It was the early 1970s and Rodney Crowell had just moved from Houston to Nashville, where he quickly hooked up with fellow native Texan Guy Clark and was hoping to become a songwriter. Clark gave him some sage advice: “The first thing you gotta do,” he said, “is you gotta go to school on Mickey Newbury.”
Crowell told that story Saturday night at the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association’s annual Hall of Fame show at the Paramount Theatre. An unbilled surprise guest, Crowell — who played a big part in last year’s TxHSA tribute to Clark — then delivered a sterling rendition of Newbury’s “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye,” one of countless memorable songs Newbury left behind when he died in 2002.
Crowell followed Larry Gatlin, whose version of Newbury’s classic “San Francisco Mabel Joy” was probably the night’s most touching moment. Reaching high for the soaring notes Newbury hit on his early-1970s recording of the song, Gatlin filled the room with emotion, explaining later that he wasn’t trying to sing like Mickey; he just did, naturally.
Chris Newbury, a Florida musician who is Newbury’s son, had the unenviable task of following Gatlin and Crowell, but he acquitted himself well with “An American Trilogy,” a melding of three 19th-century traditional songs that was Newbury’s lone top-40 pop hit (and later a staple of Elvis Presley’s concert repertoire). On behalf of his father, Chris accepted the Hall of Fame Award, one of four given out during this well-paced two-and-a-half-hour show.
Nashville songwriter Liz Rose, born and raised in the Dallas area, was honored first. Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey sang “Girl Crush,” the song they co-wrote with Rose that became a smash for Little Big Town. Jack Ingram, accompanied by Jon Randall, got some giggles from the crowd for his good-natured turn on “You Belong With Me,” a Taylor Swift smash-hit that Rose co-wrote.
In a joyful and tearful acceptance speech, Rose explained that she tells people who ask where she’s from: “I live in Nashville, but I’m FROM Texas.” Rose’s induction was a welcome addition to the TxHSA’s Hall, which historically has been too much of a boys’ club. Of three dozen past recipients, only two (Cindy Walker and K.T. Oslin) had been women.
A third section honoring Buddy Holly was musically entertaining — with Maren Morris singing “It’s So Easy,” Radney Foster rocking “Rave On” and Joe Ely doing “Well… All Right” — if historically overdue. Holly certainly belongs in the TxHSA’s Hall, but given that he was among the 10 charter inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 32 years ago, it seemed a little late in coming.
Ray Wylie Hubbard was a solid choice to conclude the evening. His Texas songwriting chops are beyond reproach, and his offbeat humor provided some of the night’s most enjoyable light-hearted diversions (including a hilarious aside involving emcee Ronnie Dunn, who did a fine job keeping things rolling throughout). Eric Church, a guest on Hubbard’s 2017 album “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There As Fast As I Can,” joined in for three songs, and Hayes Carll teamed with Hubbard on their co-write “Drunken Poet’s Dream.”
READ MORE: Our 2017 interview with Ray Wylie Hubbard
The finale was obvious: “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” sung by the entire cast of performers backed by the stellar musicians who’d provided sterling support all night (including fiddler Warren Hood, guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn, bassist Bruce Hughes and drummer John Chipman). True to his character, Hubbard played it loose with the lyrics: “M is actually for the Mileage I’ve gotten outta this song.” Indeed.