Kent Blazy, Kix Brooks and Phil Vassar among the nominees
The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (NaSHOF) have released 12 nominees for 2020 induction. Eight are nominated in the Songwriters category with four in the Songwriter/Artists category. Kent Blazy, Shawn Camp, Don Henry, Brett James, Tony Martin, Steve Seskin, Tia Sillers and George Teren are nominated in the Songwriters category while Kix Brooks, Steven Curtis Chapman, Steve Earle and Phil Vassar are candidates for the Songwriter/Artist category.
All nominees experienced their first significant Top 20 songs at least 20 years ago. Two songwriters and one songwriter/artist will be elected in these categories by their professional songwriter peers. The three will be joined by two more. A separate body of veteran voters will elect a veteran songwriter and a veteran songwriter/artist, both of whom experienced their first significant Top 20 songs at least 30 years ago. As part of that process, nominees in those categories are not announced.
The five inductees-elect are typically honored at the organization’s annual Gala, where they are officially inducted into the Hall of Fame; however, because of the current health climate, the 2020 event has been rescheduled to 2021. This year’s class will be honored alongside the Class of 2021 in a special double-sized Gala next fall. Details on the 2021 event will be forthcoming.
Kent Blazy grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, playing in various local bands. By the mid-’70s, he was touring as a guitar player for Canadian legend Ian Tyson. After a first-place win in a national songwriting competition, Blazy decided to make the move to Nashville. In 1982, Gary Morris sent Kent’s “Headed For A Heartache” to No. 5 on the country chart. Soon after, other cuts followed with The Forester Sisters, T. Graham Brown, Donna Fargo and Moe Bandy. In 1987, Kent was introduced to new demo singer Garth Brooks. The two began writing together, and their first collaboration, “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” became Brooks’ first No. 1 single and NSAI’s 1989 Song of the Year. Their writing partnership yielded four additional Top 5 songs with “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til The Sun Comes Up),” “Somewhere Other Than The Night,” “It’s Midnight Cinderella” and “She’s Gonna Make It.” Kent also was a co-writer on the Brooks & George Jones duet “Beer Run,” as well as on “That’s What I Get For Lovin’ You” by Diamond Rio, “My Best Days Are Ahead Of Me” by American Idol finalist Danny Gokey and “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” by Chris Young.
Shawn Camp grew up on a farm outside of Perryville, Arkansas. Through both parents, who sang and played guitar, he was infused with a love of music. Camp picked up a guitar at age five and by age 20 had moved to Nashville, where he found work in the late ’80s as a fiddle player in backing bands for The Osborne Brothers, Jerry Reed, Alan Jackson and Trisha Yearwood. After charting a pair of self-penned singles in 1993 as a recording artist on Warner Bros. Records (“Fallin’ Never Felt So Good” and “Confessin’ My Love”), Camp turned his attention to writing songs — earning his first No. 1 hits in 1998 with “Two Piña Coladas” by Garth Brooks and “How Long Gone” by Brooks & Dunn. In 2006, he had Top 5 singles with “Nobody But Me” by Blake Shelton and “Would You Go With Me” by Josh Turner. Camp also co-wrote Turner’s “Firecracker,” as well as “River Of Love” by George Strait and “Love Done Gone” by Billy Currington. Camp’s songs have been recorded by many Bluegrass artists. Additionally, he is a member of the award-winning band The Earls of Leicester, a three-time Bluegrass Entertainer of the Year honoree.
California native Don Henry began writing songs at age 13. By the late 1970s, he was ready to give Nashville a try. His early success came from cuts by T.G. Sheppard and John Conlee, who singled “Blue Highway.” Conlee also recorded “Class Reunion,” as did The Oak Ridge Boys, Gene Watson and Ray Charles. Kathy Mattea has recorded a several of Henry’s songs, including “Beautiful Fool,” “Whole Lotta Holes,” and the heart-wrenching “Where’ve You Been.” Also recorded by Patti Page and Dailey & Vincent, that song earned 1990’s Grammy for Best Country Song, as well as the 1989 ACM Song of the Year, the 1990 CMA Song of the Year and the 1990 NSAI Song of the Year. In 1993 Henry released a critically acclaimed album on Sony Records titled Wild In the Backyard. Many of those songs, such as “Harley” and “Mr. God” have become staples in his solo acoustic performance repertoire. Among other hits from Henry’s catalogue are “Heart Vs. Heart” by Pake McEntire, “Has Anybody Seen Amy?” by John & Audrey Wiggins and “All Kinds Of Kinds” by Miranda Lambert. Henry also records and performs in the duo The Don Juans.
