With the 45th annual Academy of Country Music Awards a dozen days away, the ACM dropped a long list of trophy recipients Tuesday that’s tattooed with a few publicly recognizable names — including Keith Urban and Mel Tillis — as well as a bunch of significant songwriters, musicians and executives. The off-camera winners, as they’re called, will be formally recognized when the West Coast-based Academy presents its annual ACM Honors in Nashville Sept. 21.
Keith is being honored with the Jim Reeves International Award for bringing global attention to country. Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, he’s done that somewhat naturally by connecting the dots between his homeland, the U.S. and Canada. Named for one of the first country stars to establish a strong presence overseas, the International Award has previously gone to such figures as Garth Brooks, Roy Clark, Dick Clark and Dolly Parton.
Mel and Marty Robbins are the latest acts to claim the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, which recognizes a lifetime of artistic achievement. They follow in the footsteps of such trailblazers as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
Don Schlitz and the late Cindy Walker are being recognized with the Poet’s Award, a songwriter prize based on a career’s worth of work. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Cindy penned such classics as Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” Ricky Skaggs’ “I Don’t Care” and Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream).” Don set himself up nicely by writing Kenny Rogers’ 1978 classic “The Gambler.” He would later become one of Nashville’s most in-demand composers, authoring Randy Travis’ “Forever And Ever, Amen” and “On The Other Hand,” Collin Raye’s “I Think About You” and Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All” among more than 50 hits.
Former ACM chairman Rod Essig, a Nashville-based booking agent, receives the Mae Boren Axton Award — named after the author of “Heartbreak Hotel” — for his service to the organization. And Crazy Heart, the movie that brought a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar to Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett, wins the Tex Ritter Award for motion pictures.
A bundle of session players, producers and engineers are also being recognized as the top figures in their particular craft. The winners, and some of their credits, follow:
• Top Guitarist: Brent Mason (credits: George Strait’s “Troubadour,” Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself In The Morning”)
• Top Piano/Keyboard Player: Michael Rojas (credits: Jack Ingram’s “Barefoot And Crazy,” Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”)
• Top Bass Player: Michael Rhodes (credits: Darius Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This For Long,” Toby Keith’s “Who’s Your Daddy”)
• Top Percussionist/Drummer: Shannon Forrest (credits: John Rich’s “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance”)
• Top Steel Guitar Player: Paul Franklin (credits: Chris Young’s “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song),” Jake Owen’s “Eight Second Ride”)
• Top Fiddle Player: Stuart Duncan (credits: Billy Currington’s “Good Directions,” Faith Hill’s “Breathe”)
• Top Specialty Instrument(s) Player: Randy Scruggs (credits: Sara Evans’ “Born To Fly,” Earl Scruggs’ The Ultimate Collection: Live At The Ryman)
• Audio Engineer: Justin Niebank (credits: Brad Paisley’s American Saturday Night, Blake Shelton’s Hillbilly Bone)
• Producer: Dann Huff (credits: Steel Magnolia’s “Keep On Lovin’ You,” Rascal Flatts’ “Unstoppable”)