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Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame will induct Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Townes Van Zandt

John T. Davis

'Texas Music" is more a geographic yardstick than a stylistic one. How to measure, after all, the distance between George Strait and, say, Ghostland Observatory or Houston rapper Anthony "Fat Tony" Obi?

But the historical DNA of music from the Lone Star State has always been encoded in storytelling. Songwriters — in genres from jazz to country to blues to rock — have ennobled the musical tradition in Texas.

So it's only fitting that the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame should celebrate its 10th anniversary by feting Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and the late Townes Van Zandt — three masters of the songwriters' art — Sunday at ACL Live. Lovett and Keen will perform, along with Steve Earle, who will perform Van Zandt's songs. Townes' son J.T. Van Zandt will accept his father's award.

"It's a great honor anytime they single you out," said Lovett. "My favorite songwriters, the people who influenced me and shaped my career and my life, are from Texas."

"There's nothing like hearing the songwriter do the song," said hall of fame founder and native Austinite Terry Boothe. "When you hear the writer do it, the genuineness of the performance gives more resonance to the songs."

Boothe founded the organization in 2002 out of a desire to preserve this one aspect of Texas' cultural heritage and give some props to songwriters who often go unheralded. "You know George Strait's hits, but not necessarily the guys who wrote them," Boothe said. "These guys need some acknowledgment." Case in point, the first two inductees into the Hall of Fame were Sonny Throckmorton and Freddy Powers. Not household names exactly, but between them they crafted hits for Merle Haggard, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Big & Rich.

In the past decade, the hall has honored, among others, Nelson, Cindy Walker, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Delbert McClinton, Red Steagall and Larry Gatlin. As the organization grows and matures, said Boothe, the group also wants to branch out and single out honorees in blues, Tejano, zydeco and other Texas-centric genres.

Boothe said honorees are chosen in a process that involves networking among former honorees, representatives from music publishing groups ASCAP and BMI and industry professionals.

In honoring Van Zandt alongside Lovett and Keen, this year's show closes a circle of sorts. Both younger performers came of age in Houston in the late 1960s watching Van Zandt and Guy Clark set the songwriters' bar at a stratospheric level at area clubs.

"The kinds of songs that Guy and Townes were writing in those days were really pieces of literature," Lovett said. "It really was art. That was the standard that was set in those days for the places I used to go and listen, and the places I aspired to play."

Was he ever intimidated at the time? "Certainly," Lovett piped right up. "Was and still am."