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Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart and Dean Dillon Inducted Into The Country Music Hall of Fame

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Photo by: Terry Wyatt
Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Dean Dillon, Marty Stuart and Hank Williams Jr. in the Hall of Fame Rotunda at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn., before being formally inducted as Country Music Hall of Fame members.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Ken Paulson) — Sunday night’s COVID-delayed Country Music Hall of Fame induction honored three free spirits - Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stuart and songwriter Dean Dillon - in a ceremony marked both by celebration of their special talents and gratitude that the country music community could finally convene to recognize the class of 2020.

Each of the honorees followed a unique path to success. Hank Williams Jr. began recording at age 14 covering his father’s hits, but didn’t have real success until he found his own raucous style. Stuart began with an apprenticeship with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, found country commercial success in the late 1980s, and settled into a critically-applauded, creatively satisfying career this century. Dillon had a difficult and dispiriting childhood, but was drawn to songwriting at age 12. He came to Nashville with dreams of being a star, but found his future writing songs for others. That included 40 years of writing for George Strait, beginning with Strait’s first hit “Unwound.”

The highlights of a special evening, which included a surprising number of established and emerging Americana artists:

Marty Stuart: Emmylou Harris and Charlie Worsham teamed for a version of Stuart’s first big hit “Tempted,” followed by Ashley McBryde’s take on “Conversations of a Crow,” from his album The Pilgrim. Stuart’s wife and Hall of Fame member Connie Smith inducted her husband, citing his skill at connecting with people and noting “He loves music with all of his heart.”

Dean Dillon: George Strait praised Dillon’s contr[butions to his career before performing “The Chair.” Kenny Chesney performed “A Lot of Things Different,” a song written by Dillon with Bill Anderson, and a hit for Chesney. He recalled that Bruce Springsteen once asked him if he had written the song. Chesney said he gave credit where due.

Britney Spencer, an alum of Middle Tennessee State University, performed a riveting version of Dillon’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” a song memorably covered by Chris Stapleton. She began her performance acknowledging to the audience that “you don’t know me,” but closed to a standing ovation.

Hank Williams Jr. : Prior to performing Williams’ “Blues Man,” Alan Jackson observed that the induction was “long overdue.” That may be the case. While Marty Stuart has tremendous goodwill with the country music world, that’s not the case with Williams. Some dismiss his “rough and rowdy” songs and Williams has been known to court controversy, including comparing President Obama to Hitler in 2011.

Still, there’s no denying his success, particularly escaping his father’s legacy by establishing one of his own.

That really came home in Brenda Lee’s full-throated endorsement of Williams as a “good man” as she inducted him into the Hall of Fame. She said he was one of those rare people in the music business you could call for help when you had a flat tire in Alabama. “He might not come, but he’ll send his plane,” she joked.

Shooter Jennings – another artist with a famous father – performed “Feelin’ Better,” followed by Eric Church’s tailored take on “A Country Boy Will Survive.”

Williams had the predictably unpredictable last words as he accepted his induction.

“All my rowdy friend are coming over tonight. I was born to boogie,” he said, holding his award aloft, “And this is a family tradition”