Dierks Bentley called the medallion event honoring inductees Mel Tillis, Ralph Emery and Vince Gill "the last link to the good stuff." True musical visionaries including Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Kenny Rogers, Michael McDonald and Bill Gaither got a deserving welcome on this red carpet, where even the arrival of noted guitarist Jimmy Capps was announced to the crowd by Bill Cody.
Amy Grant was by husband Vince's side, but just barely. She had been booked for months to perform out of town, but was able to change the show from evening to afternoon. She slipped into her black dress in an airport bathroom. The night was also special for Vince because it was the 82nd birthday of his mother, who was there to witness his big night. "She's the same age as the Grand Ole Opry," Amy said. "You would think she was 60. He gets all of his good looks from his Mama."
Ralph put the finishing touches in his speech about four hours before the ceremony, but Vince and Mel decided to wing it.
"I have personally been flooded with an awful lot of years of memories," Vince said. "Every garage band I was in that got me here, every record I got somebody to buy got me here, every song I wrote with somebody else got me here. The thing that gives me great peace is knowing I did this with an enormous amount of help along the way."
Mel's thoughts turned to his train trip from Florida to Nashville 52 years ago. "I knocked on a few doors," said Mel, as his wife, Kathy DeMonaco stood nearby. "I wanted to be a singer and they said, 'We don't want any stuttering singers.' I said, 'Oh boy, what do you want?' They said, 'We need songs.' I said, 'I've never written a song in my life,' so I started writing songs."
Mel's "Stick With Me Baby" is included on the new Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album.
Little Richard has recorded Mel's "I Ain't Never" for an upcoming album benefitting Don Imus' ranch for sick children. Dierks said his version of the song delivered Sunday was a different than Little Richard's.
"I'm not going to dance on top of the piano!" Dierks said. "Mel's original version is pretty good, so it's hard to beat that, so that is what I'm going to do — same key, same everything."
Martina was delighted to honor Ralph, who was instrumental in promoting her career early on. I asked if she dared to dream that one day she might join him in that legendary circle.
"No," she said. "That is one of those things that seems so far out of your reach. It is the pinnacle."
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