×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

John Legend Steals the Show With Surprise ‘Dock’-ing at BMI Country Awards

John Legend, lately seen as Jesus, took on the role of another king of kings Tuesday night: Otis Redding. He electrified the room at the BMI Country Awards in Nashville by appearing for a climactic surprise performance of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” a song that by the performing rights organization’s calculations has been played 11 million times on radio. He was there in honor not of Redding, actually, but the late soul legend’s co-writer on the track, Steve Cropper, who was receiving the Icon lifetime achievement award.

It turns out there is one thing Legend is not great at, which may come as a relief to anyone jealous of the well-married EGOT winner: whistling solos. He needed a little help from the audience to match the volume on that part of “Bay” that he achieved on the rest of the song. But it was a grand slam nonetheless, and enough of a charmer to convince you that the song would have been at least 90 percent as big of an enduring hit if it’d been Legend singing it back in 1968.

Cropper was both irreverent and teary in his acceptance speech at the end of the biggest annual songwriters’ confab in Nashville. After the one-time Booker T. & the MGs guitarist had “Green Onions” played as his walk-up music, the Stax stalwart noted, “The song you just heard, there’s no more thrill than hearing something you did on the radio, and then you get another thrill when you hear your song in movies and commercials and cartoons. But I never thought I’d be a co-writer of a song that was a promotion for adult diapers. For four years! God bless ‘em, and I’m still waiting on my shipment, by the way. I don’t know when I’ll need ‘em, but I know I’ll need ‘em some time.” Then he got serious. “Yes, it’s emotional — the Icon award is a big deal. But the tears will not stop flowing. So I’m gonna leave you with this: Goodnight, Otis, wherever you are.”

Jay-Z was another surprise guest in Nashville… on tape. He provided a video testimonial for the man who was named songwriter of the year, Jesse Frasure, who’s been in business with him for more than two years, since Frasure’s Rhythm House publishing company became a joint venture with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. The hip-hop superstar’s investment in Nashville has clearly paid off, since Frasure won the honor thanks to winning awards Tuesday for five of the most played songs of the year: “A Girl Like You,” “Marry Me,” “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart,” “Ring on Every Finger” and “Unforgettable.”

“You are an incredible writer and incredible mind, with a knack for creating these No. 1 songs out of thin air,” said a proud Jay-Z of his Tennessee partner. “Take it all in. I wish I was there to party with you guys. I know you’re all going to have a great night because you know how to party.”

The mood Frasure expressed during his acceptance speech, however, didn’t have a lot to do with partying. “This morning we were at Vanderbilt breast clinic,” the songwriter told the crowd. “Today represents a metaphor to me, the polarity of life, the ups and downs. What an amazing, crazy year. My wife had a double mastectomy three weeks ago. She’s sitting here looking stunning. So the only thing that could be more special than me standing here right now is the fact that she is cancer-free.”

BMI’s song of the year award went to Tyler Reeve and Trent Tomlinson for “In Case You Didn’t Know,” a smash for Brett Young. That country star wasn’t able to attend either the BMIs or the previous night’s ASCAPs, where Young was set to receive his own honor, because he’s on his honeymoon.

Publisher of the year went to Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. Among the many other songs honored over the course of the evening was Florida Georgia Line’s and Bebe Rexha’s massive “Meant to Be,” which presumably would have had a better shot at song of the year if so much of its success hadn’t come after the BMI cutoff date for the awards, which covered the period running from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

The Icon salute was spread out over the course of the evening for Cropper, who was a part of most of the Stax releases from 1961 through 1970, before finding fame with a new generation as a key component of the Blues Brothers band. Dan Aykroyd was part of a slew of stars offering taped testimonials for the event, from Garth Brooks to Ringo Starr. Others interpreting Cropper-associated tunes besides Legend included four of Nashville’s biggest soul-influenced belters. Lucie Silvas and Mike Farris (who gushed over Cropper as “a man who boiled water at the birth of soul”) did a medley of Sam & Dave tunes that had benefitted from Cropper’s guitar riffs; , Maggie Rose delivering the Cropper-co-written “Knock on Wood”; and Luke Combs, who currently has a single in its fourth week at No. 1 on the country airplay charts, brought the perspiration with a cover of another Cropper co-write, “In the Midnight Hour.”

