The members of Rascal Flatts got the biggest cheers from the thousand or so people on hand, but they did not get the only applause during a Music City Walk of Fame installation event Sunday in downtown Nashville that knitted together several generations of performers.
Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney were joined by Kris Kristofferson, Mel Tillis, Little Jimmy Dickens and late singers Bobby Hebb and Eddy Arnold in receiving their sidewalk plaques, extending a row of markers that included Michael McDonald, Elvis Presley and Trace Adkins.
Emceed by GAC’s Bill Cody, the class of performers represented a swatch of Nashville music history. Beyond the contemporary Flatts crew, Kris and Mel hit their strides in the 1970s as artists, songwriters and actors. Bobby accrued a landmark 1960s pop hit with the effervescent “Sunny,” and Eddy and Little Jimmy were among the first artists to have hits with songs recorded in Nashville during the 1940s, when the town hadn’t yet earned its Music City moniker.
Little Jimmy, in fact, used to walk side by side with fellow Grand Ole Opry member Hank Williams across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium to a bar now known as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Little Jimmy, Mel and Kris were all on tap to take part later on Sunday in a 50th anniversary celebration of Tootsie’s at the Ryman.
Hank, who was inducted into the Walk in April 2008, was used as a point of reference several times during Sunday’s induction. Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, a 2007 inductee, painted Kris as “something of a cross between Hank Williams and Bob Dylan” during a speech that praised Kris for his “emotional vulnerability” and “high-powered introspection.” Kris in turn referred to Mel as “the Hank Williams of my time” and ranked Mel and Little Jimmy among “the most soulful songwriters and singers that I was lucky enough to get to know.”
Naturally, the event had the participants in a reflective mood as they looked back on the broken roads that led them to enshrinement among an elite group of people in Nashville’s music history.
“The last 10 years has been amazing for us,” Joe Don told the crowd. “We have gotten to do some things that you can only dream of. And as little boys growin’ up in Ohio and Oklahoma, this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to be in this town, we wanted to be in the music business, we wanted to challenge ourselves to write songs and cut material that would touch people’s lives and affect people’s lives in a big way. When you get to do that, it’s pretty amazing and extraordinary.”