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Pat Alger (left), Layng Martine, Jr., Randy Owen, Jeffrey Steele and Mark Ford
Photo Credit: Bev Moser
Friends, family and music industry insiders filled the grand ballroom of Nashville’s Music City Center to witness Sunday night’s (Oct. 13) induction of Jeffrey Steele, Layng Martine Jr., Will Jennings and Alabama‘s Randy Oweninto the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Among those honoring the four new members by performing their songs were Vince Gill,Emmylou Harris, Connie Smith, Ray Stevens, Richard Leigh, Craig Wiseman, the Shuggah Pies, Aaron Lewis, Jamey Johnson, Striking Matches and American Idol runner-up Kree Harrison.
Before the inductions, Nashville Songwriters Association International — the Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame Foundation’s sister organization — presented Taylor Swift her sixth songwriter-artist of the year award and revealed its member-voted list of “The 10 Songs I Wish I’d Written.”
In addition, NSAI named Rodney Clawson its songwriter of the year and “I Drive Your Truck” its song of the year.
Amy Kurland, the founder and former owner of Nashville’s Bluebird Café, the internationally fabled songwriters’ haven, was given the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award.
Counting the cocktail party, which commenced at 4:30 p.m., the event ran for almost six hours.
Songwriter Bob DiPiero, himself a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, welcomed Steele into the ranks.
Chronicling Steele’s trajectory from growing up in Southern California as the son of an aspiring songwriter up through Steele’s membership in the group Boy Howdy, DiPiero said, “It’s amazing. It’s life-affirming what he can do onstage.”
Then DiPiero turned to the great tragedy in Steele’s life, the loss of his 13-year-old son, Alex, in an ATV accident in 2007. That loss, DiPiero noted, ultimately led to the formation of the Alex LeVasseur Memorial Fund to aid underprivileged children.
Once the introduction was over, the spotlight shifted to Al Anderson, Craig Wiseman and the Steele-produced trio, the Shuggah Pies, who formed a line onstage to sing some of Steele’s biggest hits.
It was a long and vigorous sampling that included “My Wish,” “When the Lights Go Down,” “Unbelievable,” “The Cowboy in Me,” “Love Is a Beautiful Thing,” “International Harvester,” “Something to Be Proud Of” and “Brand New Girlfriend.”
Aaron Lewis completed the segment with a wistful rendition of “What Hurts the Most.”
Steele recalled when he first played the Bluebird Café in 1987, hoping to gain a foothold in Nashville, he lost his voice, tried to restore it by drinking pickle juice and wound up being sick at his stomach. He observed wryly that the appearance failed to get him a record deal.
He said his dad had been a steel worker — and that’s inspired his name.
“My [real] last name is LeVasseur,” he said, “which is French for ‘Smith.'”
Steele reserved his highest praise for his wife, Stephanie.
“She’s the reason I’m standing here and why I’m still alive,” he said. “And she’s still the hottest chick in the room.”
Hall of Famer Waylon Holyfield presented Martine for induction. He recounted that Martine, his wife Linda and their two small children moved to Nashville in 1972.
The fledgling songwriter’s first hit came two years later when Billy “Crash” Craddock took his “Rub It In” to No. 1 on the country chart and No. 16 on the pop list.
“Rub It In” — changed to “Plug It In” — also spent several years as the theme for an air freshener commercial, Holyfield said.
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