Midway through medical school, Oklahoma City native Brett James left college to pursue music in Nashville. After several years as an Arista/Career recording artist, he continued writing for others, scoring early cuts by Billy Ray Cyrus, Kenny Chesney and Martina McBride. In 2001, “Who I Am” by Jessica Andrews became James’ first No. 1 hit. In 2006, the chart-topping “Jesus Take The Wheel” by Carrie Underwood earned the 2006 Grammy for Best Country Song, as well as the 2005 ACM Single of the Year, the 2006 ASCAP Country Song of the Year and the 2006 NSAI Song of the Year. Now with more than 300 major-label cuts, James’ catalogue includes hits such as “When The Sun Goes Down” by Kenny Chesney & Uncle Kracker, “Cowboy Casanova” by Carrie Underwood, “It’s America” by Rodney Atkins, “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney, “Summer Nights” by Rascal Flatts, “The Man I Want To Be” by Chris Young and “Bottoms Up” by Brantley Gilbert. James also has a Top 5 Latin hit with “The One You Love (Todo Mi Amor)” by Paulina Rubio. James was named ASCAP Country Songwriter of the Year in 2006 and 2010.In 2020, he released a new self-written album titled I Am Now.
Born in Georgia and raised in Nashville, Tony Martin has been around country songwriting his entire life. The son of classic country composer Glenn Martin, Tony grew up at the feet of other stellar songwriters such as Sonny Throckmorton, Mickey Newbury and Hank Cochran. During his time as a journalist for a Chicago newspaper, Martin was writing parody songs for fun when his father urged him to take his talent more seriously. On his tenth attempt, Tony wrote “Baby’s Gotten Good At Goodbye,” which his father successfully pitched to George Strait. The song proved to be the dream scenario for a songwriter. It was Martin’s first demo, first cut, first single, first hit and first No. 1. Since that time, Martin has added more chart-topping hits to his resume. Among those are “Banjo” by Rascal Flatts, “I’ll Think Of A Reason Later” by Lee Ann Womack, “Just To See You Smile” by Tim McGraw, “Living And Living Well” by George Strait, “No Place That Far” by Sara Evans, “Settle For A Slow Down” by Dierks Bentley, “Third Rock From The Sun” by Joe Diffie, “Time Is Love” by Josh Turner and “You Look Good In My Shirt” by Keith Urban.
New York-born Steve Seskin began his songwriting career when he moved to San Francisco in 1972. Upon the advice of Crystal Gayle, Seskin visited Nashville in 1985 and began co-writing. He first hit the country chart in 1990 with “Wrong” by Waylon Jennings. He has enjoyed particular success with both John Michael Montgomery (“Life’s A Dance,” “If You’ve Got Love,” “No Man’s Land”) and Neal McCoy (“No Doubt About It” and “For A Change”). His “Don’t Laugh At Me” by Mark Wills was named the 1998 NSAI Song of the Year. The version by Peter, Paul and Mary became the impetus for the Operation Respect/Don’t Laugh at Me project, a curriculum designed to teach tolerance in schools. Other Steve Seskin hits include “Daddy’s Money” by Ricochet, the Grammy-nominated “Grown Men Don’t Cry” by Tim McGraw and “I Think About You” by Collin Raye. That song’s video was named the ACM 1997 Video of the Year, while the song and video were awarded by the Tennessee Task Force Against Domestic Violence. A successful performer and recording artist on his own, Steve has recorded numerous CDs for his own label. He divides his time among Nashville, Northern California and touring.
Growing up in Nashville, Tia Sillers became hooked on songwriting as a high school student when she attended her first songwriters round. Years later her first publishing deal yielded “Lipstick Promises” by George Ducas in 1995. Also that year, Kenny Wayne Shepherd made Tia’s “Deja Voodoo” a Top 10 Rock hit. Three years later, Shepherd delivered a No. 1 rock hit with “Blue On Black,” which earned the 1998 Billboard Music Award for Rock Track of the Year. (The song was re-recorded in 2019 by Five Finger Death Punch with Shepherd, Brantley Gilbert & Brian May.) In 2008, Sillers’ co-written “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack with The Sons of the Desert became a chart-topping multi-genre smash that earned the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Song, as well as the 2000 ACM Song and Single of the Year, the 2000 CMA Song and Single of the Year, the 2001 ASCAP Country Song of the Year, the 2001 BMI Country Song of the Year and the 2000-2001 NSAI Song of the Year. Other notable songs from Tia’s catalogue include “Land Of The Living” by Pam Tillis, “There’s Your Trouble” by The Dixie Chicks, “I Cry” by Tammy Cochran, “That’d Be Alright” by Alan Jackson, “A Joyful Noise” by Jo Dee Messina and “Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love” by Trisha Yearwood.
Massachusetts native George Teren moved to Nashville in 1987. During the 1990s, Teren’s songs were recorded by artists such as Billy Dean, Neal McCoy, Andy Williams and John Michael Montgomery. In 1997, George celebrated his first Top 5 single, “She’s Sure Taking It Well” by Kevin Sharp, as well as his first No. 1 single, “Running Out Of Reasons To Run” by Rick Trevino. Two years later, Teren concluded the decade with the No. 3 “Busy Man” by Billy Ray Cyrus and soon began the 2000s with more hits: “Man Of Me” by Gary Allan, “A Good Way To Get On My Bad Side” by Tracy Byrd with Mark Chesnutt, “Homewrecker” by Gretchen Wilson and “Stealing Cinderella” by Chuck Wicks. Three more songs from Teren’s catalogue – “Real Good Man” by Tim McGraw, “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton and “Ladies Love Country Boys” by Trace Adkins – all reached No. 1 on the country chart. Teren is a multiple award-winning writer and producer of music for radio and TV with a Clio, a Mobius and a number of Tellys and Emmys to his credit. He has composed themes for the NBA, ABC College Football and CBS Winter Olympics.
Raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Kix Brooks was playing guitar by age six, entertaining audiences by age 12 and writing songs by age 14. After stints working on an oil pipeline in Alaska and as an advertising copywriter in Maine, he moved Nashville in 1979. He first hit the charts as a singer-songwriter on an independent label in 1983, then signed with Capitol Records for his debut solo album in 1988. Between 1983 and 1992, Brooks’ songwriting yielded three No. 1 country hits — “I’m Only In It For The Love” by John Conlee, “Modern Day Romance” by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and “Who’s Lonely Now” by Highway 101 — plus a No. 2 hit with “Sacred Ground” by McBride & The Ride. During the 1990s and 2000s, Brooks teamed with Ronnie Dunn to form Brooks & Dunn. Brooks co-wrote many of the band’s hits, including “Brand New Man,” “Lost And Found,” “Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up For Nothing,” “My Next Broken Heart,” “Only In America” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.” With more than 30 million records sold, they are the highest-selling duo in the history of country music. Together, they earned more than 75 major industry awards — including the CMA’s Vocal Duo of the Year a record 14 times — culminating in their 2019 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Steven Curtis Chapman grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, where he learned to play guitar at a young age by hanging out in his father’s music store. Following a brief college career as a pre-med student, Chapman moved to Nashville to pursue music. The 1987 release of his debut album, First Hand, launched a flood of awards for his self-penned hits, including “His Eyes” (the GMA’s 1989 Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year), “His Strength Is Perfect” (the GMA’s 1990 Inspirational Song of the Year), “The Great Adventure” (the GMA’s 1993 Song of the Year and Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year), “Go There With You” (the GMA’s 1994 Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year), “Heaven In The Real World” (the GMA’s 1995 Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year), “Let Us Pray” (the GMA’s 1998 Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year) and “Dive” (the GMA’s 2000 Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year). Other award-winning songs from Chapman’s catalogue include “I Can See The Hand Of God” by The Cathedrals (the GMA’s 1990 Southern Gospel Song Of The Year) and “Voice Of Truth” by Casting Crowns (the GMA’s 2005 Inspirational Song of the Year). One of the most-honored artists in the history of Christian music, Chapman is a ten-time winner of the GMA’s Songwriter of the Year award (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2009), as well as NSAI’s 1999 Songwriter/Artist of the Year.
Steve Earle grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where he began playing guitar at age 11. Dropping out of school at age 16, he moved to Houston. Then in 1974, Earle moved to Nashville, where he worked blue-collar jobs by day and played music by night before landing a gig playing bass in Guy Clark’s band. Ever restless, Earle formed his own band, The Dukes, in 1982 — the same year that Johnny Lee took Earle’s self-penned “When You Fall In Love” into the Top 20. Moving on from his previous publishing- and record- deals, Earle released his first full-length album on MCA in 1986. The title track, “Guitar Town,” reached the Top 10 that year, followed by another Top 10, “Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left,” the next year. In 1987, his “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” reached No. 26 on the Rock chart. In 1988 – the year Patty Loveless reached No. 2 with Earle “A Little Bit In Love” – he hit No. 10 on the Rock chart with “Copperhead Road,” the title track of his landmark album. Other classic songs from Earle’s pen include “My Old Friend The Blues” (also recorded by T. Graham Brown, Joe Nichols, The Grascals), “Nothing But A Child” (also recorded by Nicolette Larson, Kathy Mattea, Lee Ann Womack), “The Devil’s Right Hand” (also recorded by Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Bob Seger) and Miranda Lambert’s Top 20 hit “Kerosene.”
Phil Vassar was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. During his college years, he began playing piano and singing in local clubs. Moving to Nashville to pursue music, Vassar found the going slow for several years until 1997 when some of his initial songs were recorded by Blackhawk, Skip Ewing, and The Sons of the Desert. Then in 1998, Vassar’s songs started gaining traction as singles for a variety of artists. During the next two years, he garnered six chart-topping hits from Collin Raye, Alan Jackson, Jo Dee Messina (including the No. 1 “Bye, Bye”) and Tim McGraw (including the No. 1 “My Next Thirty Years”). During that time, he was named NSAI’s 1998 Songwriter of the Year and ASCAP’s 1999 Country Songwriter of the Year. In late 1999, Vassar signed a record deal with Arista Nashville. Released the following year, his debut album generated the self-penned hits “Carlene,” “Rose Bouquet,” “Six-Pack Summer,” “That’s When I Love You” and “Just Another Day In Paradise,” Vassar’s first No. 1 as an artist. Propelled by that success, he was named ASCAP’s 2001 Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year. Other hits by Vassar as an artist include “American Child,” “In A Real Love” and “Last Day Of My Life.” He was named NSAI’s 2006 Songwriter/Artist of the Year.