100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Quite possibly country music’s most distinctive vocalist, George Jones wrapped his distinguished vocals around great songs for more than five decades. Jones was born and raised in Texas, and his earliest musical tastes were shaped by the gospel he heard at church, and by the Carter Family songs he heard on the radio. After his dad bought him a guitar, he would play on the streets of Beaumont for tips. He was singing on the radio by his late teens, and after a brief stint in the military, he returned to Texas, where he was discovered by a local record producer named Pappy Daily.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List He started out as an unconventional songwriter trying to be a conventional artist. But when Willie Nelson let his hair down, he became a country legend for the ages. Nelson was raised by his grandparents in Texas, who encouraged him to play the guitar and to write songs. When his sister Bonnie married fiddle player Buddy Fletcher, Nelson joined his band as the frontman, staying with him until he graduated high school and did a brief stint in the Air Force.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List For many Americans, he was the guitar-slinging comedian that co-hosted Hee Haw. But before he signed up for that popular show, he had already amassed a body of work that defined the sound of California country. Owens was born in Texas and raised in Arizona, where he picked up the guitar from an early age. He played gigs in Phoenix and other Arizona cities until his late teens, when he relocated to the city that would be synonymous with his sound and style: Bakersfield, California.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Lefty Frizzell just may be the most influential vocalist in country music history. His signature honky-tonk style has been the foundational template for several generations of traditional country vocalists, smoothing out the twangy edges just enough to please the ears of mainstream audiences without compromising its hillbilly roots. Frizzell was born in Texas, but moved to Arkansas at a young age. He earned the nickname Lefty in a schoolyard fight at the age of fourteen, and it followed him from that point on. Though he was singing on the radio in his teens and performing locally, run-ins with the law sidelined his music career in the mid-forties.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Few styles of country music have been more hugely influential than Western Swing. As the embodiment of that style, Bob Wills became one of the most influential country artists in history. Born and raised in Texas, Wills was a virtuoso fiddle, guitar, and mandolin player by his teens. Like many early country stars, he first made a name for himself playing dance halls across Texas. More so than most country legends, Wills put a huge emphasis on having an excellent backing band. His first group of players, the Wills Fiddle Band, became popular in the Fort Worth area, eventually earning their own radio show. In honor of their sponsors, they renamed themselves the Light Crust Doughboys.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List One of the few traditionalists who was able to successfully transition into the smoother Nashville Sound style, Ray Price was a defining artist in two completely different eras of country music history. A small town Texas native, Price moved to Dallas as a child and learned how to play the guitar. After a stint in the Marines, Price returned to Texas and became popular on local radio as the Cherokee Cowboy. By the early fifties, he was ready to pursue a major label deal in Nashville, landing with Columbia and scoring his first hit in 1952 with “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes.”
Eight years ago, we posted our second edition of Hall Worthy, a list of significant country music figures who we felt were most deserving of being in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Since then, a lot has changed. First and foremost, more than half of the list is now in the Hall of Fame (or, at least, headed there later this year.) An additional entry, Wanda Jackson, is now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
A bigger change came in 2009, when new categories were introduced to ensure that two artist inductees would be represented from different eras: The Modern Era (20-44 years of national prominence), and the Veterans Era (45+ years of national prominence.) There are also three more categories that rotate, meaning one from each category gets in every third year: Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician.
Finally, since that list was published, our readership has grown tremendously and is incredibly well-versed on country music, past and present. So in this new and now annual edition of Hall Worthy, we are going to run down the list of the most successful artists that are eligible but have yet to make it into the Hall of Fame, in the order of “Hall Worthiness.”
The Modern Era:
Scoring his first hit in 1990 with “Here in the Real World”, Alan Jackson is the most successful country artist that isn’t currently in the Hall of Fame. His storied career has included 25 #1 hits and 49 visits to the top ten. He’s won a slew of awards over the years, including many for his songwriting. He is the most traditionalist of all of the nineties superstars, but has managed to stay relevant regardless of how pop the genre went over the past quarter century, selling more than forty million albums in the U.S. alone. He should be the next inductee for the Modern Era.
2013 turned out to be a banner year for new music, full of powerful songwriting, inspired collaborations, and truly cohesive albums that would rank among the best releases in any given year. Many of this year’s top twenty would’ve ranked much higher in other years, and many of us writers couldn’t even include all the works we deeply enjoyed this year on our personal lists, making our collective list worthy of the heartiest endorsement we could ever give.
Here’s to a great 2013, and a greedy wish that 2014 will be just as wonderful on the music front. As always, share your thoughts and personal favorites in the comments.
Individual rankings: #7 – Tara; #12 – Leeann
Like Chris Young two years ago, Worsham’s voice is a commodity that instantly elevates the new artist to an orbit above the male radio regulars. His is warm and cleanly expressive, lending itself best to songs that nurture his upper register, like the jaunty “Want Me Too,” haunting “Someone Like You” or those invigorating opening bars of “Could It Be.” If only life imitated “Nashville” and its fictional stars’ uncomplicated brand of pop country, Worsham might just be the next Luke Bryan and “Rubberband” –the album’s finely produced, genre-bending title track– his next big hit. – Tara Seetharam
Recommended Tracks: “Rubberband,” “Someone Like You,” “Young to See,” “Could it Be”
Since its inception, the top honor an artist could be given at the Country Music Association awards is this one: Entertainer of the Year. Originally a revolving door of winners, the winner in early years was often not even nominated the following year. In 1981, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist to win the award twice. Alabama succeeded her with a three year run from 1982-1984. Fourteen years later, Garth Brooks became the first artist two win four times, a feat later matched by Kenny Chesney in 2008.
Here’s a look back at the award from the very beginning, along with some facts and feats about the category and its nominees.
- Bill Anderson
- Eddy Arnold
- Merle Haggard
- Sonny James
- Buck Owens
One year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold was named the very first Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural CMA awards in 1967. Don’t assume it was a sympathy vote. Arnold had three #1 hits in the twelve months leading up to the ceremony, as he was in the middle of his impressive mid-sixties comeback, a period best defined by the 1965 classic, “Make the World Go Away.” He remains the only member of the Hall of Fame to win this award after being inducted.
One of my longest running criticisms of contemporary country music is the disappearance of the working poor. It’s a segment of the population that has been growing exponentially, but the genre that has historically been associated with chronicling their experiences has instead chosen to lionize and romanticize small town partying and country living. Lots of songs about Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, but almost none about those tiring days in between.