“Country music is known for its storytelling, and that storytelling starts with you, our songwriters,” CMA CEO Sarah Trahern said in welcoming guests to the 13th annual CMA Triple Play Awards, held Wednesday (March 1). “You all have the gift of taking the experience, the story, and connecting it to people in a compelling, beautiful way.”
The CMA Triple Play Awards honor songwriters who have managed the feat of scoring three No. 1 country songs within the span of 12 months, based on the Billboard Country Airplay, Billboard Hot Country Songs and Country Aircheck charts.
This year’s ceremony honored 16 CMA Triple Play recipients: Rhett Akins, Kurt Allison, Luke Combs, Jesse Frasure, Nicolle Galyon, Ashley Gorley (x2), Charlie Handsome, HARDY, Ben Johnson, Tully Kennedy, Shane McAnally, Chase McGill, Thomas Rhett, ERNEST, Josh Thompson and Morgan Wallen.
First-time CMA Triple Play Award honorees were Allison, Handsome, Johnson and Kennedy. On the opposite end of the spectrum were three heavily decorated writers adding to their CMA Triple Play arsenal: Akins (taking home his eighth win), McAnally (11th) and Gorley (a two-time winner that evening, earning his 19th and 20th CMA Triple Play Awards). To date, the CMA has given out more than 300 CMA Triple Play Awards.
Composer and CMA Board member Jim Beavers brought heartfelt class — and plenty of jokes — to his role hosting the event.
In introducing honoree ERNEST to accept his CMA Triple Play award for songs including Sam Hunt’s “Breaking Up Was Easy in the ‘90s,” Beavers said, “You know what else was easy in the ‘90s? Making money on an album cut.”
Later in the evening, Beavers humorously noted that there was one more CMA Triple Play Award winner who had been left off of the program list. “ChatGPT,” he deadpanned, as the audience laughed. “Is that too insider for you?”
Several artist/writers were in attendance to accept their accolades, including Thomas Rhett, who told the crowd, “I never thought I would be doing this, I really didn’t,” he said. “I want to thank the songwriters. I’m looking at the songs here. One was written on Zoom right when COVID happened, one was written on a writing trip in Montana and the other I think was my first No. 1 that I wrote in Nashville. Thank you to the writers that write with me, that leave their families to come on the bus and write way too many songs while we’re out there. I would not be able to do this without y’all.” He also thanked radio and Warner Chappell.
Galyon, the sole female honoree out of 16 CMA Triple Play Awards recipients, was honored for “Gone,” recorded by Dierks Bentley; “half of my hometown,” recorded by Kelsea Ballerini; and “Thought You Should Know,” recorded by Wallen.
“You know I’m going to say something. Gotta hold it down for the girls,” Galyon said, drawing cheers from the audience. She thanked her publishing team of Influence Media, as well as Warner Chappell Music Nashville’s Ben Vaughn, BJ Hill and Christina Wiltshire, noting that Wiltshire pitched “Gone” to Dierks Bentley.
“She plucked ‘Gone’ out of the millions of songs in the Chappell catalog and got what is the jackpot for all songwriters—a complete outside cut and a No. 1,” Galyon said, drawing fervent cheers from the industry crowd. “If you want to appreciate your publishers, try to become one,” said Galyon who leads her own publishing company, Songs & Daughters. “It really makes you appreciative for what you had all those years as a writer, so thank you,” she added, thanking her S&D team. “I’m moving into new spaces, new territories and it would not be sustainable for me to continue to write songs and keep my day job going if they weren’t holding it down at the office, which happens to be my kitchen table.”
Morgan Wallen was honored for his songs “Wasted on You,” “Thought You Should Know” and “You Proof.”
“He earned all of these No. 1 songs in just one month, in May 2022,” Beavers noted.
“I’m just glad I’m allowed to be here this year,” Wallen first told the crowd, alluding to the fallout that happened in recent years following his use of a racial slur. “For real, I always thank God, my lord and savior Jesus Christ. I always have a positive outlook on everything, that’s because of Him. Thank you to my family, and to my songwriters and my best friends. Sometimes I come into the room and I got nothing, but when I get in there with them, there’s always something. This is not something I take lightly. It means a lot to me. I get to put food on my little boy’s plate and clothes on him, and good food at that. And I’m damn proud of that, so thank you everybody.”
