Every year, there is a new inductee in the Country Music Hall of Fame from the Veteran Era. Something of a moving target in terms of eligibility years, some of these artists could arguably be included in the post-1980 modern era as well. But my assumption in writing this list is by the time that those on the cusp make it in, if they ever do, they will be in the Veteran Era category.
Here are the ten Veteran Era artists that I believe are most Hall Worthy, in ascending order:
Now that she’s finally been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s time to acknowledge her considerable legacy in the country music format. She was a constant hitmaker on the country charts for many years, but more important than that is her lasting influence. Aside from the holy trinity of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette and her contemporary colleague Emmylou Harris, there simply isn’t another female vocalist that had more to do with the surge of powerful and talented female artists in the eighties and nineties than Ronstadt. Even today, with only a handful of female artists on the radio, the reach of Ronstadt’s sound and style can still be heard.
Of all of the big pop crossover artists of the seventies – John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt, etc. – Anne Murray is the one that truly put down roots in country music. Her smooth styling added a glossy sheen to country ballads like “Could I Have This Dance” and she proved adept at covering everyone from the Everly Brothers to the Beatles.
Already a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Wanda Jackson’s pioneering rockabilly records paved the way for everyone from Tanya Tucker to Shania Twain. Jackson could do country weepers, sure, but on classics like “I Gotta Know” and “Fujiyama Mama,” she was the first truly assertive woman in country music.
His landmark album, Behind Closed Doors, sold millions in an era when Nashville threw a party for an album selling 100,000 copies. But his blues-soaked country music ran deeper than just that classic set, with songs like “Life’s Little Ups and Downs” and “I Take it On Home” ranking among the most vital and vibrant records in country music history. His run of hits wasn’t as long as some of his contemporaries, but he peaked higher than most of them did, especially those who aren’t yet in the Hall of Fame.
You simply don’t have meaningful country rock without Gram Parsons. He laid down the template followed by the genre’s most critically acclaimed artists, from his backup singer Emmylou Harris to modern day artists like Chris Stapleton. The Country Music Hall of Fame needs to do a better job of acknowledging influential artists, and not just the big stars of their time.
One of the most commercially successful artists of the eighties, Rosanne Cash has committed herself to the genre’s roots in the past decade, crafting new albums that stand proudly among the classics from her peak record-selling years.
Crowell could arguably go in as a songwriter as well as an artist, but he’s been prolific enough in the latter role to earn entry in the Veteran Era category. As a writer, he is nearly without peer. As an artist, he’s made several classic albums that more radio-friendly artists like Oak Ridge Boys (“Elvira”), Alan Jackson (“Song For the Life”), Tim McGraw (“Please Remember Me”), and Keith Urban (“Making Memories of Us”) were smart enough to steal from.
Perhaps overshadowed by the legacy of her older sister Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle’s popularity in the late seventies and through the eighties has more than earned her a spot in the Hall. It is always going to be a bit more difficult for Urban Cowboy-era artists to get in, but she deserves it.
The most legendary female artist not yet inducted, Tucker’s three decade legacy as a hitmaker (“Delta Dawn,” “Texas (When I Die),” “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”) has long earned her a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Hank Williams Jr.
His baffling exclusion from the Hall, despite being the most commercially successful artist of his time to not be inducted, becomes more of a mystery with every passing year. Every other two time winner of the CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year from the 20th century is already in. He’s long overdue.