The Country Music Hall of Fame: Who Should Get In Next?
by Music Critic Jeff M. Willoughby
The recent Pro Football Hall of Game enshrinement ceremony, held in Canton, OH, really got this country music historian to thinking about the Country Music Hall of Fame in good ole Nashville, TN. There have been plenty of individuals and groups in Music City U.S.A. who have been overlooked for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and in some cases for no particular reason either. Some of the omissions have been utterly shocking and indeed inexcusable but then again there are others who over time have sadly and unfortunately faded from the collective memory of those in charge of the Hall of Fame. I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of the top twenty-five country music acts and other influential people in the business who should be given this most prestigious honor as soon as possible, and they are in no particular order:
Keith Whitley – A lot of country fans forget that in the 1970’s Keith Whitley made quite a name for himself as a leading bluegrass vocalist. The country music phase of his career was relatively short (about 5 years) but the music he recorded truly stands the test of time and influenced many other entertainers. And a whole bunch of the lyrics he sang were autobiographical. How many of today’s stars can claim that?
Dottie West – As the so-called sexual revolution of the 1970’s reached its pinnacle, so did the career of Dottie West. She transformed herself from a 60’s artist similar in style to Patsy Cline who wouldn’t (and perhaps couldn’t or wasn’t allowed to) push the envelope with a suggestive song (she once turned down “Help Me Make It Through The Night”) into a spandex-wearing cougar in the late 70’s and early 80’s. She endured a string of financial and IRS setbacks toward the end of her life, which possibly marred her legacy to a degree.
Bobby Bare – It is believed that it was Bobby Bare who helped RCA get acquainted with a future superstar named Waylon Jennings. That right there is enough in my opinion to deserve being in the Hall of Fame. He also succeeded in truly marrying the folk and country styles of music during the turbulent 1960’s and he has enjoyed numerous hits although he has always been rather underrated.
Don Rich – Best known as Buck Owens’ fiddler and guitarist, he was as responsible as anybody was for the Bakersfield sound. When he tragically died in a 1974 motorcycle wreck, it was a crushing blow to not only the career but the life of Buck Owens, who was never the same without Rich.
Jerry Reed – One of the most innovative guitar pickers ever in country music; only Chet Atkins do I consider a better one. He was also a fantastic singer, songwriter, and actor. The movies that Reed was featured in, most notably “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Waterboy,” grossed nearly a half billion dollars at the box office. He should have been put in there way before his death in 2008 at age 71.
Kenny Rogers – It’s appalling that he hasn’t been voted in yet. 21 #1 singles and nearly 200 million albums sold internationally! He’s a winner of multiple Grammys, American Music Awards, not to mention the ACM, CMA, and Music City News awards he has racked up over the years. And let’s not forget “The Gambler” movies and his other popular TV and film roles. What else must he do to be voted in?
Jerry Clower – A one-time fertilizer salesman, he was one of the very few comedians, country or otherwise, who never used a dirty word to tell a funny story. He recorded 27 albums for MCA; all of them were well-received. and sold many copies An Opry member for nearly 25 years, he played a pivotal role in the success of the syndicated TV series “Nashville on the Road.”
Vern Gosdin – He was nicknamed “The Voice” by his peers in the industry for a reason. If you don’t believe me, then listen to his final major hit from 1990, the gut-wrenching “Is It Raining At Your House.” A lot of soulful, honky-tonk influence was in his work, which included 19 Top 10 country singles, 3 of them going all the way to #1. Gosdin was originally involved in the West Coast country movement in the 1960’s along with Chris Hillman (later of The Desert Rose Band) and others.
The Browns – Consisting of Jim Ed Brown (who later had a pretty nice solo career himself and then a white-hot duet career with Helen Cornelius) along with his sisters Maxine and Bonnie, they had such smooth harmonies. They are best known for their 1959 megahit “The Three Bells.”
Dean Dillon – He wrote or co-wrote a significant number of George Strait’s biggest hits, including “The Chair,” “Ocean Front Property,” and “She Let Herself Go.” In addition to that, he penned “Tennessee Whiskey” for George Jones and had a modest little recording career himself during the early ’80s, most notably having the original hit with “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her,” which George Strait made immensely popular a few years later.
The Kendalls – Jeannie and Royce Kendall comprised this rare father/daughter team, popularizing the cheating song all over again back in the late 1970’s with tremendous success. Their energetic harmonizing alone is more than enough for a place in the Hall of Fame.