Luke Combs and HARDY were not in attendance, but each sent in acceptance speech videos. Combs was awarded his fifth CMA Triple Play Award, while HARDY was awarded his third.
“Three years in a row, and I haven’t been able to make one [CMA Triple Play Awards ceremony] yet,” HARDY said. “I’m honored as always and I still can’t believe it. I wake up every day and can’t believe my whole life and how blessed I am. I’m very thankful. It inspires me to keep writing and plugging along so that maybe one day I will get another Triple Play and actually show up because I’ve wanted to go since before I was even a hit songwriter…I want to thank everybody involved, all the hit songwriters in the room that really gave me a shot when I was just starting out and helped write songs that really put thing on the map for me. Dennis and Jesse Matkosky at Relative Music, I truly feel like we are building something really cool as a publishing company and I’m happy to be a part of that.” He ended the video in true HARDY “Rednecker” fashion, by shotgunning a beer.
Akins accepted for songs including “Half of Me,” “Slow Down Summer” and “To Be Loved By You.”
“I don’t know how I won eight of these…this is a big deal. This is something that I don’t take this for granted. To have three [songs] come out and line up at just the right time, only God can do that, and I thank God every day for it, for moving chess pieces every day that I don’t know how to move…I want to thank CMA for putting this on, thank you for honoring songwriters.” He also nodded to the daily fortitude inherent in successful songwriters.
“That’s the glory of songwriting, man,” Akins added, before thanking all of his co-writers and the artists who record the songs and the radio promotions teams. “It’s in our blood so much that no matter how hard it is, we get up everyday and go, ‘I’m gonna knock that dang wall down today.’”
During the celebration, Jody Williams (founder of Jody Williams Songs) was honored as the recipient of the CMA Songwriter Advocate Award—an accolade given to an industry member who has been a tireless champion for the songwriting community. Over four decades, Williams has supported songwriters through his previous role as the head of creative at BMI, as well as years at both major publishers and his own companies.
A video tribute featured several of the artists and writers Williams has supported over the years, including several of his Jody Williams Songs clients including Vince Gill, Ashley McBryde and Natalie Hemby.
Eric Church, McBryde and Robert Earl Keen were surprise performers during the evening, each honoring Williams for his dedication to songwriters.
“I met Jody in my formative years, my songwriting years, which is what I came to town to do,” Church told the crowd, noting that he met his wife Katherine while she was working for Williams as a song plugger. “He had this really attractive song plugger who was a blonde that I took a liking to, and we’ve been married for 15 years. Jody’s son [Driver Williams] plays guitar for me and he’s been an integral part of the band. This was a no-brainer. I got to thinking about those feelings when I would show up at Jody Williams Music and you’d never know who was writing there. One day, Taylor would be there—that’s Taylor Swift–and every day was like, ‘Ok, I gotta write the best song in this place. If I win this building, I’m the best on Music Row.’”
McBryde performed her current release, “Light on in the Kitchen,” which she noted was the “first song I wrote for you, Jody.” Church offered a song he had written just that day, titled “My Nebraska,” while Keen performed “Feelin’ Good Again.”
Liz Rose, who will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame this year, presented Willams with the award, tearing up as she said, “I wouldn’t be a songwriter without Jody Williams.”
In accepting the honor, Williams recognized a previous CMA songwriter advocate honoree, Bob DiPiero, and praised all of this year’s CMA Triple Play Award honorees.
“How awesome is it that you hit a lick like that in one year? I’m genuinely happy for all of you. This is really why we are here. We are here to celebrate you,” Williams said. “He also honored his wife and sons, recalling how surrounded by music the family has been from the beginning. “When they were little, I’d drive them to school and we’d play ‘Smash or Trash’ with new demoes or worktapes from the publishing company I was working at. So guess what? They learned the song business and became musicians and songwriters. The most important thing to us is that they also turned out to be really good men.”
Williams recalled how Del Bryant, the son of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant who went on to become the president/CEO of BMI until his retirement in 2014, showed him how the publishing community worked and told him he might be a good song plugger.
