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Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Adds Mary Chapin Carpenter and More

Frederick Breedon, Getty Images

Mary Chapin Carpenter described being inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Sunday night (Oct. 7) as “tremendously exciting, nerve-wracking, very emotional and just humbling.” The singer-songwriter joined tunesmiths Larry Henley, Tony Arata and Kim Williams as the newest members of the Hall of Fame at a dinner and ceremony held at Nashville’s Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.

“I feel at a loss to find the words to adequately describe this experience, other than other worldly or surreal,” Mary Chapin told The Boot prior to her induction. “I’m afraid it will go by so quickly. I want to remember it forever.”

The writer of such country hits as “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “I Feel Lucky” was introduced and welcomed by Don Schlitz, one of her very rare co-writers, who told attendees, “Chapin has no idea what effect her songwriting has had on the Nashville songwriting community.”

Schlitz recalled wanting to write with Chapin, who replied that he wrote too many happy songs. “I wrote a song called ‘The Best You Can Hope for Is to Die at Home,” Schlitz joked. “Later we did write together and I found I had to do my very best because that was what she brought to be table.”

Singers Marc Cohn and Trisha Yearwood provided the interpretation of Chapin’s songs “The Hard Way” and “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her,” respectively. Upon her induction, Chapin said, “I learned several things from the Don Schlitz school of songwriting. One, you have to have a perfect rhyme. Another, I had to share emotions because he said we were doing this [songwriting] together.”

Mary Chapin thanked the people who had supported her throughout the years in Nashville, then paid special tribute to her late father, whom she said had encouraged her to be a part of the arts community. She said that in a letter she wrote him last year before he passed away, she had thanked him for believing in her even when she didn’t and noted that was what got her through the hard times before her career really took off.

Garth Brooks took a unique approach in inducting Kim Williams into the Hall of Fame. He interspersed Williams’ songs with narrative, remembering when the two first met he thought he was going to be writing with a hot chick.

“Instead this guy walks in,” Garth said. “That was in 1988. Today, to me, Kim Williams is what the definition of a true songwriter is. They bring the idea, they work on it and take it to the end. That’s what he did with the first song we wrote together, ‘New Way to Fly,’ and I still don’t know how my name got on it.”

Garth recounted Kim’s 1974 accident at the glass plant where he was working at the time, and the subsequent 10-month recovery, during which he began to follow what Garth called “the path God had for him,” which was songwriting. He also talked about the songwriter’s prescription-drug addiction and alcoholism, and the fact that Kim’s wife, Phyllis, stood by him every step of the way.

Garth remembered one day toward the end of recording his album The Chase, when Kim came wandering into the studio. Garth had just realized he needed one more song so he asked Kim if he had one and the answer was yes. “Well let’s hear it,” Garth said, to which Kim replied, “We’ve got to write it.”

It turned out that Kim had seen a photo in the newspaper that day of a semi-truck in the side of a motel, and thought they could write a love song from it. The result was “Papa Loved Mama.” Garth also sang “Three Wooden Crosses,” saying it was the song that re-energized Randy Travis‘ career.

Kim told the audience that when you look forward on your life, it seems chaotic; when you look back, it seems as if someone carefully planned it all. After thanking his publishers and co-writers, Kim thanked his wife for sticking by him even when he asked her to divorce him, saying he would not have made it without her. He concluded with, “I thank God, Garth Brooks and Phyllis.”

Trisha came back out to perform Larry Henley’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a song that has been recorded more than 200 times since Gary Morris first released it. Also performing several of his songs were Billy Burnette and Bekka Bramlett who offered a medley of his tunes, “‘Til I Get It Right,” “Is It Still Over” and “Lizzie and the Rainman” and “He’s a Heartache.”

Prior to the ceremony, Kim and Larry were joking about the “good old days,” with Kim proclaiming Larry a master songwriter who taught him a lot when he came to town. He remembered attending a seminar where Larry was one of the teachers.

“I sat at the feet of the masters,” Kim told Larry. “You had already written ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ and I was fortunate to get to do that. It helped me to see the other writers and know that they put their pants on the same way I did. You learn from everyone, either what to do or what not to do. In Larry’s case, he taught us what to do.”

“I’m thrilled and when I found out it was with Kim, it just blew my mind,” Henley noted. “I thought I’d never make it in the first place and when I found out it was with you it was a big thrill. It made me feel like I taught something and you learned it,” he joked.

After his induction, Larry Henley said, “This is a blessing and a treasure. I will always remember this moment. Thank you very much.”

Garth returned to the stage to honor Tony Arata, the writer behind Garth’s mega-hit “The Dance.” Earlier in the evening, Tony told The Boot that he had the song two-and-a-half years before Garth released it. “He heard me do it one evening at [legendary Nashville venue] the Bluebird and he told me if he ever got a record deal he would cut the song. I’m glad no one else ever cut it, because I think Garth was the person who was supposed to do it.”

Pat Alger inducted Tony, and both he and Garth joked that often people will think they wrote “The Dance.” “I just say thank you, because it’s great for someone to think just for a few minutes that I’m the person that wrote that great song,” Pat said.

Fred Knobloch, Jellyroll Johnson and Pete Wasner performed a medley of Tony Arata hits, including “Here I Am,” “Holding My Own,” “The Change” and “Dreaming with My Eyes Open.”

“My dad gave me some advice when we were leaving for Nashville,” Tony recalled. “He told me that I had lost my mind. The closer we got to Nashville, the more I thought he was right.”

It all worked out for Arata, who thanked his co-writers including Leroy Parnell, and those who had become his friends and peers. “Thank you for this most humbling award and honor,” he told the crowd. “This has given me an evening of sweet memories that I will carry with me all of my days.”

In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, the Nashville Songwriters Association International announced its songwriter awards. The songwriter/artist award went to Taylor Swift for the fifth year in a row. Taylor sent a video from London, giving a shout-out to all her friends and thanking them for the award. “Five years, that’s crazy,” she said. “I’m blown away. I would be there freaking out but I have a show to do in a few minutes.”

Dallas Davidson was named Songwriter of the Year for writing such hits this past year as “We Owned the Night,” “Just A Kiss,” both by Lady Antebellum; “I Don’t Want this Night to End” and “Country Girl (Shake it for Me),” both by Luke Bryan; “If Heaven Weren’t So Far Away” by Justin Moore; “Where I Come From,” by Montgomery Gentry; “This Ole Boy” by Craig Morgan; “Take It Off” by Joe Nichols and “A Buncha Girls” by Frankie Ballard.

“I am truly blessed, and I think God for this,” Dallas said, noting that it was his wife’s birthday. “There are so many other great songwriters who could have been called up here. This has been a great night.”

Dolly Parton received honors for Song of the Year for “I Will Always Love You.” In a taped message, the songstress said, “What a great honor. It was a song I wrote straight from the bottom of my heart, and I have to thank Porter Wagoner for inspiring it. No matter how many awards you get, it’s always great to get Song of the Year.”

Last week, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that they will have a new home in the brand-new downtown Convention Center currently under construction next to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

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