Jeannie C. Riley didn’t want to record “Harper Valley PTA.”
The song would eventually hit No. 1 on both the country and pop charts, but Riley says she didn’t hear the song’s potential when listening to the demo tape. It wasn’t until she went into the studio angry and the music started when she realized what it would become.
“I opened my mouth up angry at having to do it, and I heard what came out, I went ‘Oh, my!’” Riley said. “I went home and called my momma and said ‘I’m selling the No. 1 song. It’s going to sell 1 million.’ Next morning I called and said ‘Forget the million. It’s going to be 3 million.’”
Riley, along with fellow country music legends Rodney Crowell and Claude Gray, was inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame on Saturday. The trio joins a long list of native Texans who have been honored for their contributions to the country music industry. Crowell, who is ill, was not in attendance.
Music filled an auditorium at the Carthage Civic Center, while emcee Dallas Wayne and this year’s inductees had the crowded audience cheering and laughing. The show featured performances from Gray; Amber Digby; the Gaitlin Brothers; Linda Davis, her husband Lane Scott and daughter Riley Scott; Melissa Evans, the winner of the 2018 John Ritter Tribute Showcase; and this year’s Ritter Showcase winner, Bailey Rae.
The annual John Ritter Tribute Showcase pits aspiring singers against each other as they audition to become the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame’s representative for the next year. Singers took to the stage on Friday, and Bailey Rae came out on top performing Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.”
At the mic on Saturday, Wayne praised the bright young singers working to break into the industry.
“They come out in this thing in force, and they never cease to amaze me, especially the young folks like Bailey,” he said.
For his part, Gray livened up the crowd by performing some of his biggest hits, including “Family Bible.”
“It’s wonderful to be here. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be,” he said.
Benton, Louisiana radio DJ H.D. Ainsworth told Gray before presenting his commemorative plaque that he first heard the song “How Fast Them Trucks Can Go” at age 10.
“Because of you, I had to drive one of those things for 30 years over the road,” Ainsworth said.
Crowell, in a written statement because he was too ill to attend Saturday’s show, said that his Texas upbringing certainly affected his musical sensibilities, from churches to ice houses, honky tonks, beer joints, psychedelic clubs and coffee houses.
“I set out on the journey with curiosity, passion and an abiding love for good music of any kind,” he said.
Crowell said he was heartsick not to be able to attend the show and look back on his decades in music.
“Please know that although I’m not physically here with you tonight, my heart is there and it’s bursting with pride,” he said.
DJ Tracy Pitcox presented Riley with her plaque at the show and praised her open heart.
“Let me tell you: She’ll laugh with you, she’ll console you, she’ll pray for you, pray for your family with a sincerity that few people actually possess,” Pitcox said. “Her talent is only surpassed by her love and her compassion. She deserves this night tonight.”
Riley herself kept cracking jokes, especially after seeing a video of her performances and hearing Pitcox’s brief rundown of her successful career.
“I’d forgotten that I did all that stuff that you remembered. I’m almost impressed! Maybe I’ll have more confidence now,” Riley said, laughing.
Backstage, Riley recalled how she moved to Tennessee for so many years before eventually moving back to Texas. She would always say she was from Texas, no matter where she lived.
“You never take Texas out of the Texan,” she said. “So the fact that they have put me on the map like this, it’s more than I deserve. I’m humbled by it. Thank you so much.”