Garth Brooks and Vince Gill got to be Elvis, Peter Frampton assumed the role of Stevie Wonder, and George Jones was ... well ... George Jones, although all would agree that the backing musicians were the real stars Monday night (Nov. 26) in downtown Nashville. The performances were among the highlights at the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum's first-ever induction ceremony.
The initial list of inductees includes studio musicians who made history in worlds of country, pop and R&B as members of the Nashville A-Team, the Memphis Boys, Wrecking Crew (from Los Angeles), the Funk Brothers (from Detroit), the Blue Moon Boys (Elvis Presley's original band) and the Tennessee Two (Johnny Cash's band).
Rodney Crowell, Amy Grant, B.J. Thomas and Dobie Gray were among the other singers paying tribute to the musicians during the ceremony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
Noting that the studio musicians are the people who turn songs into hits for artists, Country Music Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee told the audience, "We couldn't have made them without these musicians sitting behind us tonight."
Members of the A-Team sat beside musicians in the ceremony's house band to begin an evening of performances filled with a staggering array of music that became part of American pop culture. With acoustic bassist Bob Moore laying down the familiar musical line from "King of the Road," newcomer Keith Anderson opened the show with the Roger Miller hit. The Jordanaires, who provided background vocals to hit recordings for Elvis Presley and many others, helped Mandy Barnett deliver particularly strong performances of Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man." George Jones made a surprise appearance during the A-Team's set and sang one of his classics, "The Grand Tour."
Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Grady Martin, Hank Garland and several other members of the A-Team's members are now deceased, but inductees attending Monday's event included pianist Hargus "Pig" Robbins, drummer Buddy Harman, multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy and guitarists Ray Edenton and Harold Bradley.
John Carter Cash, son of Johnny and June Carter Cash, presided and played acoustic guitar during the induction of the Tennessee Two. Guitarist Luther Perkins, who helped define Johnny Cash's early sound, died in a house fire in 1968, but his wife Margie accepted the award on his behalf. Bassist Marshall Grant recreated his original riffs he played on Cash's original recordings as newcomer Ray Scott sang "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line." With drummer Danny Seraphine (a member of the band, Chicago) and a horn section, Crowell turned in an inspired performance of "Ring of Fire."
In honoring the Funk Brothers and the music they created at Motown's studio in Detroit, Frampton recalled growing up in England. "We just didn't listen to the records. We pressed our ears up against the speakers and tried to figure out the tones."
Drummer Uriel Jones, guitarist Eddie Willis and bassist Bob Babbitt represented the Funk Brothers and joined the house band for several of Motown's biggest hits. Frampton was grinning like an excited child as they backed him on Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" and Jr. Walker & the All-Stars' "Shotgun." Dobie Gray followed with a rendition of the Temptations' "My Girl." While Diana Ross is the best-known member of the Supremes, original member Mary Wilson traveled to Nashville to sing spirited versions of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Stop! In the Name of Love."
In helping with the induction of the Blue Moon Boys, Gill joined Presley's original drummer, D.J. Fontana, and Presley's later guitarist, James Burton, to sing "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Blue Suede Shoes" with some vocal assistance from the Jordanaires. Fontana and original guitarist Scotty Moore made brief comments during the induction, with Moore making a reference to the Blue Moon Boys' bassist who died in 1965. "There's only one thing we're missing -- Bill Black," he said.
The Wrecking Crew, which recorded with everyone from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra during the '60s and '70s, included more than two dozen musicians. Among those present for the Hall of Fame induction were Burton, saxophonist Jim Horn, guitarists Billy Strange, Mike Deasy and Don Peak, bassists Joe Osborn and Lyle Ritz and keyboardists Larry Knechtel, Don Randi and Al DeLory.
Roger McGuinn, founding member and leader of the Byrds, plugged in his now-iconic Rickenbacker 12-string to perform "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn." Grant offered her vocal take on the Nancy Sinatra smash, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," and Gill returned to sing Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with soulful accompaniment by Knechtel on a grand piano.
In introducing the Memphis Boys, Brooks noted, "There's very few records an artist makes, but there are a hell of a lot of records musicians make." Drummer Gene Chrisman, bassist Mike Leech, guitarist Reggie Young and keyboardists Bobby Emmons and Bobby Wood took to the stage to play snippets of songs that displayed the versatility they brought to the studio, including Joe Tex's "I Gotcha," Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," Willie Nelson's "Always on My Mind," the Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby," Presley's "In the Ghetto" and Danny O'Keefe's "Goodtime Charlie's Got the Blues."
B.J. Thomas sang two songs he first recorded with the Memphis Boys -- "Hooked on a Feelin'" and "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song." He joked, "I always felt like they were my band. They always told me that I was their singer, but they could've told that to a hundred other guys."
Grant returned to the stage for the Memphis Boys to back her on Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man," and Brooks closed the show with Presley's "Suspicious Minds."
The induction ceremony was hosted by actor Creed Bratton, a star of the hit TV series, The Office. Prior to his acting career, Bratton was a member of the Grass Roots, a band that scored Top 40 hits with "Midnight Confessions" and "Let's Live for Today." Noting that many bands of the era did not play on their own records, Bratton acknowledged that the Wrecking Crew was largely responsible for the Grass Roots' success.
"I used to play guitar on some of the Grass Roots' stuff, but I wonder if they were just humoring me," he said.
Earlier in the evening, Mike Deasy filled in the other half of the equation by saying, "We were there to serve the song. We were there to serve the singer."