sessions. As much as I love you, I'm sure Dirk learned to hate you a little too."

Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy, who played alongside Robbins for decades in Music Row sessions, officially inducted his friend and fellow studio musician. He talked about the qualities that made Robbins stand out, including an amazing memory. "Before we started writing numbers down on sessions, many, many times, musicians - myself included - would go to Pig and say, 'How did that bridge go?' And he knew."

He also noted how Pig memorized the floor plan "to a hundred studios," and he told of a time when an electrical storm knocked out the power to the Quonset Hut studio, leaving everyone in the dark. When Pig found out what had occurred, he said, "OK, anyone who wants to go to the restroom, I'll take you there for a dollar."

McCoy then noted the endless number of recordings Pig played on, explaining that for all the hits that bear his piano, there were scores more that never became well-known. "With Pig, it didn't matter if it was Tammy wannabe or Tammy Wynette, or Tex nobody or George Jones, he approached every song and every session with an excellence and passion and great taste," McCoy said. "That was a role model for me to follow, I can tell you that for sure. The track record speaks for itself."

Robbins came to the stage, assisted by his son David Robbins, to have McCoy place the medallion on his neck, signifying his official entry into the Hall of Fame. Reaching the podium, he quipped with typical humor, "Man, I'll never get Charlie paid off for all that."

After his speech, Robbins called country star Ronnie Milsap to the stage. With Robbins on piano and Milsap on vocals, the two performed the Charlie Rich hit Behind Closed Doors, which includes a famed piano introduction originally created by Robbins.

Milsap recalled his first sessions, saying he demanded that Robbins play on his recordings. When his producer, Tom Collins, told Milsap that Robbins wouldn't be available until the next week, Milsap retorted that they would have to put off the sessions for a week until Robbins could participate. "He was always on my records, until I worked up the nerve to play on my own records," Robbins said. "Pig, you had it all. You made me look so good."

For Smith's induction, Young recalled how the petite singer grew up as one of 14 children in a sharecropping family that often struggled to get by. Yet she escaped those hardships through music, making a quick impression shortly after arriving in Nashville in 1963.

"You only need to hear Connie Smith once to realize why she is considered one of the great vocalists of her generation," Young said. "But it takes listening through Connie's deep catalog, or hearing her sing on stage night after night, to realize what a supreme interpreter of country music she has been throughout her career."

he performances honoring the singer opened with Fort Worth's Quebe Sisters Band, a personal favorite of Smith's. The young sisters harmonized on a swinging version of Smith's 1964 debut hit, Once a Day.

Another family band, the Whites, joined voices on Smith's If It Ain't Love (Let's Leave It Alone), which the trio recorded and had a hit with in 1985. Sharon White of the Whites remembered how regularly Smith's songs were played on radio when they were growing up and how they learned many of them. Cheryl White cited not only Smith's standing as a singer who paved the way for all female country vocalists, but also her friendship and the support she has shown the White family. "You've loved us, you've coached us about how to be on the road and how to be on stage, and how to take care of our babies," Cheryl said.

Then Smith acolyte Lee Ann Womack sang her idol's You've Got Me (Right Where You Want Me), a song Smith co-wrote that was a favorite of Womack's father, a former Texas country radio DJ. "All the girl singers want to sing like Connie," Womack said. "Connie has it all. She has the great songs and the voice and the beauty. And I think what impressed me the most is she delivered all those things with such class."

Smith accepted her honor from Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Haggard, who came from California to personally induct Smith. "There's a real close kinship between Connie and I," Haggard said. "We've recorded each other's songs over the years. We've come to know each other."

"I've admired her sincerity, and her spirit, and her commitment to traditional country music. If you're talking country singing, there ain't no better."

Smith stood at the podium, saying that her sister Carolyn wore their mother's ring to the ceremony. "So my mama's here tonight as well."

Smith then joined the band to sing When I Need Jesus, He's There, a gospel song she recorded, but has rarely performed. The spiritually rousing song, supported by harmony vocalists Dawn Sears and Jeff White, drew a long and loud standing ovation.

In discussing the immense impact of Brooks, Young said, "He proved that there were no barriers to how many hearts and souls country music could touch. He proved that unprecedented numbers of people would hurry to buy a country album, line up for a country concert ticket, and tune into a country music TV special, whether it was broadcast from a football stadium in Texas or a park in New York City. By singing country music with passion, with conviction, and with emotion, Garth tapped into the music's potential to move and inspire people the world over."

