Susan Lucci is the name people love to cite when it comes to someone who’s accrued a long string of nominations for a certain award without ever actually winning it. The iconic actress on the ABC soap opera All My Children was nominated a whopping 19 consecutive times by the Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress before she finally won the award in 1999. In total, Lucci was nominated for the award 21 times. The way history recalls it, Susan Lucci is the most nominated person for any award before finally winning it, making the “Susan Lucci of X” a common colloquialism.
But legendary country music steel guitarist Paul Franklin actually has Susan Lucci beat, and by more than a decade. And even worse, Paul Franklin has yet to actually win in the category he’s been nominated in. Now that Paul Franklin is 68 years old and the steel guitar is making a comeback in country music, perhaps it would be as good a time as any for Paul Franklin to finally win. After all, looking over his resume, he most certainly deserves it, at least once.
The numbers really are quite astounding. By receiving a nomination this year for the CMA’s Musician of the Year, this marks the 30th time Paul Franklin has been considered in the field. Only four times since 1989 has Franklin not been nominated in the Musician category. But of course, he’s never won it. In fact, Franklin is the most nominated person in the 56-year history of the CMA Awards in any specific category. Susan Lucci, eat your heart out.
One of the reasons Paul Franklin has been locked out of the CMA’s Musician of the Year award over the last many years is due to the runs other musicians have enjoyed in the winners circle. From 1991 to 1996, fiddle player Mark O’Connor won it every year. Between 2008 and 2018, guitar player Mac McAnally won every year except for 2016. Fiddle player Jenee Fleenor has won the award the last three consecutive years starting in 2019. As the first woman to ever win the award and how she’s been a part of the return of the fiddle to country music, it’s hard to argue with Fleenor’s reign.
But the consistency of who wins the award shows the lack of effort the CMA’s voting ranks put into this decision. Once you start winning CMA Musician of the Year trophy, you tend to accrue quite a few. Chet Atkins won the award 9 times as well. But country music draws from such a great pool of talent in recordings, there should be a whole host of musicians with this award. It would be a shame if Paul Franklin reacheed retirement age, and never actually won a CMA trophy.
When it comes to the rest of the music world, Paul Franklin is well-recognized as the one of the most important steel guitar players and musicians of this era. Having credits on over 500 recordings, he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2000, the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2019, and his name has been brought up as a potential Country Music Hall of Fame musician inductee when the category comes around every three years.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Paul Franklin started his career as a touring musician playing in the band of Barbara Mandrell. Those who know their country music history know that Mandrell was a skilled steel guitarist herself, and recognized the unique talent Paul Franklin brought to the table. He later toured with Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed, even British rock band Dire Straits, and also Vince Gill, where a lifelong friendship was forged.
One of Franklin’s first bits of steel guitar work in the studio came on the pop rock hit “Nice to Be with You” from the Detroit-based band Gallery in 1972. As time went on, Franklin became country music’s go-to steel guitar session musician, playing on albums from Alan Jackson, George Strait, Clint Black, Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, and obviously Vince Gill.
Paul Franklin has also been an innovator of the instrument. His father was also a musician and developed an instrument called the Pedabro, which is basically a dobro with pedals. That’s how Franklin got into the steel guitar at such an early age. The unique sound of the dobro found on the iconic hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis, that is Paul Franklin playing a Pedabro.
But Paul Franklin also has played on the recordings of many contemporary artists as well like Luke Bryan, Kane Brown, and Lauren Alaina. He’s also the go-to guy for those who want steel guitar who reside outside of the country music genre. Toni Braxton, Peter Frampton, and even Megadeth have all solicited his services.
And perhaps most importantly, Paul Franklin is not just a creature of the recording studio. He’s been a long time member of Nashville’s resident Western swing band The Time Jumpers. He was one of the guys who helped convince Vince Gill to join in. The two also released a collaborative record in 2013 called Bakersfield.
Of course, to many traditional country music fans and proponents of the steel guitar, they don’t need Paul Franklin to win any award to be convinced of his value. No matter what the CMAs do, Paul Franklin will go down as one of the greatest steel guitar players in country music history. But at the same time, he shouldn’t go down as the Susan Lucci of country musicians who never won, neither should other deserving musicians such as Ilya Toshinskiy, who just helped rescue the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, and has been nominated four times for the CMA’s Musician of the Year, or Derek Wells, who’s been nominated the last seven years in a row himself.
The CMA’s Musician of the Year award should not be an afterthought, or a default to whomever won it last year. In country music, the musicians matter, just like the songwriters. And when it comes to steel guitarists over the last 30 years, arguably nobody has mattered more than Paul Franklin.