NASHVILLE, TENN., May 24, 2010- One is a compelling vocalist and consummate showman with an outgoing, sometimes outrageous personality that glowed on stage and on camera; the other is a reserved, reclusive wizard who quietly created magic with his songwriting and his stylistic grandeur as a record producer.
As different as they are, Ferlin Husky and Billy Sherrill both helped modernize country music in the post-rock
era, ultimately prodding the genre to grow in popularity and artistic sweep. For those lasting efforts, Husky and Sherrill were welcomed into the Country Music Hall of Fame in a near two-hour Medallion Ceremony on May 23.
The ceremony took place in the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum's Curb Conservatory. The event's customary home, the Museum's Ford Theater, is undergoing repair of damages received during Nashville's recent catastrophic flood.
"Tonight, as we celebrate the remarkable careers of Ferlin Husky and Billy Sherrill, we are reminded of country music's cultural importance to our city, our nation, and our world," said Kyle Young, the Museum's director.
Considered country music's most prestigious night, the Medallion Ceremony represents the official induction of new Hall of Fame members. Country music stars Jimmy Dean and Don Williams, who were elected into the Hall of Fame along with Husky and Sherrill, will be officially inducted at a separate Medallion Ceremony on October 24.
Other Hall of Fame members attending the ceremony to welcome the two new members were Bill Anderson, Harold Bradley, Jim Foglesong, Vince Gill, Sonny James, George Jones, members of the Jordanaires (Louis Nunley, Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker and Curtis Young), Barbara Mandrell, Charlie McCoy, Frances Preston, Charley Pride, Earl Scruggs, Mel Tillis, Jo Walker-Meador and Bud Wendell.
During the ceremony, the 84-year-old Husky and 73-year-old Sherrill listened to highlights of their lives and careers as well as to surprise guests who performed their classic songs.
"Ferlin and Billy, you are surrounded here by the family, friends and collaborators who have defined so much of your lives and who have come to pay tribute to you tonight," said Steve Turner, chairman of the Museum's board of officers and trustees. "We want you and your peers in the Hall of Fame to know that we too revere your accomplishments and hold you in highest esteem. Thank you for your magnificent contributions to country music and to the vitality of Music City."
True to form, Husky proved emotional and witty in accepting his honor, while Sherrill was humble and brief.
Hall of Fame member Charley Pride, who inducted Husky, spoke of their enduring friendship, which started in 1969 as Pride first began to tour; Husky was among the first of Nashville's stars to befriend him. On a plane flight from Tennessee to Florida, Pride discovered how Husky occasionally let his comic alter-ego, Simon Crum, emerge, even when offstage. He watched Husky argue with himself, "even though there wasn't anyone in the seat next to him," Pride quipped.
Husky had to rise from his wheelchair to be helped up the stairs to accept his Hall of Fame medallion from Pride. He struggled with his emotions as he addressed the crowd, saying, "I want to thank everybody who had anything to do with bringing me into this group, the people I've admired since I was a little child."
Those paying tribute to Husky included songwriter Dallas Frazier, who performed "Freckles and Polliwog Days," a song Frazier co-wrote with A.L. "Doodle" Owens that Husky released as a single in 1974; Ronnie McDowell with the Jordanaires and 87-year-old soprano Millie Kirkham, who performed "Gone," Husky's classic #1 hit from 1957, which included the Jordanaires and Kirkham on the original recording; Ricky Skaggs and the Whites, who performed Husky's crossover hit "Wings of a Dove," a #1 from 1960; and Webb Wilder, who performed "I Feel Better All Over (More Than Anywhere's Else)," a #6 hit from 1955 that represented Husky's comic side.
For Sherrill's induction, Hall of Fame member and retired BMI president Frances Preston opened with a joke about the producer's well-known trait of avoiding crowds and music industry parties. "There is no more miserable person in the whole city of Nashville, Tennessee, than Billy Sherrill tonight," she said, looking at her longtime friend with a smile. "He hates notoriety."
Preston underscored that Sherrill's songwriting artistry and "bold, confident innovations" as a producer were all the more remarkable considering his shyness. "He was not one to claim the limelight for himself," Preston said. "Billy, you made stars of many people, but tonight you are the star."
After Preston gently placed the Medallion around Sherrill's neck, Sherrill looked out on the crowd and paused. "You had to have a lot of help to get here, and I had it," he noted, singling out longtime CBS Records executive Clive Davis, music publisher Al Gallico, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and Muscle Shoals music pioneer Tom Stafford for helping him in his career.
Those paying tribute to Sherrill included Shelby Lynne, who performed "Stand by Your Man," a #1 hit from 1968 recorded by Tammy Wynette and co-written (with Wynette) and produced by Sherrill; Ronnie Milsap, who performed "The Most Beautiful Girl," a #1 hit from 1973 recorded by Charlie Rich and co-written (with Norro Wilson) and produced by Sherrill; Craig Morgan, who performed "Almost Persuaded," a #1 hit in 1966 for David Houston, co-written (with Glenn Sutton) and produced by Sherrill; and Lee Ann Womack, who performed "He Stopped Loving Her Today," a #1 hit in 1980 produced by Sherrill.
After an opening red-carpet reception, the invitation-only crowd of more than 250 celebrants heard the recorded version of Johnny Cash's 1959 hit "Five Feet High and Rising" to start the ceremony. As it finished, Young welcomed the crowd, saying, "In the wake of the great flood of 2010, it is especially heartwarming to have all of you here."
Live performances began with Vince Gill joining the Settles Connection choir in performing "Oh Happy Day," backed by the Medallion All-Star Band, led by keyboardist and music director John Hobbs. Joining Hobbs were drummer Eddie Bayers, pedal steel player Paul Franklin, electric guitarist Steve Gibson, bassist Michael Rhodes, fiddler Deanie Richardson, background vocalists Dawn Sears and Jeff White, and acoustic guitarist Biff Watson.
Young addressed Husky's contributions to country music by touting the singer, comedian and actor as "always ahead of his time." He recalled HHHHhow Husky helped establish the West Coast country music scene before moving to Nashville in the mid-1950s. There, with his hit song "Gone," he played a role in creating the famed Nashville Sound, "a sound that gave rock & roll a run for its money and forever put Music City on the map," Young said.
Born to parents Daisy Fern and Louis James Husky on December 3, 1925, Husky was raised in a rural farming and mining area 50 miles south of St. Louis. Given a guitar as a Christmas present as a child, Husky learned the basic chords from his uncle Clyde Wilson. Dropping out of high school his sophomore year, a common occurrence during the Great Depression, Husky moved to St. Louis, looking to advance himself as a musician while picking up work as a truck driver and steel mill worker, among other jobs.
In 1943, Husky joined the U.S. Merchant Marines, where he began entertaining other troops aboard ships. Nicknamed "Country" by his northern friends, Husky would play and sing during air raids and submarine alerts while spinning southern yarns and witty tales, many featuring a hometown character called Simon Crump.
On D-Day, during the U.S. invasion of Cherbourg, France, Husky survived 48 hours of continuous enemy fire and later was cited for his bravery as a volunteer gunner. After the war ended, Husky returned to Missouri and began performing regularly on a St. Louis radio station. He created a comic alter-ego, Simon Crum, an evolution of his storytelling from his military days.
Moving to California, he labored in lettuce fields before finding work as a DJ in Bakersfield. Signed to Four Star Records in 1949, he began recording as Terry Preston because he thought his real name sounded "too stagey." He befriended Cliffie Stone, a California music impresario and Tennessee Ernie Ford's manager. When Ford went on vacation one week, Husky replaced him as host of the TV show Hometown Jamboree. He became a regular on the show, leading to a recording contract with Capitol Records.
Husky recorded five singles as Terry Preston before Capitol Records executive and producer Ken Nelson convinced him to use his own name. He enjoyed his first chart success in a duet with Jean Shepard on 1953's "A Dear John Letter," a #1 country hit that also received play on pop stations. In 1955, after years of struggle, Husky had his first solo Top Ten hit, the comic "I Feel Better All Over (More Than Anywhere's Else)."
Later in 1955, Simon Crum made his Capitol Records debut with "Cuzz Yore So Sweet," a #5 country hit. In 1956, as rock music negatively impacted country record sales, Husky re-recorded "Gone," a song he had cut as Terry Preston in California, but this time with Ken Nelson as producer and with the voices of the Jordanaires and soprano Millie Kirkham instead of fiddle and steel guitar. Kirkham and the Jordanaires recorded together for the first time on this session and created a signature sound that went on to grace many country standards. This new version of "Gone" spent 10 weeks at #1 on the country charts and bulleted to #4 on the pop charts.
Husky joined the Grand Ole Opry and continued to have hits, including "A Fallen Star," "Prize Possession," "I Will," "My Reason for Living,""Draggin' the River" and "Black Sheep."
The emerging star started appearing regularly on network television variety shows hosted by Steve Allen, Arthur Godfrey and Ed Sullivan, and scored his first dramatic role in a Kraft Television Theater drama. He soon graduated to film, gaining feature roles in Mister Rock and Roll and Country Music Holiday, the latter alongside Zsa Zsa Gabor and Faron Young. All told, Husky eventually appeared in 18 movies and hosted his own television show.
