Passed over yet again

The Country Music Hall of Fame just made their annual announcement of new inductees:

--Billy Sherrill (a producer who is a great choice)
--Ferlin Husky (one of those guys who sang in the 50's and nobody who is still alive actually remembers, but whatever)

And two very curious choices:
--Jimmy Dean
--Don Williams

Dean was famous essentially for one song (Big Bad John), and then some acting and building a sausage empire. He is in no way a music legend.

Williams had a nice run of hits in the 70's and 80's. He's a borderline HOF-er, at best; he cranked out hits for several years, but he was not spectacularly popular nor did he have a profound impact. If you want to induct him, fine. But not at the expense of Ronnie Milsap.

I am befuddled why, in the last several years, many lesser talents than Milsap have been placed in the CM HOF. Roy Clark? Emmylou Harris? Vince Gill? Mel Tillis? Are you serious? All are nice artists, and I own a lot of their work, but they are simply not in the same league as Ronnie Milsap.

Let's look at it this way: Choose any criteria for a Hall of Famer, and Milsap is far and above the new (or even recent) inductees. What is the criteria, anyway? Successful sales? Mass appeal? Versatility? Impact? Awards? Quality?

Hits: he has somewhere between 36 and 40 #1's, behind only 3 artists in the history of country music: Strait, Haggard, and Twitty; he has two and a half time as many as Don Williams and about 18 times that of Jimmy Dean.

Or maybe you want to judge on broad-based appeal, because you value the ability to bring country music to a wider audience. That's fine. Milsap has had several hits on the pop charts, including one Top 5 hit on the Hot 100 (There's No Getting Over Me) and the #1 Adult Contemporary hit of the entire year for 1981 (Any Day Now). He started with hits on the R&B/Soul charts in the 1960's, and has had a couple of songs which were big hits in the disco era and got extensive play in dance clubs (Get it Up and Hi-Heel Sneakers). He was the first country artist to have a video break into the regular MTV rotation (She Loves My Car).

Don Williams, by contrast, has one sound. He does it very well, mind you. But there is absolutely no versatility in his body of work. He does two types of songs: toe-tappers (It Must Be Love, Tulsa Time, Heartbeat in the Darkness), and contemplative (every Don Williams song besides those three, but the standouts are "Good Old Boys Like Me" and "I Believe In You").

Can you imagine Don Williams belting out "She Loves My Car"? Can you imagine Jimmy Dean singing "Stranger In My House?

Maybe you just like a guy who has made an impact. Milsap's refusal to be pinned down to one type of music has opened the door to many other artists trying new sounds, and he has influenced many followers who are currently successful artists, including Trace Adkins, Keith Urban, and, in the rock world, The Los Lonely Boys. Does anyone cite Don Williams or Jimmy Dean as an influence?

Do awards impress you? He's got Grammys, ACMs, and CMAs, including the ultimate one: Entertainer of the Year, and several Album of the Year and Male Vocalist trophies.

If you value innovation, then Milsap is king. At a time when country music was full of traditionalists and slick pop crooners, Ronnie Milsap was trying several new sounds, and I'll be the first to admit that not all of it worked well ("I've Got the Music In Me" being Exhibit A), but most of it did. Yet he continued to crank out hits with a traditional country sound when he chose to do so, and he excelled at it ("Don't You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me"). He was the first to bring digital recording into country music.

Are you a pedigree person? Milsap was encouraged in his early career by Ray Charles, and then worked with Elvis, J.J. Cale, and T-Bone Walker.

Maybe you're a music snob who sets aside record sales and simply wants quality. Fine. Listen to this all the way through, and I dare you to not be moved. Other examples which don't have Youtube links: His renditions of House of the Rising Sun, and Johnny B Goode, as well as John Hiatt's "Old Habits Are Hard to Break" are as good as anything anyone has done on those tunes.

Look, even though if I'd place Milsap at the top of my list for the CM HOF, I am a reasonable man. There are a few artists who, if they were inducted before Ronnie Milsap, would not get any objection from me. Hank Jr is one. Garth or Kenny, maybe, because of their immense popularity for a short time. Ricky Skaggs, possibly. Perhaps if you want to bring some sorta-country artists in, I could allow for Rondstadt or John Denver.

But I question the country music credentials of any voter who, when faced with a choice between Don Williams and Ronnie Milsap, chooses Williams, let alone Jimmy Dean. It's inexcusable. Those guys don't have anything on Milsap.

I wonder who he ticked off.


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