Matraca Berg, John Hiatt, Tom Shapiro in Hall of Fame

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Matraca Berg photo courtesy of myspace.com/matracaberg.


Oct. 27, 2008 — Emmylou Harris, Jo Dee Messina and Kim Carnes were among a cadre of artists who were slated to take part Sunday night as three significant Music City composers — John Hiatt, Matraca Berg and Tom Shapiro — were added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Each of the three inductees has a unique place as a writer. John, who was honored last month with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association, is a singer-songwriter who’s mixed blues, country, rock and folk in his own work as an artist. Matraca grew up in Nashville in the shadow of many of country’s songwriting pioneers, writing her first hit as a teenager and infusing a pop melodicism into such hits as Deana Carter’s "Strawberry Wine" and Patty Loveless’ "You Can Feel Bad." Tom is one of Nashville’s most prolific craftsmen, quietly authoring more than 50 Top 15 hits — including Brooks & Dunn’s "Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You" and George Strait’s "Living And Living Well" — while some of his less-decorated writing compadres have earned greater public attention.

Emmylou, Shawn Colvin and Michael McDonald were scheduled to perform some of John’s songs, including "Have A Little Faith In Me" and "The Way We Make A Broken Heart," during the ceremony. It was an appropriate representation of John’s career. He found his way from Indiana to Nashville to become an artist, but found his songs worked for other acts as well: Suzy Bogguss cut "Drive South," the Desert Rose Band nabbed a hit with "She Don’t Love Nobody," the Jeff Healey Band recorded "Angel Eyes."

"That’s the unexpected part of the whole deal," John observed. "I never really came here to be a songwriter for other people. It’s just sort of a happy accident, and it’s a wonderful part of my career."

The set list for Matraca’s induction included Martina McBride singing "Wild Angels" and Kim Carnes, Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander combining in a version of "Strawberry Wine." Matraca’s first hit came at age 18 when T.G. Sheppard & Karen Brooks hit No. 1 with "Faking Love." She padded her credentials with Reba McEntire’s "The Last One To Know," Trisha Yearwood’s "Wrong Side Of Memphis" and Patty Loveless’ "I’m That Kind Of Girl," among others.

"I was listening to Chrissie Hynde and Joni Mitchell," Matraca said, recognizing the pop influences on her writing. "I had this hodge podge of stuff that my heroes didn’t grow up listening to, so the melodies obviously are gonna be a little different. The chord changes might be different. It’s funny because after [legendary songwriter] Harlan Howard died, I became obsessed with classic country melodies, and that’s where [Gretchen Wilson’s recording] ‘I Don’t Feel Like Loving You Today’ came from. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, trying to get the words down — the economy of words and the simplicity of melody — and still getting an emotional rise."

Tom’s first hit was a pop single, George Benson’s "Never Give Up On A Good Thing," when he lived in Los Angeles in 1982. But he discovered Nashville and country were a better thing, and he racked up a long list of familiar titles, including Terri Clark’s "Better Things To Do," Neal McCoy’s "Wink," Sara Evans’ "I Keep Looking" and Montgomery Gentry’s "She Don’t Tell Me To." Among the performances slated to honor him were Jo Dee Messina singing "My Give A Damn’s Busted," Billy Dean crooning "If There Hadn’t Been You" and co-writer Mark Nesler rendering "You Look Good In My Shirt."

"I have people laugh at me about this," Tom said, explaining his longevity, "but I simply write what I like. If what you like is what other people like, you’re in great shape; if not, you’re in trouble. And yes, I’m sure I must have moved with the trends but never truly consciously. I’d just pick and choose what I like."

So did voters for the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions. Among the people who’ve previously been inducted: Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Rodney Crowell and Kris Kristofferson.

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