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Kenny Rogers and Bobby Bare were all business when they went about the serious task of accepting their inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame last night (Oct. 27) in Nashville, but on the red carpet just prior to the event, both country legends were loose and playful.
Kenny, an artist who is a true original, joked that the same could not be said for his joints. “I’m falling apart,” the 75-year-old star said with a laugh. “I don’t think I have any original, working body parts. I have a brand-new knee, about four surgeries in the back, my shoulder doesn’t work. Other than that, I’m in great shape.”
Bobby advised the media that from that point forward, he wanted to be known as “‘Legendary Hall of Famer’ Bobby Bare, if you please.”
On a more sincere note, Bobby said of his induction, “I’m just excited to be here because there’s so many people here that I dearly love, that I know love me.” Then, joking about his stony countenance, he added, “You can’t hardly tell it, I know, but I’m very excited.”
Bobby said he was most thrilled about being enshrined with fellow Hall of Famers Chet Atkins, Harlan Howard and Mel Tillis, and noted that to make it into the Hall of Fame, it’s necessary to “work hard” and “be in it for the right reason, which is the love of music.”
Speaking before his own induction, Kenny told Country Weekly, “I’m flattered, I’m honored and I’m nervous, and I didn’t know that I would be. Very few things make me nervous, but I’ve never done this before. It’s pretty exciting.” He added, “This is like the culmination of the whole career, because I’ve done pretty much everything else. I think without this, it would have been incomplete.”
All four of Kenny’s sons were in attendance, including his 9-year-old twin boys, Justin and Jordan, who asked their father if they could pose, movie-star-style, on the red carpet. “I said, ‘Keep it moving, boys,’” Kenny revealed with a laugh.
Joining Kenny and Bobby as an inductee last night was producer, songwriter and performer Cowboy Jack Clement, who succumbed to liver cancer in August, not long after learning he was to be inducted. His daughter, Alison, told reporters her colorful father probably would have made his entrance at the event with “circus elephants or a polka band. He loved a good show.”
Alison was composed while speaking on her father’s behalf during the ceremony, but got choked up on the red carpet, saying the induction “just means he’s extraordinary, like I always knew he was.” She also said “Cowboy,” as he was known, was “unpretentious and humble. . . . You couldn’t convince him he was famous.”
Inside the museum, country stars were mingling everywhere, including previously inducted Hall of Famers Brenda Lee, Barbara Mandrell, Connie Smith, Mel Tillis, Sonny James, Charlie McCoy and Jimmy Fortune of the Statler Brothers. Also spotted in the crowd were Ricky Skaggs and Nancy Jones, widow of George Jones.
A Hall of Famer was selected to induct each new member. Garth Brooks did the honors for Kenny, Tom T. Hall hung the Hall of Fame medallion around the neck of Bobby, and Charley Pride spoke on behalf of Cowboy, who produced Charley’s first 13 albums.
Garth, who was inducted last year, seemed to feel that Kenny’s induction should have come before his own. “In this business, anyone that comes before you is a god. Anyone who comes after you is a punk,” he said. He also called Kenny “humble, but brilliant.” And noting that he toured as Kenny’s opening act early in his own career, Garth said, “If there was a country music university, when it comes to Entertaining 101, I can vouch that Kenny Rogers would be the professor of that class.”
After his plaque was unveiled, Kenny looked at it and declared, “I look a lot like Kris Kristofferson here. I’ve gotten that my whole life.” He also shared a self-deprecating story about once being given an award by Eddy Arnold, who spoke about Kenny for five minutes before admitting, “For the life of me, I can’t remember his name.”
Kenny revealed that he was once given the advice that the music business is “not all wet towels and naked women,” but said his wife, Wanda, forbid him from using that as the title of his autobiography. He ended his speech with the line, “Music comes and goes, but the Hall of Fame is forever.”
Noting that he and Bobby still share some untold stories from their 50-year friendship, Tom said in inducting his friend, “I’m 77, he’s 78. It’s beginning to look like we’re going to get away with it.”
After a warm and gracious acceptance speech, Bobby got a big laugh when he ended with the line, “I’m just a singer, but ain’t I something?”
Each new inductee was also honored with musical performances, many of which brought the crowd to its feet throughout the evening. For Kenny, the performers were Alison Krauss (“Sweet Music Man”), Darius Rucker (“Lucille”), songwriter Don Schlitz (The Gambler”) and a duet between the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and country singer Kelly Lang (“Islands in the Stream”). Kenny could be seen singing along in the front row to several of the songs.
Performing in honor of Bobby were John Anderson (“Marie Laveau”), Kris Kristofferson (“Come Sundown”), Buddy Miller (“How I Got to Memphis”) and Rodney Crowell, who teamed with Emmylou Harris for “Detroit City.”
Before his song, Buddy said, “There’s something about Bobby Bare’s voice. I just believe every word he’s singing.”
Added Kris, “Bobby [is] more than just the greatest artist I ever knew, he’s also one of the nicest, and that’s not a dirty word. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever known.”
John Anderson also spoke about Bobby’s kindness, noting that he toured with the legend early in his career, saying, “I’ll never forget how nice he was to everyone on the show, and I don’t believe he’s changed a bit.”
For Cowboy, the performers were Kris (“Big River”), John Prine (“Ballad of a Teenage Queen”), Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives (“I Know One”) and a collaboration among Emmylou, Rodney and Buddy on “When I Dream.”
John Prine summed up the honoree by sharing that visiting Cowboy at his Nashville home and recording studio, known comically as the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, always made him feel like “I just visited the kid that owned the candy store.”