Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Dierks Bentley were among the artists on hand to pay tribute to the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame Sunday night, October 25th. The annual Medallion Ceremony, held at downtown Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, was attended by an elite group of family members and colleagues of this year’s inductees, vocal groups the Oak Ridge Boys, Jim Ed Brown and the Browns and studio session guitarist Grady Martin.
Martin, a Tennessee native who moved to Nashville at age 15, was one of the few musicians to work with both Elvis Presley and Hank Williams, was celebrated with a performance of “El Paso” from Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. Hall of Fame member Vince Gill played Martin’s memorable guitar part from the 1959 Marty Robbins hit. Martin’s distorted, fuzzy solo on Robbins’ “Don’t Worry (‘Bout Me),” was recreated by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy, with Mandy Barnett on vocals. The result of a blown amplifier on the soundboard, Martin’s guitar work on the Robbins original inspired Keith Richards to recreate the sound for the Rolling Stones’ classic, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Other, countless hits are stamped with Martin’s distinctive guitar work including Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans,” Jeannie Pruett’s “Satin Sheets,” and the Ray Price crossover smash “For the Good Times.”
Guitarist Pete Wade, a longtime friend and colleague of Martin’s, performed an emotionally charged solo using “Big Red,” a Gibson 335 electric guitar Martin had given him. He was joined by Buddy Miller for a poignant version of Conway Twitty’s “Fifteen Years Ago.”
Brenda Lee, herself a member of both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was visibly emotional as she officially announced Martin’s induction. The singer noted her long history with Martin, who died in 2001, saying, “I started recording with Grady when I was 10 years old. Grady meant the world to me, and he played on every one of my hits.”
Hailing Martin as her mentor, friend and surrogate father, Lee said, “What Grady played is a part of the fabric of what we all do. So often, what we all do, he did it first. So often, what we do, he did it best.”
She also acknowledged the lasting impact the instrumentalist has on Nashville, which continues to boom as a musical town and tourist destination, saying, “Grady Martin is in the songs we write, and he’s in the records we make, and he’s in the air we breathe. He’s in the cranes we see around town, building skyscrapers, because people want to live and work here, and they want to make music here. Grady Martin is a big part of the reason why.”
Joshua Martin, the guitarist’s son, accepted the Hall of Fame medallion on behalf of his family.
In tribute to Arkansas-born trio the Browns, which consisted of siblings Jim Ed, Maxine and Bonnie, Texas swing artist Carolyn Martin and Nashville musician Chris Scruggs performed a lively rendition of the trio’s 1954 debut hit, “Looking Back to See.” Contemporary gospel group the Isaacs delivered the trio’s signature song, “The Three Bells,” which the Isaacs family band had also performed at Jim Ed Brown’s memorial service earlier this year.
Jim Ed’s fellow Grand Ole Opry member, Dierks Bentley, who lovingly referred to him as his “Opry dad,” feted the singer with a version of his 1967 solo hit, “Pop a Top.” Although Opry icon Bill Anderson had planned to induct the Browns into the Hall of Fame, he was forced to cancel due to illness, leaving Bobby Bare to fill in.
“I met the Browns in the summer of 1961 at a big fair up in Iowa,” Bare told the audience. “They were big stars. I had just seen them the week before on the Ed Sullivan Show.”
Bare, who also recalled family dinners shared with the Browns in Arkansas in the 1960s, drew laughs when he said of one of the siblings, “Maxine has a mouth on her. If you don’t really want to know the answer to a question, don’t ever ask Maxine. She’s going to give you the full answer. That’s why we love her.”
Becky Brown accepted the honor for her husband of 54 years, saying, “He spent his whole life doing what he wanted to do, with people he loved, and for people he loved. He felt so blessed every day.”
Noting that it was Hall of Fame member Minnie Pearl’s birthday, Bonnie Brown began by borrowing the comedienne’s famous phrase, “I’m just so proud to be here.” As an introduction of her family members in attendance, Bonnie explained that she and her sister had both stopped touring in the Sixties to raise their families. She then quipped, “I hate to turn this over to Maxine,” who began by insisting that Bonnie had only joined the group because they were touring with Elvis Presley. She took a more serious tone by saying that their children had made the biggest sacrifice because they were away so much, but when she introduced the band’s longtime manager, Tom Perryman, and his wife, Billie, who had traveled from Texas for the ceremony, she said of the couple that thy are nearing 90, “and still have their hair and teeth.”
To celebrate the long career of the Oak Ridge Boys, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, Joe Bonsall and William Lee Golden, Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band appeared as a last-minute substitute for Chris Stapleton and his wife, Morgane, who were unable to travel because of flooding in Texas. Hanna performed the Rodney Crowell-penned “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” a 1980 Number one for the quartet, who would enjoy both country and pop success in the early part of that decade. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were next, performing a touching version of the group’s 1978 hit, “I’ll Be True to You,” their first chart-topper.
The next act to hit the stage was a surprise for the group. The Martin Family Circus, featuring Allen’s daughter, Jamie, on vocals, also includes her husband, Paul Martin, and their four children, aged 8 to 17. They performed an exuberant version of the group’s massive crossover hit, “Elvira,” and soon had the audience singing along.
Kenny Rogers, a 2013 Hall of Fame honoree, handled induction honors for the Oak Ridge Boys, noting, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here tonight.” Explaining that he and group often toured together in the Seventies, Rogers recalled his father telling him to be friendly to everyone, but become friends with only a few.
“I chose the Oak Ridge Boys to be friends with,” he said. “Friendship doesn’t come without strings. You have to do what your friends ask you. They would be ready for you, if they’re good friends. You guys have been that to me. I have to tell you, I’m so, so proud of you.”
Each of the Oaks made individual remarks, with Joe Bonsall saying first, “In a lifetime and career of incredible things, this is the most incredible thing that has ever happened to the Oak Ridge Boys. The Oak Ridge Boys are family. We’ve always been family. Family is what’s most important. We tried to run our group that way. Trying to do what’s right. Trying to be honest always, like our parents taught us. Treat people right. I really think that’s why we’re here today.”
Hall of Famers in attendance included Bobby Bare, Harold Bradley, Garth Brooks, Roy Clark, Ralph Emery, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Ray Walker of the Jordanaires, Brenda Lee, Charlie McCoy, Randy Owen of Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Connie Smith, and E.W. “Bud” Wendell. A moment of silence was observed in memory of the Hall of Fame members who were lost in 2015: Jimmy Dickens, Billy Sherrill, and Jim Ed Brown. Bill Anderson presented Brown with his medallion formally inducting him just days before he lost his battle with cancer.