For the performances, George Strait was the first to honor Brooks' musical career, singing the Oklahoman's first hit, Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old), a song about an aging rodeo cowboy struggling with the road and the bone-jarring demands of the profession.

Introducing the song, Strait said he had learned Brooks had Much Too Young when he came to town and wanted to get it to Strait. "You just didn't try hard enough," Strait cracked, looking at Brooks in the front row. "I need songs like this. I'm honored to be able to sing it for you tonight."

James Taylor surprised the crowd, who reacted loudly to his walking on stage after an introduction by Young. Joined by harmony singers Robert Bailey, Vicki Hampton and Brooks' wife, Trisha Yearwood, Taylor performed The River, a number one hit written by Brooks and Victoria Shaw.

"Garth, it's a great honor to be here," Taylor said before starting the song. When Yearwood contacted him to ask if he would perform at the ceremony, Taylor said he replied, "God, I wouldn't miss it."

The surprises continued when Bob Seger, another key influence for Brooks, emerged to sing That Summer, also co-written by Brooks and supported by the trio of background vocalists. "What I admire about Garth is his passion," Seger said. "He's just never afraid to be passionate. I also love the fact that with his enormous success, his historic success, he's still a really good guy. He wears it well."

Strait returned to the stage to induct Brooks. "I think passion best describes him," Strait said. "He's got it. You see it when he sings on TV or at concerts, and you'll see it tonight when he speaks. I remember hearing about him on stage swinging on ropes and throwing things, and I said, 'This is country music. Can you do that?' He blew it up, man. Yes he could do that. And you can see it today in all the young acts that were influenced by you. It's amazing."

"I've always felt a connection to you, singing about rodeos and what not. And you just brought so many new fans to our music. It helped all of us," Strait said.

After Strait put the medallion around Brooks's neck, the new Hall of Fame member stood at the podium, emotion already showing in his face. Brooks started by thanking God, and then his parents. "They were great, great people," he said. "My mom believed you could fly, and my dad would pull you over right after and say, 'If you're going to do it, it's going to take a hell of a lot of damn work.'"

He talked about the oil-field toughness that ran through his family, and how they often fought hard, yet he is thankful for it. But the fighting stopped when James Taylor's music came into the house, giving the family a peaceful center to rally around. He also said that his parents worshipped Haggard and Jones, and Brooks said he looks at Haggard as "the greatest all around singer-songwriter, musician, entertainer, for me it's Merle Haggard."

He went on to credit Jones as "the greatest voice to grace country music," and he recalled Seger as offering the songs that helped move him from confused adolescence to mature adulthood. He remembered being back home during a break after his freshman year at Oklahoma State University, riding in a car with his father, and hearing Strait for the first time, singing his first hit, Unwound. "From that point forward, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to be George Strait so bad."

Brooks ended by addressing his daughters - Taylor, August and Allie - as well as his wife and "soulmate" Trisha Yearwood. "You are the greatest things in my life," he said. He then spoke of a Bible passage that says a man makes it to heaven through his wife. "I've got to say, Miss Yearwood, you're my only shot."

The evening ended, as always, with the Hall of Fame members and the evening's performers going to the stage to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