“From that moment on, I began waking up each day with a simple purpose–to help songwriters make a living writing songs,” Williams said. He recalled how Charlie Daniels gave him his first publishing job, and how Kix Brooks “let me practice being a publisher on him, and Kix is like a brother to me.” Donna Hilley gave him a joint-venture publishing company with Sony-Tree in 1999. “I was so grateful for Donna Hilley,” he said. “She believed in me more than I believed in myself…That path led me to Liz Rose. I learned to let Liz do what she does and don’t get in her way. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from Liz Rose in my career. She remains one of my very best friends.”
He also went on to thank those he has worked with at BMI, before thanking the staff and roster at Jody Williams Songs, and every songwriter in the room.
“I would not have a career at all if not for the songwriters in this community,” Williams concluded. “You are incredibly special to me and have blessed me beyond any expectations I have ever had.”
See the full list of CMA Triple Play honorees and their No. 1s below:
Rhett Akins “To Be Loved By You,” recorded by Parker McCollum “Slow Down Summer,” recorded by Thomas Rhett “Half Of Me,” recorded by Thomas Rhett featuring Riley Green
Kurt Allison “Blame It On You,” recorded by Jason Aldean “If I Didn’t Love You,” recorded by Jason Aldean and Carrie Underwood “Trouble With A Heartbreak,” recorded by Jason Aldean
Luke Combs “Cold As You,” recorded by Combs “Doin’ This,” recorded by Combs “The Kind Of Love We Make,” recorded by Combs
Jesse Frasure “Whiskey And Rain,” recorded by Michael Ray “One Mississippi,” recorded by Kane Brown “Slow Down Summer,” recorded by Thomas Rhett
Nicolle Galyon “Gone,” recorded by Dierks Bentley “half of my hometown,” recorded by Kelsea Ballerini “Thought You Should Know,” recorded by Morgan Wallen
Ashley Gorley “Sand In My Boots,” recorded by Morgan Wallen “Beers On Me,” recorded by Dierks Bentley featuring BRELAND and HARDY “You Proof,” recorded by Morgan Wallen “Slow Down Summer,” recorded by Thomas Rhett “Take My Name,” recorded by Parmalee “New Truck,” recorded by Dylan Scott
Charlie Handsome “I Love My Country,” recorded by Florida Georgia Line “More Than My Hometown,” recorded by Morgan Wallen “Wasted On You,” recorded by Morgan Wallen
Michael Hardy (HARDY) “Single Saturday Night,” recorded by Cole Swindell “Sand In My Boots,” recorded by Morgan Wallen “Beers On Me,” recorded by Dierks Bentley featuring BRELAND and HARDY
Ben Johnson “Take My Name,” recorded by Parmalee “Best Thing Since Backroads,” recorded by Jake Owen “New Truck,” recorded by Dylan Scott
Tully Kennedy “Blame It On You,” recorded by Jason Aldean “If I Didn’t Love You,” recorded by Jason Aldean “Trouble With A Heartbreak,” recorded by Jason Aldean
Shane McAnally “half of my hometown,” recorded by Kelsea Ballerini “23,” recorded by Sam Hunt “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” recorded by Ashley McBryde and Carly Pearce
Chase McGill “Waves,” recorded by Luke Bryan “Never Say Never,” recorded by Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson “Don’t Think Jesus,” recorded by Morgan Wallen
Thomas Rhett “Country Again,” recorded by Thomas Rhett “Slow Down Summer,” recorded by Thomas Rhett “She Had Me At Heads Carolina,” recorded by Cole Swindell
Ernest Keith Smith (ERNEST) “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90’s,” recorded by Sam Hunt “One Mississippi,” recorded by Kane Brown “Wasted On You,” recorded by Morgan Wallen
Josh Thompson “Whiskey And Rain,” recorded by Michael Ray “Wasted On You,” recorded by Morgan Wallen “Half Of Me,” recorded by Thomas Rhett
Morgan Wallen “Wasted On You,” recorded by Wallen “Thought You Should Know,” recorded by Wallen “You Proof,” recorded by Wallen
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