The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame added four new people to its rolls Sunday night. They’re four people whose names are more likely to be in parentheses in an album’s liner notes than on a marquee. But without writers such as Paul Davis, Pat Alger, Steve Cropper and Stephen Foster to come up with the words and the melodies, many of the folks with a microphone in their hands would have nothing to sing.
“I can’t imagine my career without this song,” Garth said, as he launched into “The Thunder Rolls.” “But more important, I can’t imagine my career without you, Pat.”
Garth played “Thunder,” “Unanswered Prayers” and “That Summer,” a trio of songs he co-wrote with Pat, in a simple tribute with just voice and guitar — the same way the songs get created in rooms on Music Row and in other locations before they’re ever built up in a studio. But Garth was just the second artist to pay musical homage to Pat. Jimmy Wayne delivered a set of Pat Alger titles that became hits for other acts: “Goin’ Gone” (made famous by Kathy Mattea), “True Love” (Don Williams) and “Small Town Saturday Night” (Hal Ketchum).
“It all begins with a song,” Pat said, quoting a Nashville songwriter adage, “but it all ends with a song, too: ‘Amazing Grace.’ It’s the music we make in between that matters.”
Paul Davis, a former pop singer-songwriter who died in 2008, left a bevy of strong melodies. Tanya Tucker sang one of the songs Paul Davis wrote for her, “Love Me Like You Used To.” Fred Knobloch — best known as a member of the 1980s trio Schuyler, Knobloch & Overstreet — led a group of producers and musicians in portions of Paul’s biggest hits, including “Cool Night,” “I Go Crazy,” “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” “Sweet Life,” “‘65 Love Affair” and “Bop,” which was a No. 1 country single for Dan Seals. Many of the songwriters in the ballroom sang along during the tribute.
“It didn’t seem like he was guessing,” remembered Paul Overstreet, a friend and co-writer of “You’re Still New To Me,” a 1980s hit for Paul Davis and Marie Osmond. “He just knew what to do.”
Songwriter-guitarist Steve Cropper was hailed by T. Graham Brown’s soulful version of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” and a seering take on “Green Onions” by 19-year-old blues-rock guitarist Tyler Bryant. Stephen Foster, a 19th-century creator who was one of America’s songwriting pioneers, was welcomed into the Hall with Jim Lauderdale’s eery rendition of “Hard Times Come No More” and rootsy trio Mockingbird Sun’s takes on “O! Susanna,” “Beautiful Dreamer” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Numerous singer-songwriters and full-time writers were in attendance, including Kix Brooks, Lari White, Lee Roy Parnell, Bill Anderson, John Oates, Guy Clark, Bob McDill (“Gone Country”), Bobby Braddock (“He Stopped Loving Her Today”), Thom Schuyler (“16th Avenue”), Jeff Barry (“Be My Baby”), Matraca Berg (“Strawberry Wine”), Dennis Morgan (“I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”), Richard Leigh (“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”), Deborah Allen (“Baby I Lied”) and Bobby Tomberlin (“One More Day”).
The new Hall of Fame inductees join a legacy that includes such songwriters as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Harlan Howard, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and “I Fall To Pieces” author Hank Cochran, who was warmly saluted in recognition of his death this summer.
The artists might be the best-known passengers any time a song takes a ride up the charts, but the Nashville Songwriters Hall gives at least a little credit to the people who essentially write the artists’ scripts.
“If the producer and the record company are the car,” said George Strait producer Tony Brown, “then songwriters are the engine.”