Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 — 2 p.m. ET.
Garth Brooks, Connie Smith and session musician Hargus “Pig” Robbins have been elected as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The announcement was made Tuesday morning (March 6) at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
Kix Brooks, late of Brooks & Dunn, introduced the inductees in front of an audience of reporters and music industry executives gathered in the rotunda of the Hall of Fame where the member plaques are displayed.
He recalled that at the outset of his career he spent $125 to join the musicians union, a move that got him a $41.25 session the same day. “I never worked again for three months,” he lamented.
“This is a great honor, but I just had my eighth grandbaby” said Smith after her husband and fellow Grand Ole Opry star, Marty Stuart, escorted her to the podium.
Striking a more serious note, she continued, “Just to be in the company of the great Kitty Wells is enough.” She pointed out that Wells had done so much to open up country music for women.
“It’s kind of strange to me to be called a ‘veteran,'” she said, referring to the category to which she was inducted. “I’m still learning.”
In introducing Garth Brooks, Kix Brooks joked, “I’m convinced that half of the Brooks & Dunn albums sold were to people reaching for the other Brooks.”
With his wife, Trisha Yearwood, on his arm, Brooks emerged smiling after being announced as this year’s inductee from the modern era.
“I’ve never been referred to as ‘the other Brooks,'” he mused.
“It’s a wonderful day, a day of joy, a day of honor,” he proceeded. Except for his publicists, Brooks named virtually all the key people in his career, from his manager, producer, lawyer and accountant to the studio and road musicians, songwriters, record label executives, videographers and touring staff.
He even had good words to say for Jimmy Bowen, the man who took over his record label just as Brooks’ career was taking off and whose imperious management style was expected to clash with Brooks’ own monumental self-confidence. But apparently not.
“I loved how strong he was,” Brooks said.
He recalled that Kix Brooks was already signed to Capitol Records as a solo artist in 1987 when he — the other Brooks — joined the label. That being the case, the label execs told Garth he would have to find another last name.
He said he drove through Arkansas noting all the small town names he might use as his own. Then Kix lost his deal with Capitol.
“At the very last moment,” said Garth, “I got to keep my name.”
Brooks, the top-selling artist of the Nielsen SoundScan era, has sold more than 128 million albums. The 50-year-old Oklahoma native’s first single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” became a Top 10 country hit in 1989. His lengthy string of No. 1 singles began later that year with “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and includes titles such as “The Dance,” “Friends in Love Places,” “Unanswered Prayers,” “The Thunder Rolls” and many others. His 1991 album, Ropin’ the Wind, became the first album by a country artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.
Smith, 70, was born in Elkhart, Ind., and discovered by Grand Ole Opry star Bill Anderson in 1963 after she won a talent contest in Ohio. Anderson urged her to come to Nashville to sing demos of his original songs to pitch to other artists. Hubert Long, Anderson’s manger, played one of the demos to RCA Records executive Chet Atkins, who signed her to the label. Written by Anderson, Smith’s debut single, “Once a Day,” spent eight weeks at the top of Billboard‘s country chart in 1964. Her other Top 10 hits include “I Can’t Remember,” “Cincinnati, Ohio,” “Burning a Hole in My Mind” and “Just One Time.” Her 53rd album, Long Line of Heartaches, was produced by her husband
Marty Stuart and released last year.
Robbins, 74, is one of the most prolific session musicians in the country music history. Born in Spring City, Tenn., he lost an eye at age 2 after an accident with his father’s knife and became completely blind at age 4. As a child, he learned to play classical piano at the Nashville School for the Blind. After graduating, he began performing in Nashville clubs and gradually got work in the studios. In 1959, he performed on his first major recording, “White Lightning,” George Jones‘ first No. 1 hit. In the ’50s and ’60s, Robbins performed on classic recordings such as Patsy Cline‘s “Walkin’ After Midnight” and “I Fall to Pieces,” Smith’s “Once a Day,” Bob Dylan‘s Blonde on Blonde album and artists as diverse as Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, Ernest Tubb, Porter Wagoner, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joan Baez, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, John Denver, Tom Jones, Mark Knopfler, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul & Mary, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Neil Young and many others.
Brooks will be inducted in the modern era category, Smith in the veterans era division and Robbins in the recording and/or touring musician category. The official inductions will take place later this year during a medallion ceremony at the museum.