Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson have won more honors than they can count. The one they took home Sunday night was near the top of the list.
Brooks and Jackson were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame along with top songsmiths John Bettis, Thom Schuyler and Allen Shamblin.
"It's the songwriter, that's what it's all about," Brooks said. "I mean this is it. We can talk all day about entertainer. We can talk all day about record sales. It starts with the songs. And to be confused as a songwriter, then honored as one, that's the bomb."
Jackson and Brooks are members of the so-called "Class of '89" group of country superstars. Their success over the last two decades helped push country music from the county fair to major arenas and football stadiums.
Brooks, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City earlier this year, is the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history with more than 128 million albums sold. Songs like "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Thunder Rolls" helped launch his career.
Jackson, who helped spearhead the new traditionalist movement in country, has 35 No. 1 country songs, including "Chattahoochee" and "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)," which Taylor Swift sang for him Sunday.
"I've won a lot of awards but the songwriting thing has always been most important to me," Jackson said. "I've never thought of myself as much of a singer, so I've always fell back on my songwriting. It's the most creative part of the business. It all starts with the songs."
Jackson and Brooks were inducted as songwriter/artists. Brooks said straight songwriter inductees like Bettis ("Slow Hand," "Human Nature" and "Top of the World," Schuyler ("16th Avenue" and "Long Line of Love") and Shamblin ("The House That Built Me" and "I Can't Make You Love Me") are the real stars of the night.
"I can go in that room and show you the guys I hang out with, and all of them are songwriters," Brooks said. "And to be called that with these guys, because their talent is amazing, makes me very proud. I'm not saying I agree with it, but I'm very proud."
Kimberly Perry of family act The Band Perry won the Nashville Songwriters Association International song of the year for the breakthrough hit "If I Die Young." Chris DuBois, who co-wrote Brad Paisley hits "Old Alabama" and "Anything Like Me," was named songwriter of the year.
Swift won her fourth songwriter/artist of the year award in five years and at 21 remains the youngest winner of that award. Swift told the audience about her first big Nashville showcase at the age of 14 when many of the industry's most influential people were in attendance. She recalled saying to herself over and over "Don't mess this up."
"Ever since then there's been thousands of times in my life where I've said to myself, 'Don't mess this up, don't mess this up, don't mess this up' — including right now," Swift said. "And I'm just going to keep going out there and trying not to mess this up."