CONGRATULATIONS TO THE COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2018…

This is an especially strong class. I was a surprised that Johnny Gimble wasn’t in long ago…but then the Country hall does have strict guidelines and standards. Ricky Skaggs made a joke at his induction about not having to explain to people anymore why he wasn’t in the hall. And I’m strong for Dottie West any day of any year. A class all country music fans can take to heart.

One of the architects of Western Swing…

The savior (almost single-handed) of bluegrass…

And the woman who survived horrific child abuse (including sexual abuse) to become one of the great voices of her generation, racking up dozens of hits on her own across two decades (more than a few of which she wrote), plus many more with her three Hall of Fame duet partners, Jim Reeves, Don Gibson and Kenny Rogers. She was also the first female country singer to win a Grammy.

She even wrote jingles. Then made hits from them….

They broke the mold on these three. The Hall did itself proud this time around.

COACH (PAT HEAD SUMMITT, R.I.P.)

patsummitt3

One of the few modern developments worth applauding has been the mainstreaming of women’s sports. After Billie Jean King and Chris Evert, no one was more important to that process than Pat Head Summitt, who just passed away, at 64, from complications of early onset Alzheimer’s.

She was hired as the University of Tennessee’s basketball coach in the fall of 1974. She was 22, fresh off an All-American senior season at UT-Martin. In the early years, she drove the team van, sometimes to places where they slept on the floor of the opponent’s gym because they couldn’t afford a motel.

These days, no major college women’s team sleeps on anybody’s floor. Thank her for that.

She won in her first season and, thirty-eight years later, she won in her last. In between she won in every single other season. There were eight national championships, an Olympic Gold Medal (back when American dominance of international women’s basketball was far from assured–thank her for making that an ongoing reality, too) and a record number of wins overall. Along the way she graduated one hundred percent of her players.

And all of that paled next to the endless, incalculable inspiration, typified by Kate Fagan’s fine tribute at ESPN’s website, which I recommend in the strongest terms.

patsummitt2Near the end of her career, cut short a few years ago by the diagnosis of the disease that took her today, The Sporting News ranked the top fifty coaches across the history of all sports. Exactly one woman made the list, at #11. If you followed sports even a little in the last half-century, and somebody told you there was only one, you would not have needed to be told who.

Like I always say: When there’s only one of something, there are reasons. In this case, chalk it up to the fire within. Not just the ability to coach a sport, however considerable that was, or even the most extraordinary capacity to lead, but to imagine that every single person who plays for you really and truly matters. You do that, and there will be a reason why every single person who played for you across four decades cries when you die, something that probably could not be said of any of the other forty-nine coaches on that list because, frankly, coaching at that level isn’t really supposed to be like that.

Thank her for proving that idea wrong, too.

Sounds like dedication time, so here’s from the Maryville in me to the Clarksville in her:

patsummitt1

TRAIN ROLL ON (John Morthland and George Martin, R.I.P.)

I don’t know enough about John Morthland to do him full justice or enough about George Martin to say anything a hundred others won’t but both meant too much in my world to let either’s passing go by without a word.

Morthland was one of the best rock and country critics in the world for decades. His name on anything–bylines, liner notes, the cover of a book–meant you were going to find opinions that were concise, knowledgeable, well-earned and his own.

jmorhtland1

His magnum opus was 1984’s The Best of Country Music. No book had more impact on my listening habits in those early days or any day since. I knew the iconic heroes of country music before, plus a good bit of what had come along in the seventies. But Morthland both turned me on to and deepened my appreciation of a whole other world, one that included the likes of Floyd Tillman, Don Gibson, Jeannie Kendall, Norma Jean, Johnny Bush and Dottie West among many, many others. I found that, on a list of 750 country albums meant to trace the shape of the music’s entire history, nearly every one of his recommendations repaid whatever effort it cost to track it down, often a hundred times over. My only regret is that I never got a chance to tell him so. Hope this will help explain how I feel about missing the chance:

As for Sir George…well, he hired the Beatles. Sure, somebody probably would have done it if he hadn’t. Somebody might have even brought the same musical erudition to their little project. But the number of people in the British music industry with real vision and talent, circa 1962, wasn’t so large that anything was guaranteed. And, as some wag noted last night, when you’re in the old folks home and the guy lying in the bed next to you asks what you did with your time, “Well, I produced Rubber Soul,” is pretty hard to beat.

The lesson, as always, is that there is little in human history that could not be improved by a remake. We should never take any of the exceeding few things that turned out perfectly for granted.

gmartin1

.