More news for Garth Brooks

CD reviews for Garth Brooks

Gunslinger CD review - Gunslinger
If naming your release "Gunslinger," you'd better let it rip and go for a harder country sound, especially if donning a black cowboy hat on the cover. The reality does not exactly match that sentiment for Garth Brooks, but at times he comes mighty close. The high points for Brooks are the three most traditional country songs - a couple of honky tonkers ("Honky-Tonk Somewhere" and "Cowboys and Friends") and a ballad ("Whiskey to Wine"). »»»
Man Against Machine CD review - Man Against Machine
After releasing his debut album in 1989, Garth Brooks released music almost every year until he announced his retirement in 2000. Since then, he has released repackaged hit collections, new music on "Scarecrow" and "The Lost Sessions" and last year's cover song collection "Blame it All on My Roots." Over the years, there have been live recordings, concert and music video collections. The country songwriter became a pop culture icon, transcending genre to become »»»
Blame It All On My Roots - Five Decades of Influences CD review - Blame It All On My Roots - Five Decades of Influences
Garth Brooks is back with his first release of "new" material since 2001's "Scarecrow." (Truth in advertising, his "The Ultimate Hits," which actually is part of the new box set, included four new songs back in 2007). And it's quite an undertaking - four CDs of covers - Country Classics, Classic Rock, Blue-Eyed Soul and Melting Pot, an amalgam of country, rock, soul and folk; the two-CD set, "The Ultimate Set" and a DVD of his live performance in Vegas. »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Forbert shows himself to be more than "Romeo's Tune" – Steve Forbert may forever be known as the singer behind "Romeo's Tune," but that would be cutting him short as an artist. Forbert showed on Saturday that he has more than one worthy song from his four-decade career, even if none rose to the prominence of "Romeo's Tune." Forbert mixed it up between folk (of course, he has... »»»
Concert Review: Combs, Gill, Harris, Crow comprise one final musical platter – Vince Gill played host to an entertaining guitar pull, a show which also featured his longtime friend, Emmylou Harris, slightly newer friend Sheryl Crow and brand-new friend Luke Combs. Gill joked from the outset that this All for the Hall fundraising show needed Combs to sell tickets, and by the audience's response, it was clear many came only to see Combs.... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Willis, Robison spin "Beautiful Lie" Eleven years ago, Kelly stepped away from music. She had just finished touring on 2007's exquisite "Translated From Love" and felt the angst of being a travelling musician with family at home. At that point, Willis and her husband, musician/producer Bruce Robison,... »»»
Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
Carll tells it like it is A visit with Hayes Carll finds him taking a rare day off at home to discuss new album "What It Is" co-produced by Brad Jones and Carll's girlfriend, Allison Moorer. "This album works around three themes; our relationship (he and Moorer), the world and myself.... »»»
Threads CD review - Threads
With "Threads," Sheryl Crow gets the all-star-guest treatment on what she says is her swang song, with each song featuring a favorite fellow artist. She seems a little too young for this kind of tribute. Nevertheless,  »»»
Let it Roll CD review - Let it Roll
Midland is more magicians than musicians. When the trio came out with their omnipresent 2017 single "Drinkin' Problem," they pulled off their first trick: a brand-new band to radio who sounded like old friends. Their sound and their look (matador »»»
While I'm Livin' CD review - While I'm Livin'
It's been 17 years since we've had a new album from Tanya Tucker, so it's a real pleasure to hear her clear throaty vocals deliver these songs with her characteristic raw emotion. Tucker knows how to get into a song and make it her own »»»
Gypsy CD review - Gypsy
Eilen Jewell's "Gypsy" opens with the ominous, mysterious "Beat the Drum," which is a swampy - and yes, gypsy - song of warning about some impending doom or other. It plays out like a softer type of vintage... »»»
Texas CD review - Texas
Rodney Crowell is a rare breed of a country songwriter. Yes, he knows how to write traditional country songs; it's just he's also a deep thinker, which requires extra effort on the part of the listener to appreciate them fully.  »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder CD review - New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»
Chronicle: Friends and Music CD review - Chronicle: Friends and Music
The third solo album from a member of Sister Sadie to be released in 2019, "Chronicle: Friends and Music" (following those of Deanie Richardson and Dale Ann Bradley) reflects the breadth of modern bluegrass: energetic and intense, »»»
Blue Roses CD review - Blue Roses

Runaway June - Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne - weave gorgeous harmonies around the lyrics of these songs on their new album, all but four of which they wrote with other writers. »»»

Wrote a Song for Everyone CD review - Wrote a Song for Everyone
Considering that Creedence Clearwater Revival's back catalogue contains some of the most beloved and iconic music of the rock era, and John Fogerty himself - the man who made all those great songs great - will be dueting with you, an artist has to feel like he's got two strikes against him when he sets out to contribute to a cover album tribute to Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty. »»»
This World Oft Can Be CD review - This World Oft Can Be
Although it isn't rare to hear women singing and playing bluegrass-inspired music, it is still unusual to take in a five-girl band doing so. Della Mae are not what The Runaways and The Go-Go's meant to rock & roll, perhaps, but they're nevertheless significant and unique. »»»
Wilderness CD review - Wilderness
"Wilderness" is another twisted menagerie of The Handsome Family songs. Once again, husband Brett Sparks sings their songs, sometimes in a bellowing gravedigger voice, after adding music to wife Rennie's lyrics. This time out, each and every tune is named after an animal, insect or other such nature creature. However, Rennie studies animals the way Flannery O'Connor wrote about humans, which is with the weirdness and character flaws in primary focus. »»»