Oh, Mercer, Mercer Me: Rockers Reach for Immortality at Songwriters Gala

“I get more geeked here than I do at any MTV Awards or Billboard Awards,” admitted Rob Thomas as he

“I get more geeked here than I do at any MTV Awards or Billboard Awards,” admitted Rob Thomas as he surveyed the scene at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 40th Anniversary Induction Ceremony and Gala, held at the Marriot Marquis on Thursday, June 18. “This is where my heroes are. These people wrote my favorite songs.”

That’s saying a lot coming from a man who’s written for Seal, Willie Nelson and Mick Jagger, among others. Mr. Thomas’s ceremonial duties included presenting Jason Mraz with the Hal David Starlight Award. “I hate Jason Mraz because he is a great songwriter, a great singer,” Mr. Thomas said, extending his hands as if to strangle an imaginary Mr. Mraz standing before him. “Everything about him is too good and I think he’s blowing the curve for a lot of us.” (The modest/envious Mr. Thomas did not disclose the fact that he has already won the very award he was presenting.)

This year’s newly minted Hall of Famers included: Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals; David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash (yes, it took them this long);  Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway; and Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora. Mr. Bon Jovi’s arrival seemed to quadruple the number of fans clogging 45th Street—most standing on tiptoe for a glance of the red carpet. He showed just before the start of the ceremony after a full day of recording. (Don’t ask: his new album is “not done yet—but almost,” he said.) Mr. Bon Jovi, who has sold 120 million records worldwide was all gratitude: “The Hall of Fame, it doesn’t get any better than that, right? You write a catalog of music, people gravitate toward it and that’s the closest thing to immortality that I’m ever going to see.”

American Idol finalist (and self-proclaimed Bon Jovi fan) Chris Daughtry was on hand to sing “I’ll Be There for You.” Other stars performing at the ceremony included Clint Black, singing Cook and Greenaway’s “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress”; James Taylor covering C, S & N’s “Love the One You’re With,” “Long Time Gone” and “Teach Your Children”; and Ryan Tedder singing the Young Rascal’s “How Can I Be Sure” and “People Got to Be Free.” Singer Kara DioGuardi presented the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award to the hitmaker of hitmakers, Sir Tom Jones. James Rado reveled in the revived popularity of the musical Hair, which he penned with Galt MacDermot and (the late) Gerome Ragni (all three were also inductees). Comparing the original experience with what he had seen in the new Broadway production, Mr. Rado noticed that the current actors are, well, better groomed than the original cast. “Nobody shaved in those days,” he said. “It was kind of disgusting.” Martin Bandier accepted the Towering Song Award for “Moon River” along with Ginny Mancini (daughter of Henry) and Amanda Mercer (daughter of Johnny).

And the Hall of Fame’s highest honor, the Johnny Mercer Award, went to Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland Jr., who wrote just about every smash hit for the Supremes—13 No. 1 singles in a row—including “Baby Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You).” BeBe Winans performed their song “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” and Berry Gordy presented the award. “It’s named after Johnny Mercer,” Mr. Holland, Jr. said with a smile spreading fast across his face. “In my opinion, he’s the greatest songwriter of all time. He’s the master of masters. Just to receive an award named after him—it’s humbling.”

  Oh, Mercer, Mercer Me: Rockers Reach for Immortality at Songwriters Gala