In the men’s room of New York’s Marriott Marquis hotel just before the start of the 46th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony, one man said, “Anyone know any jokes?” Another replied, “I got a check from Pandora for $1.89 — for six million plays.”
He was joking, or at least exaggerating, but only just: Few have borne the brunt of the music industry’s shrinking revenue more than songwriters. And while this evening is the apex of each year for the songwriting community, a longed-for accolade for so many superstars — both Toby Keith and Nate Ruess said that all their other awards pale in comparison to an SHOF award — songwriters getting their due was a frequent theme of many of the on-stage comments.
This event is the great equalizer for songwriters: You meet someone briefly and may not realize who they are, and suddenly it’ll dawn on you: “That was Bobby Braddock, he wrote ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ and ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’” and two hours later, there’s Jennifer Nettles on-stage speaking about him in awestruck tones before singing one of his songs.
The show, which takes months to organize, features performers and songwriters paying tribute to each other, and while the standards are always high, each year is guaranteed to have at least one jaw-dropping moment— usually a couple. The highlights this year? Stephen Colbert making a surprise appearance to induct Toby Keith, Lady Gaga and Linda Perry inducting each other and performing each other’s songs and Zac Brown paying tribute to Grateful Dead songwriters Robert Hunter (who was present) and the late Jerry Garcia.
The evening’s performances opened with one of the more unexpected tributes in recent SHOF history: blues legend Willie Dixon being inducted by powerhouse soul singer Ledisi and, er, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora. Backed by the always-stellar house band, they tore through a medley of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” / “Hoochie Koochie Man” / “Spoonful” / “Wang Dang Doodle.” Ledisi killed it; Sambora did better than you might expect. A spoken tribute from Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin followed, spiked with the bombastic, if apt, words that often bedeck his lyrics: “Willie was an absolute titan, a colossus of composition, an architect who wrote the blueprint for a thousand fledgling bands … I think of Willie as the Shakespeare of the blues…” (you get the idea). The award was graciously accepted by Dixon’s daughter Jacqueline, who said, “My dad was such a humble man that I don’t think he ever would have imagined being recognized by the best of the best in the industry.”
Next up, Carly Rae Jepsen inducted her “personal hero” Cyndi Lauper with a breathy and respectful take on “Time After Time,” nailing the high notes on the chorus despite not having Lauper’s firepower (few do). Lauper performed “Hat Full of Stars,” finishing by tossing her glitter-filled hat out into the crowd.
Opening her acceptance speech with a comically nasal “Wow,” a tearful Lauper thanked many people from her 30-plus-year career, concluding by saying, “I still can’t believe that I can make a living making music. People always say,” she adopted a granny tone, “‘that’s very nice, what do you do for a living?’”
To anyone at all familiar with the longstanding and fierce rivalry between ASCAP and BMI, the sight of the former’s president/chairman Paul Williams and the latter’s CEO Michael O’Neill approaching the stage together was comically incongruous, and not just because they’re easily a foot apart in height, but also because they were there to honor recently retired ASCAP CEO John Lo Frumento, who’d held the post for 33 years. O’Neill opened by joking “I was so excited when they asked me to honor J.Lo — whoops, different J.Lo!” before elegantly praising LoFrumento’s work “not just for ASCAP writers, but for all songwriters.”
Ne-Yo — whom Williams singled out as someone “who always says yes when we ask him to join us in Washington and speak to Congress” — came up and did an energetic version of “Make Me Better,” clad in a designer t-shirt, blue jacket and black porkpie hat.
“Where’s my buddy John?” he said, greeting LoFrumento with a big hug.
During LoFrumento’s gracious acceptance speech, it was slightly distracting to see Lady Gaga walk up to the sound-engineer’s platform at the back of the hall and speak with him, but that was nothing compared to what came next: Stephen Colbert, clad in a black Stetson hat and a denim jacket with a fake fur collar, performed Toby Keith’s “As Good As I Once Was” and then inducted him with a hilarious speech recalling Keith’s first appearance on his show.
“My favorite part was of the night was, as the Big Dog was leaving out the stage door and I was going to the rewrite room — this was very early on in my show and he didn’t know what he was in for I guess — he turned around to me and he said, ‘Hey man, you do a great job … whatever the f— it is you do.’
“I was sincerely, deeply moved by that comment, so much so that my executive producer — this is true — had it stitched on a pillow for me for Christmas,” he said, holding up said pillow.
Keith’s long and touching acceptance speech highlighted one of the night’s themes: “We used to make good money doing this,” he said. “That royalty money might change [a songwriter’s] life and protect his family.”
“This award tonight is the only thing I’ve ever wanted … it’s the only award that I would show in my house.”
He then played a song dedicated to his grandmother, nicknamed Clancy, who ran the bar where he first played with a band.
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This story first appeared on billboard.com
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COMBO’S THIRD ANNUAL SONGWRITING CONTEST NOW OPEN – CLOSES AUGUST 31st
Hear ye, hear ye: The Colorado Music Business Organization announces its Third Annual Songwriting Contest! Winning songs will be submitted to *REAL* publishing companies. There will be NO CA$H prizes. Do you have a song you have written and Ten ($10) Dollars laying around not doing anything? Read on because this contest is for YOU!! Individual members who are currently up on their dues may submit one song at no charge; bands get free entry for two songs. The contest starts May 1st and will end on August 31st, 2015.
Read all the info and rules under the “Songwriters Corner” category (click on the button to your left).
Songs are to be submitted as attachments to email@example.com in MP3 format so that contest staff may place the songs on Dropbox for each judge to listen from the privacy of their own homes. Please also attach a Lyric Sheet for each song.
Send your payment checks to:
P.O. Box 18186
Denver CO 80218
Remember: If you are currently paid up on your dues, you get one song entry at no charge! Bands get two free entries!