The once broken-up, now reunited country duo Brooks & Dunn were named to the Country Music Hall of Fame’s class of 2019 Monday morning, a few weeks before the release of their first album in 12 years.
Also announced were comic singer-songwriter Ray Stevens, in the veteran performer category, and former producer and label chief Jerry Bradley, in the non-performer division. Brooks & Dunn’s appointment came in the modern-era category.
The formal induction will take place at a medallion ceremony in the fall. These three join 136 previous inductees into the Country Hall.
“It hasn’t soaked into me, and it probably will some time when I’m off to myself having an emotional moment,” said Ronnie Dunn, stepping up to the podium in the Hall of Fame rotunda. “Kix is gonna turn it loose on you here. Congrats to you, huh?” Dunn said to his on-and-off partner since 1990.
“That’s just weird. He never does that!” said Brooks, startled to have the mic turned over to him so quickly. “Like most of the people in this room, I’m just a fan of country music. The fact that I or we would be in the Hall of Fame, that’s not something you think about, even when you’re winning awards and stuff. The faces on this wall I will never consider my peers, most of ‘em. I idolize ‘em.”
An introductory speech by WSM morning DJ Bill Cody (filling in for an ailing Reba McIntire) noted that the duo had been put together by Arista exec Tim DuBois in 1990 when the aspiring singer-songwriters didn’t really know each other, and that they had gone on to become CMA entertainers of the year in 1996 (and, in the 2000s, hosts of the CMA Awards).
“Thank you so much for believing in us, because we didn’t really believe in each other,” Brooks said. In their award-winning days, he said, “We never really celebrated, because we knew it was gonna be over and it was bad luck. It was too weird this was happening, and this, this is really freakin’ weird.”
Unlike the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which is more liberal with its inductions, the Country Hall only names three new members each year, and only two of those three are “names” to the general public, as one is always reserved for a side musician or non-performer.
CMA president Sarah Trahern asked for a moment of silence for the Hall of Fame members who had passed in the last year: Harold Bradley, Roy Clark, Fred Foster, Maxine Brown Russell and Mac Wiseman.
Trahern recalled that in the year Foster was announced as an inductee, he gave a speech in which the veteran producer went on about his fellow new members — who hadn’t actually been announced yet. “We did in our briefing today remind all three not to share,” she said. In his speech Monday, Bradley made a joke of that, saying, “This is the greatest honor anyone could receive in country music, and I want to congratulate… [long pause]… the other nominees.”
But Bradley quickly broke down crying toward the end of his speech when he began to thank his father, the recently passed Harold Bradley, and uncle, Owen Bradley — both Hall of Fame members themselves — leading emcee Cody to take his notes and finish the speech for him.
Bradley was the head of RCA Records’ Nashville division in the 1970s and ’80s at a time when the label won its independence from the company’s New York office. He oversaw country’s first platinum album, “Wanted: The Outlaws,” an influential compilation album featuring Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others. Bradley produced more than a dozen No. 1 records for Charley Pride, signed Ronnie Milsap and Alabama, was partly responsible for Elvis Presley returning to the country charts before his death in the mid-’70s, and was at the helm when Dolly Parton crossed over to pop with “Here You Come Again” and “Nine to Five.”
Ray Stevens had a No. 1 pop hit with “Everything is Beautiful,” had a summer replacement variety series on network television in 1970, and had his biggest success in 1974 with the five-times platinum novelty record “The Streak.” Subsequently, he focused most of his efforts in country, comedy records, and opening a theater in Branson and eventually a dinner hall in Nashville, as well as hosting shows on RFD and PBS.
Sitting in the front row for the announcements was Ricky Skaggs, who was the only living inductee last year, joining with the late Dottie West and Johnny Gimble. “I am so delighted that we have all three of our inductees present with us today,” Trahern said before naming this year’s class.