CMA Awards 1975: Charlie Rich Gets Plastered & Lights John Denver’s Award Envelope On Fire

Charlie Rich country music awards

With the CMA Awards around the corner, it got me thinking about some of the great awards show moments throughout the years.

We’ve showed you Alan Jackson’s 1999 protest performance of “Choices” in honor of the great George Jones. And of course, who could forget Sturgill Simpson’s legendary busking performance outside of Bridgestone Arena?

And finally, the time Mary Chapin Carpenter put put Dwight Yoakam on blast (allegedly) with her song “Opening Act.”

Today, we’re taking it back to 1975 and a hilarious Country Music Association Awards moments from Charlie Rich. But first… let’s talk about Waylon Jennings… who didn’t give a flying FUCK about being there.

The greatness of Waylon was a little before my time, and I know I don’t appreciate his legacy like those that were there, but back in 1975 he was nominated for a ton of awards including Male Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Entertainer of the Year.

And based on his own words, Waylon hated every second of it.

Here’s a short excerpt from his 1988 autobiography, Waylon: An Autobiography.

As I walked in with Jessi, scratching at my tuxedo, her telling me I should have hit them, Neil came over to me. “You won Male Vocalist,” he whispered. “Jessi didn’t win anything.”

So much for secrecy. If nobody’s supposed to know the awards before they opened the envelope, how did word get around?

My heart went out to Jessi, and though my first instinct was to get the hell gone, I thought that maybe by staying I could raise some of the larger problems that faced country music, such as its closed mindedness and suspicion of change.

When it came time for Best Male Vocalist, Tanya Tucker and Tammy Wynette made a great show of opening the winner’s envelope.

I tried to be nice in my acceptance speech, thanking everybody for their support, though I knew that block voting and mass trading between the big companies—we’ll give you two hundred votes for your artist if you give your four hundred votes to our writer—probably had more to do with it than anything else.

At least Glen Campbell, the host, was happy. “All I can say, Waylon, is it’s about damn time.” Predictably, the CMA got a few letters protesting Glen’s use of profanity.

I was happier watching Charlie Rich get drunk and burn up the Entertainer of the Year award, holding a cigarette lighter to the envelope, please.

They went to grab him, but when Charlie was drunk, it was best to stay out of his way… Oh, yeah. John Denver won Entertainer of the Year. Now that’s what I call country.”

Spoken like a true outlaw.

In his speech, all he said was:

“Thank you, they told me to be nice, I don’t know what they meant by that. Thank you.”

And that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

Glen then followed it up with “it’s about damn time” and as Waylon mentioned in the excerpt, people were pissed that he would curse on TV.

And how about Glen calling Tammy and Tanya “two of the most attractive female vocalists you’ve ever saw in your life?” That sure as hell wouldn’t fly these days.

Time have changed…

But perhaps the highlight of the night was when a drunk Charlie Rich got up to announce the winner for Entertainer of the Year and lit John Denver’s envelope on fire.

Most speculate that Charlie did this because he was pissed that a folk-pop singer/songwriter like John Denver was winning country music award. Others, say he pissed at the industry and not John himself.

Charlie’s own son claimed that he was just wasted and thought it would be funny, and that it wasn’t a shot at John Denver at all.

Either way, it’s an all-time moment in CMA history, although Charlie’s career never really recovered.

Still, I kinda wish the industry had a little more of this fire nowadays (no pun intended).

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