Tuesday night was another of those “only in Nashville” nights, as some of music’s most famous names, and behind-the-scenes players of instruments, took to the stage of the Municipal Auditorium to perform and pay homage to friends and heroes alike for the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual induction ceremony.
Chip Esten, who portrays Deacon Claybourne on the ABC prime-time soap Nashville, was the emcee for the evening, which included familiar faces as well as people who helped change the world of music, but whom much of the general public doesn’t have a clue about. The evening opened with Chris Isaak performing Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” and the audience would find out the main reason he was there towards the end of the night.
Women were represented in force, most notably with the appearance of the multi-talented Barbara Mandrell, who was presented with her induction award by Brenda Lee. Country guitar great Steve Wariner then inducted session guitar great Velma Smith, the first woman to play guitar on recording sessions in Nashville, and ’50s reverb king Duane Eddy inducted his longtime friend, guitarist Corki Casey O’Dell, who played guitar on Eddy’s early recordings as well as with others in the studios.
The Oak Ridge Boys appeared to laud and perform with their longtime associate Jimmy Capps, guitarist for decades on the Grand Ole Opry, before songwriting great Buffy Sainte-Marie inducted fellow Canadian Randy Bachman of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, who performed a number of his hits, including “American Woman” and, of course, “Takin’ Care of Business.”
Curb Records founder Mike Curb was inducted before ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons took the stage to induct his friend Will Lee, the New York session bassist who has also been a member of David Letterman’s house band for more than three decades. The two paired up for some rollicking blues and ZZ Top’s (originally Sam and Dave’s) “I Thank You” before the man everyone wanted to see, Neil Young, took to the stage.
To the disappointment of most, Young wasn’t there to play, but to fittingly induct his friend and colleague of four decades, the late steel guitarist Ben Keith. Young was poignant and articulate, just like his songs, and nobody ended up minding that he didn’t pick up a guitar.
After former Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox accepted the induction award for absent blues legend Buddy Guy, blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd introduced the remaining three members of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band Double Trouble, and they launched into three blistering numbers from the band’s catalog before Shepherd presented them with their induction awards.
Guitarist Peter Frampton was then introduced by former Eagles guitarist Don Felder before launching into a version of his monster FM hit “Do You Feel Like We Do,” complete with his legendary talkbox and some jazzier guitar work than what appeared on the original. After Felder gave Frampton his award, Isaak reappeared to honor Roy Orbison with the inaugural award in the “iconic riff” category for the guitar line that introduces and is weaved throughout the song “Pretty Woman,” with guitarist Wayne Moss, who played the lick on the record, onstage to recreate it as Isaak sang.
Gibbons, Frampton, Lee, Bachman and Shepherd took the show out with a long jam on (what else?) ZZ Top’s “La Grange” as the crowd emptied out into the sub-zero night. Let’s hope Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum founder and director Joe Chambers can make this huge undertaking happen again next year, as the number of players deserving to be recognized seems endless.