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 whos mixed blues, country, rock and folk in his own work as an artist. Matraca grew up in Nashville in the shadow of many of countrys songwriting pioneers, writing her first hit as a teenager and infusing a pop melodicism into such hits as Deana Carters "Strawberry Wine" and Patty Loveless "You Can Feel Bad." Tom is one of Nashvilles most prolific craftsmen, quietly authoring more than 50 Top 15 hits including Brooks & Dunns "Aint Nothing Bout You" and George Straits "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 Johns 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 Johns 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 Dont Love Nobody," the Jeff Healey Band recorded "Angel Eyes."
"Thats the unexpected part of the whole deal," John observed. "I never really came here to be a songwriter for other people. Its just sort of a happy accident, and its a wonderful part of my career."
The set list for Matracas induction included Martina McBride singing "Wild Angels" and Kim Carnes, Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander combining in a version of "Strawberry Wine." Matracas first hit came at age 18 when T.G. Sheppard & Karen Brooks hit No. 1 with "Faking Love." She padded her credentials with Reba McEntires "The Last One To Know," Trisha Yearwoods "Wrong Side Of Memphis" and Patty Loveless "Im 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 didnt grow up listening to, so the melodies obviously are gonna be a little different. The chord changes might be different. Its funny because after [legendary songwriter] Harlan Howard died, I became obsessed with classic country melodies, and thats where [Gretchen Wilsons recording] I Dont Feel Like Loving You Today came from. It was the hardest thing Ive ever done, trying to get the words down the economy of words and the simplicity of melody and still getting an emotional rise."
Toms first hit was a pop single, George Bensons "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 Clarks "Better Things To Do," Neal McCoys "Wink," Sara Evans "I Keep Looking" and Montgomery Gentrys "She Dont Tell Me To." Among the performances slated to honor him were Jo Dee Messina singing "My Give A Damns Busted," Billy Dean crooning "If There Hadnt 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, youre in great shape; if not, youre in trouble. And yes, Im sure I must have moved with the trends but never truly consciously. Id just pick and choose what I like."
So did voters for the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions. Among the people whove previously been inducted: Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Rodney Crowell and Kris Kristofferson.