Ray Stevens – Most people consider Ray Stevens to be primarily a comic, but he can sing very serious, thoughtful songs, such as “Everything Is Beautiful,” just as well as he can the novelty songs like “Shriner’s Convention” and “The Streak” that he is best known for.
Ronnie Milsap – This versatile artist overcame total and complete visual impairment to become one of the very best all-around country singers of all time. He could score with a stone-butt traditional country song like “That Girl Who Waits On Tables” or something more pop-flavored such as “Inside” or “Button Off My Shirt.” He is long-overdue to have a plaque inside the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Oak Ridge Boys – This quartet’s roots can be traced all the way back to World War II when they were asked to perform for those who were putting together the first atomic bomb in Oak Ridge, TN as part of the Manhattan Project. After years as a top gospel act, they switched their focus to country in the mid 1970’s and became a powerhouse hit-making machine. Remember “Elvira?”
Mickey Gilley – He was a solid artist throughout the mid 1970’s but by 1978 and 1979 his songs started to chart progressively lower and lower. Then along came “Urban Cowboy” and his remake of “Stand By Me.” His career took off like a rocket once again. Not only did he put Pasadena, TX on the map with his nightclub, but he later was one of the first entertainers to build a theatre in Branson, MO.
Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers – Their three-part harmonies, which contained Larry’s dynamic falsetto voice, led to one of the most critically-acclaimed acts in all of music from the late 1970’s through much of the 1980’s. They were gifted leaders in the Countrypolitan style of country music.
Archie Campbell – If Junior Samples was the most beloved cast member on “Hee Haw,” then Archie Campbell was its heart, soul, and conscience. This highly intelligent man of many talents was also a member of the Opry and a fantastic singer also, often performing duets with a lady named Lorene Mann. Archie was also an avid painter and a darn good one.
Brooks & Dunn – Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn…what more needs to be said? Believe it or not, a few radio personalities before listening to their debut single incorrectly assumed this was a duet pairing of Garth Brooks and Holly Dunn (who was enjoying a brief run of hits at the time). Wow were those disc jockeys stunned when they finally played it!
Mark Chesnutt – A honky-tonk stylist of the highest order, Chesnutt worked his butt off in the Beaumont, TX area for years before becoming one of the most important pure country singers of the 1990’s. When he sings a song like “Too Cold At Home” or “Old Country,” it’s like he’s in the same room with the person listening, and in that regard is he not unlike George Jones or Lefty Frizzell.
George Richey – He was the person who finally provided Tammy Wynette with a stable and loving married life and perhaps that fact by itself makes Richey eligible for the Hall of Fame. But he was much more than just that. He was a superb songwriter who also produced quite a few records. In addition, he was also the musical director on “Hee Haw” during the years when the long-running show was at its very hottest.
Bob McDill – McDill is often viewed as one of the better songwriters to ever come through Nashville. He is best known for composing the classics “Good Ole Boys Like Me” for Don Williams and “Amanda,” which was first a minor hit for Don Williams and then a #1 smash for Waylon Jennings a few years later.
Joe Galante – The driving force behind the successes of RCA during the 1980’s and into the early 1990’s when the RCA roster included Alabama, The Judds, Keith Whitley, and later on Clint Black, among others. Galante is probably one of the most influential people in Nashville still today.
Johnny Rodriguez – He was the very first Latin-American country singer to achieve superstardom, preceding the late, great Freddy Fender by approximately three years. Acute personal problems have caused him quite a bit of difficulty but his overall body of work is impressive and speaks for itself.
Earl Thomas Conley – Very quietly Conley put together a string of 18 number-one country singles in the 1980’s, making him one of the most consistent hit makers of that period. He gave the listener a good look into the heart and soul of the characters he sang about in his recordings, many of them he wrote himself or co-wrote.
The Chuck Wagon Gang – Founded in 1936 during The Great Depression, they were once the top selling act of any musical genre on the Columbia label. Without the pioneering of this gospel group, we might not have enjoyed The Statler Brothers, or The Oak Ridge Boys, or any of the great groups or bands with terrific harmonies that country music fans have grown accustomed to down through the years. They deserve to be in.
Well, what does everyone think? Do you agree? Who do you think I might have overlooked? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Facebook under my full name: Jeffery Mark Daniel Willoughby and give me your opinion. It should be most interesting and intriguing to discover the opinions of the readers on this most fascinating topic.