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13:  Ray Fulcher performs onstage at the BMI Country Awards 2018 at BMI Nashville on November 13, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for BMI) *** Local Caption *** Ray Fulcher
CREDIT: Courtesy BMI

Why was Cropper being honored at what was otherwise a 100 percent country awards show, when he had little direct involvement in the genre? Partly because Nashville is his longtime home, and partly because there is no BMI Awards in Memphis. Still, it was an unusual move for BMI to make a non-country figure one of its Nashville Icons, when the award has invariably gone before to a country legend.

“That part I haven’t really pieced together yet,” Cropper admitted on the red carpet. “They gave me a (Nashville hall of fame) songwriters’ award here once. I said, ‘Well, I never really wrote any hit songs out of Nashville. They’re all out of Memphis! There’s a difference.’ But I’m proud of it. My first Grammy I got up here in Nashville. I had to drive up from Memphis to get it, and that was for ‘Dock of the Bay’ in ‘69. But it’s always an honor just to be invited,” added Cropper, who has long since moved to Nashville and owns a studio in town. “To be the Icon and the central attraction is a whole different deal.”

As far as Icon predecessors like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson go, “A lot of them, I never played on their records, but I knew them well,” Cropper said. “You mentioned Kris. Booker T was a brother-in-law to Kris for a long time. They married sisters — Priscilla and Rita.” Naturally, Cropper was wearing a jacket by local clothier Manuel for the occasion. “He did good on us. When I was in Memphis, you know what I was wearing there, the clothier to the king, the Lansky Brothers. He used to make Elvis’s jackets. I’m probably one of the few guys in this room old enough to have met Elvis. If Willie or Kris were here, there’d be two!”

Though the BMI room skewed youthful, that wasn’t exactly true. BMI Nashville vice president of creative Jody Williams noted that the very first Icon winner, “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson, had won his first BMI award 60 years ago that night.

 

More Music

  • Lady Antebellum and Halsey53rd Annual CMA

    Halsey Puts the Extra Lady in Lady Antebellum in Elegant CMA Awards Medley

    Halsey is increasingly proving herself a woman for all seasons in her varied TV appearances and awards show collaborations, and Wednesday’s CMA Awards telecast was no exception, as she ingratiated herself into the country vocal trio Lady Antebellum for some flawless four-part harmony on a medley of two of their respective hits. She and Lady [...]

  • Drummers Steve Gorman, left, and Dave

    Steve Gorman Calls The Black Crowes' Reunion ‘Sad’

    The Black Crowes made waves this week when they officially announced a lengthy reunion tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album “Shake Your Money Maker.” The news was chiefly met with excitement and positive vibes, including glowing reviews of their first show in six years at the Bowery Ballroom in New York [...]

  • Lil Nas X53rd Annual CMA Awards,

    CMA Awards 2019: Full Winners List (Updating Live)

    The CMA Awards are taking place at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Wednesday night, with Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton hosting. The ceremony is airing live on ABC. Maren Morris leads the nominations with six total. Nominees and winners were selected by more than 7,400 industry professional members from the Country Music Association. [...]

  • Billie Eilish performs during Music MidTown

    Song Review: Billie Eilish’s ‘Everything I Wanted’ (Listen)

    Virtually everything about Billie Eilish’s career has been against the grain, unusual or at least unlike basically everyone else, and that’s also the case with “Everything I Wanted,” her first new song since July’s “Bad Guy” remix with Justin Bieber. Frankly, it couldn’t be much further from “Bad Guy”: Neither a menacing banger like that [...]

  • Paradigm's Liz Morentin portrait session in

    Paradigm's Executive VP of Communications Liz Morentin to Exit Agency

    Liz Morentin is stepping down from her role as executive vice president of communications at Paradigm, Variety has learned. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, Morentin’s departure was amicable and she will stay on at the agency through the end of the year to help with the transition. No replacement has been named at [...]

  • Carrie UnderwoodThe Grand Ole Opry, Nashville,

    How to Watch the 2019 CMA Awards Online

    Carrie Underwood fans can catch her hosting the 53rd annual Country Music Association Awards Wednesday night. While her usual co-host Brad Paisley has bowed out of the gig this year, Underwood will continue her 12-year streak with Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton joining her. Together, the three will celebrate the biggest names in today’s country [...]

  • Kodak Black

    Kodak Black Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Firearms Case

    Rapper Kodak Black was sentenced on Wednesday to more than three years in federal prison. Black was arrested during the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival in May for alleged state and federal firearm violations. He has now pleaded guilty to knowingly making false statements in order to unlawfully acquire firearms from a Miami-area gun shop. Black [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content