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Deserved Award for a Musician’s Musician

Buddy Miller has long been the "go-to-guy" for artists in Nashville

There is no one more fitting to receive a distinguished music award than Buddy Miller and there is no more appropriate manner for him to achieve such than with a guitar by his side.

That is what happened when Miller was plucked from shadows of the stage-setting in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to be given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Americana Music Association at its 2022 annual awards show.

Unlike all the other Lifetime Achievement Awards on the night, this particular one was unannounced, and Buddy was insistent he was surprised as anyone - though his band seemed somewhat rehearsed when he followed the occasion with a delightful version of his classic “Wide River to Cross.”

Buddy’s contribution to Americana music, and his standing in the genre, was evident by the fact that he has long been the musical director of the Americana All Star Band for such occasions. He is known in the business as a “musician’s musician” given his ability to work with anyone - whether as an artist, producer or even recording engineer - across virtually any genre on the complex Nashville musical landscape.

There was no better example of his impact on other artists when in 2009 Patty Griffin agreed to record a gospel album only on the condition that Buddy work as producer. The acclaimed Downtown Church would win them a Grammy.

And, given this, there was no one more appropriate to sing his praises at the awards than Robert Plant, the Led Zeppelin rocker who transformed to an Americana artist through his association with Alison Krauss and producer T-Bone Burnett. Miller toured globally with Plant and Krauss on their Raising Sand promotional tour in 2008 and again with Plant’s Band of Joy two years later.

Stooping over the stage mic, the imposing Plant quickly engaged with the packing Ryman audience: “I’ve been told by my friends all over the years, since 1966 when I cut my first record, that I can’t stand still I’ve got some kind of a strange condition that always makes me move from project to project. But my adventures pale into insignificance alongside the prolific output and impact of my dear friend Buddy Miller.

“He has almost single-handedly introduced me to the great, mysterious world of the obscure and almost forgotten music. He brought fire and cool to Raising Sand and Raise The Roof with T-Bone, Alison Krauss and myself.”

Plant then listed some of Miller’s famed collaborators: “His credits in production and contributions are endless – Lucinda (Williams), Solomon Burke, Richard Thompson, Shawn Colvin, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, Ralph Stanley, Tom T. Hall, Jim Lauderdale. The ceaseless and relentless Buddy Miller.”

Plant then referenced Buddy’s output with his wife, singer-songwriter Julie Miller. They have released four albums together and co-written countless songs. Their 2002 album Buddy and Julie Miller is among the 13 awards Buddy has won at AMERICANAFEST. The pair would be named Duo/Group of the Year in 2009.

“So much love and so many songs, true and genuine works of art,” added Plant.

Not surprising, it was Julie who got the first mention when Buddy accepted the award from Plant.” I guess I’m married to the greatest person in the world and really would be nothing without her,” he said to rapturous applause.

As also might be expected, Plant was among the collaborative artists 70-year-old Buddy singled out for praise. “It’s working with Robert - somebody like that who lets you go out so far beyond what you would normally do. Robert is the greatest. Emmylou Harris, everybody who gave me a chance. My dear friend Jim Lauderdale. This means so much to me.”

Miller and Lauderdale have been close, both in and outside the studio, for many years. In 2012, they released a much-praised album Buddy and Jim and in recent years, the pair have co-hosted a popular weekly radio show which features performances and interviews with American roots artists.

In his acceptance speech, Miller made special mention of the impact of a heart attack he suffered in February 2009 while on the “Three Girls and Their Buddy” tour with Harris, Colvin and Griffin.

He talked about waking up to the sound of two music notes after an eight-hour successful triple-bypass operation. “All my senses and emotions were in a completely different place, so raw and so open and when I heard two notes play, it got me weeping. They say coming out of anesthesia can do strange things to you. It did to me but I wanted to hold on to that feeling forever and the music just seemed as new and fresh.”

The surprise adulation delivered to Miller was the obvious highlight of the 2022 Americana Honors & Awards show, which featured performances from such big names as Lyle Lovett, Chris Isaak, The Fairfield Four, James McMurtry, Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlile and Allison Russell.

The Artist of the Year was star Bluegrass picker Billy Strings. Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas presented and accepted the award on behalf of Strings who was on tour in New England.

Sadly, the show was inflicted with some technical glitches – no doubt edited out of a later broadcast version – and at times it appeared a little ponderous and in need of more sophisticated comparing-continuity. The pace was not helped when Brandi Carlile spent ten minutes championing a particular cause before presenting the Spirit of Americana Award (“Free Speech in Music”) to Indigo Girls.

Perhaps the Association should just let the music do the talking!

2022 Americana Honors & Awards Winners and Honorees:

Artist of the Year: Billy Strings

Album of the Year: Outside Child, Allison Russell; Produced by Dan Knobler

Song of the Year: "Right On Time," Brandi Carlile; Written by Brandi Carlile, Dave Cobb, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth

Duo/Group of the Year: The War and Treaty

Emerging Act of the Year: Sierra Ferrell

Instrumentalist of the Year: Larissa Maestro

Legacy of Americana Award, presented in partnership with the National Museum of African American Music: Fairfield Four

President’s Award: Don Williams (posthumous)

Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance: Chris Isaak

Lifetime Achievement Award for Executive: Al Bell

Lifetime Achievement Award: Buddy Miller

Spirit of Americana Award: Indigo Girls

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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