In a month’s time, the Country Music Association will elect one new member/act to the Country Music Hall of Fame in each of its three categories: Modern Era, Veteran Era and Songwriter/Musician/Non-Performer (this category rotates, and this year a songwriter will be elected).
For this article, I’m focusing on the Modern Era candidates, who are eligible for induction 20 years after they first achieve “national prominence.”
While there are several candidates who could also be considered in the Veteran Era (40 years after achieving national prominence), the pool of possible Modern Era candidates includes, among others, Clint Black, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, David Allan Coe, Crystal Gayle, Mickey Gilley, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, The Judds, Toby Keith, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Charlie Rich, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker, Shania Twain, Gene Watson, Keith Whitley, Hank Williams Jr. and Dwight Yoakam.
While all of the aforementioned names are deserving candidates, here are three of the leading nominees—in my opinion.
Mustachioed and mulleted, Alan burst onto the country music scene in 1990 with his platinum-selling debut album, Here in the Real World. But that success—and mullet—didn’t happen overnight. To truly appreciate the heights to which this singer/songwriter has risen, it’s important to know where he stated. Born into humble beginnings in Newnan, Ga., in 1958, Alan grew up listening to the spiritual sounds of gospel music in his family’s local church. After a friend introduced him to the stylings of Gene Watson and Hank Williams Jr., Alan became hooked on the everyman lyricism of country music. When Alan was 16, his parents bought him a $50 guitar, and he made his first public performance a year later.
After graduating from high school, Alan worked a series of blue-collar jobs, started his own band, Dixie Steel, and became a frequent performer at local clubs. He scraped by on the regional circuit before landing his big break in 1986 when his wife, Denise, who was working as a flight attendant, met Glen Campbell and gave him a copy of Alan’s demo. Alan secured a songwriting gig at Glen’s publishing company, eventually becoming the first artist to sign with Arista’s new Nashville division in 1989. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of the next 27 years, Alan unleashed 35 No. 1 hits, including his 9/11 tribute “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” dropped more than a dozen platinum albums and earned two Grammys, 16 CMA Awards (three for Entertainer of the Year) and 18 ACM Awards. He has sold nearly 60 million albums worldwide and ranks as one of the 10 best-selling country artists of all-time.
The folkloric escapades of Alan are almost as compelling as his music, from spontaneously adding a snippet of George Jones’ “Choices” to his set at the 1999 CMA Awards to donning a fake mullet and stonewashed jeans in his 2014 artist-in-residence show at the Country Music Hall of Fame. And if it’s been a while since you’ve reveled in the awesomeness of the 1993 music video for “Chattahoochee,” stop reading right now and watch it.
Born it Kentucky. Raised in Ohio. Perfected in California. Singer, songwriter, musician, actor—Dwight Yoakam is a man of many hats in the figurative sense, but you probably recognize him from the low-tilted Stetson that frequents his dome. Underneath that cowboy hat is undeniable genius. For the last 30 years, Dwight has been swiveling his talented hips across the U.S. of A. with a distinctive croon that’s unmatched in the genre.
Along the way, Dwight has sold more than 25 million albums worldwide and earned 12 gold albums and nine platinum or multi-platinum albums, including the triple-platinum This Time. Five of those albums have topped Billboard‘s Country Albums chart as well as two Billboard No 1 singles (“Streets of Bakersfield” and “I Sang Dixie”). In addition, Dwight has been nominated for 21 Grammy awards, winning two during his illustrious career.
More impressive than all of his accolades, Dwight was a pioneer in the area of country rock. Dwight mixed his Kentucky country roots with touches of Bakersfield and punk rock to create a new kind of country music, one that found its way to a younger—and definitely hip—audience. Toss in his movie and television roles and you have the definition of a diversified entertainer. Speaking of diversification, in 2016 Dwight added another genre-crossing album to his repertoire with Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars, a collection of tunes from his past catalog that were reinvented as bluegrass ditties.
Plus, Johnny Cash called Dwight his favorite modern country artist. That’s not something you put on your Hall of Fame plaque—that’s something you put on your tombstone.
Hank Williams Jr.
First of all, can you believe Hank Williams Jr. is NOT in the Country Music Hall of Fame? That, itself, is a travesty. But let’s get down to brass tacks, because 2017 could be the year Rockin’ Randall carries on the family tradition (his daddy was inducted in 1961). Hank Jr. has released 37 albums over his six-decade career, selling more than 70 million worldwide. In addition to his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (at least this HOF got it right), Jr. has topped the charts with 13 singles and has thrice been named the ACM Entertainer of the Year and twice the CMA Entertained of the Year. Add six platinum albums, 20 gold albums and a Grammy to his résumé, and you’ve got badass Bocephus who was a pioneer in bringing arena rock productions to country music with epic songs like “Family Tradition,” “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” and “A Country Boy Can Survive.”
Speaking of surviving, he fell off a freakin’ mountain in 1975 and came back with a rockin’ vengeance. Plus, he has three nicknames—Rockin’ Randall, Bocephus and Jr.—and most people don’t even get one.
Unfortunately, non-musical factors may play a part in Hank Jr.’s exclusion. He’s a controversial straight-shooter and has a history of making inflammatory political comments, such as the anti–Obama invective that eventually led to his dismissal from Monday Night Football. Incidents like that don’t always sit well with voters. Not saying that’s the actual reason why he’s not in the Hall—and what voter would admit to that, anyway—but you have to raise the question.
Toby Keith courtesy Shock Ink; Alan Jackson by Russ Harrington/Schmidt Relations; Clint Black courtesy PFA Media; Travis Tritt courtesy Aristo Media; Dwight Yoakam courtesy Warner Bros Records; Faith Hill courtesy PFA Media; Shania Twain by Brian Bowen Smith/Mercury Nashville; Marty Stuart courtesy The Greenroom PR; Naomi and Wynonna Judd by Matthew Rolston/The Oprah Winfrey Network; Hank Williams, Jr. by David McClister/Nash Icon Records