He also further developed his Simon Crum alter-ego, becoming adept at impersonating top stars, including Roy Acuff, Little Jimmy Dickens, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, even pop singer Bing Crosby. He managed a duet with himself by taking the parts of both Red Foley and Kitty Wells. Crum also had a #2 hit with "Country Music Is Here to Stay."
In 1960, Husky released "Wings of a Dove," which also spent 10 weeks at #1 and reached the Top 20 of the pop charts, on its way to becoming a country classic. Two more hits later in the 1960s included "Once" and "Just for You." Husky also encouraged progressive songwriters and opened his home to help struggling talent, giving Tommy Collins and Dallas Frazier a place to sleep when they were just starting to establish themselves.
Between 1953 and 1975, Husky placed 51 singles on the Billboard country charts. He has toured the 50 states and all the Canadian provinces, as well as England, Germany and Japan. He has sold more than 20 million records and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In summarizing Sherrill's career, Young described how Sherrill revolutionized country music from the late 1960s into the 1980s with his lush productions of hits by George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, Tammy Wynette and many others. "He changed Nashville's production style, became a controversial genius and created immortal country music," Young said. He also acknowledged Sherrill's role as one of the most successful songwriters of his day.
Born in Phil Campbell, Alabama, to parents Ora Lucille Thompson and Clyde Rivers Sherrill on November 5, 1936, the Hall of Famer grew up playing piano alongside his father, an evangelical Southern Baptist preacher. But Sherrill looked beyond the church when contemplating his future. In a 2002 interview with Mix Magazine, Sherrill said, "My dad was being paid in cabbages and pigs, milk and fruit. There wasn't a whole lot of money in church music, but there was some in rock & roll."
He teamed up with musician-songwriter Rick Hall to play rock and R&B in the band the Fairlanes, and the two co-wrote "Sweet and Innocent" for Roy Orbison. Joined by pal Tom Stafford, they formed the publishing company Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) and set up shop above a drugstore. A royalty check for his songwriting prompted his move to Nashville.
Sherrill started working in a recording studio owned by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, where Sherrill began mixing recordings for the first time. In 1963, Epic Records hired Sherrill as a staff producer. He worked at first with non-country acts, including the Staple Singers and Barry & the Remains. His first country work came with Louisiana Hayride star David Houston, enjoying initial success with the 1965 hit "Livin' in a House Full of Love."
Sherrill co-wrote "Almost Persuaded" with Glenn Sutton, giving Houston his first #1 hit before the hit won three Grammy Awards, including Best Country & Western Song. Houston would go on to enjoy six more #l songs with Sherrill as producer, including the Tammy Wynette duet "My Elusive Dreams."
Unfamiliar with Nashville's studio techniques and accepted norms, Sherrill forged an unusual style of his own. Taking a cue from pop producer Phil Spector and his wall-of-sound recording techniques, Sherrill brought the process to country music, recording dense, layered productions behind several artists, including a newcomer to whom he gave the stage name Tammy Wynette.
A poor hair dresser and single mother when Sherrill met her, Wynette impressed the producer with her distinctive voice. He signed her to Epic Records, helping her gain her first chart song, "Apartment #9"; her first Top 5, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad"; then her first #1, "I Don't Wanna Play House." Other hits soon followed, including landmarks "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "Stand by Your Man." The team of Wynette and Sherrill went on to create 39 Top Ten hits, 20 of which went to #1.
Sherrill brought Charlie Rich to Epic Records in 1967, helping Rich define crossover country with a series of hits, "I Take It on Home," "Behind Closed Doors," "The Most Beautiful Girl," "A Very Special Love Song" and others. In the 1970s, Sherrill began working with thirteen-year-old Tanya Tucker, whose dusky voice and emotional delivery gave credence to the adult themes of her songs. She made her chart debut in 1972 with "Delta Dawn," a Top Ten hit, which was followed by three #1s: "What's Your Mama's Name," "Blood Red and Goin' Down," and "Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone)." Tucker became one of the most successful and in-demand stars of the era.
Also in 1972, Sherrill signed veteran George Jones to Epic Records, where he soon released such career singles as "A Picture of Me (Without You)," "The Grand Tour" and "The Door." Jones at first resisted recording "He Stopped Loving Her Today," thinking it too morbid, but Sherrill convinced him, and it went on to become one of the most popular country songs of all time.
Over time, Sherrill became credited with introducing the auteur approach to making records: writing, playing, producing, engineering and serving as a label executive. He has been recognized as a songwriter, joining the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984.
Young, in summarizing the evening, said, "Once again, great music brings us together. This ceremony is meant to help keep us together."
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The Museum's mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. With the same educational mission, the Foundation also operates CMF Records, the Museum's Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B, and Hatch Show Print®.
More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.com or by calling (615) 416-2001.