Songwriting has always been the heart and soul behind most, if not all, of the country songs that we know and love.
Now, if we're talking about country songwriters, there's one man who must be mentioned, and that is the one and only Michael Hardy.
These days, most people know him just by his last name, but when HARDY first arrived in Music City, he had his eyes set on a publishing deal more than a record deal.
Having spent the better part of the last decade proving his power with a pen, the Mississippi native has nabbed writing credits for Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Michael Ray, Chris Lane, Morgan Wallen, BRELAND, Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell and countless others in the country format and beyond.
In recent years, though, he's also blossomed into quite an artist, too, celebrating success in the forms of his recent No. 1, award-winning duet 'wait in the truck,' as well as 'Give Heaven Some Hell,' 'One Beer' and several tracks off of his sophomore album, the mockingbird & THE CROW, which tows the line between rock and country.
Originally acknowledged as the Songwriter of the Year category, an honor which HARDY walked away with at the 2022 ACM Awards, the expanded category celebrates the best of the best when it comes to singer-songwriters in the country format.
On hand to honor the 'Truck Bed' tunesmith was up-and-comer Bailey Zimmerman, who performed his acoustic take of HARDY's 2019 hit, 'Signed Sober You.'
Ahead of the show, Zimmerman explained that he chose 'Signed Sober You' because he distinctly remembers watching an acoustic version of the song on YouTube, with HARDY donning a trucker hat that read "Run The Damn Ball."
Decked out in a similar hat on the night of the ACM Honors, Zimmerman recreated that video on the Ryman stage as a sole acoustic guitar backed him up in the Mother Church of Country Music.
"You've been a really, really big inspiration to me because you have always been you, man. You've always done what you wanted to do, your way or the highway." Zimmerman explained, "We're so appreciate to have you, know you, be around you and creative with you. It's truly been incredible calling you a buddy."
Following Zimmerman's performance, HARDY was further surprised as his cousin and publisher, Dennis Matkosky, appeared on stage. "I met HARDY when he had a first name," he quipped, explaining that HARDY was his first cousin twice removed.
Taking the ACM Honors crowd back in time, Matkosky explained that HARDY had wanted to talk to him about songwriting.
"There was a depth about his writing from the very beginning. Every time he came over, songs just got better and better," he recalls. "At one point, he played me a song that he wrote about his dog dying called 'Dog Years.' It was an amazing song and still is, but he wrote it from the dog's perspective, not from the person. That was so unique that by the middle of the last verse, I knew I had to work with him and sign him to his first publishing deal... That was 10 years and 13 No. 1s ago!"
The man of the moment took the stage to accept the award, noting "I signed my first publishing deal in 2014 and I signed my first record deal in 2018. Since then, there's needed to be a balance between my artist career and my songwriting career. If you know me, you know that I am passionate about one thing at the end of the day, and that's writing songs and writing a great song.
"It takes a lot of work from my publisher, record label and my wife, and I just want to thank all of you guys for helping me maintain both of those careers," HARDY continued. "It's such an appropriate title for this award because I'm truly an artist in the sense that I love singing songs and I truly am a songwriter. This is a huge honor."
The full broadcast from the 16th Annual ACM Honors will be aired on Monday, September 18 on Fox, and available to stream next day on Hulu. For a complete list of honorees and performers, head here.
For more on the 2023 ACM Honors, see below: