LOS ANGELES — Grammy riches were spread pretty evenly in the country music world Wednesday night as The Dixie Chicks, Asleep at the Wheel and Shania Twain each captured two apiece.
The Chicks added to their growing mainstream profile with a stirring performance of their new single, the anti-abuse anthem “Goodbye Earl.” Their moment, which included the debut of a new video starring TV favorite Dennis Franz, came early in the awards show, telecast live from the Staples Center in Los Angeles by CBS.
The group earned awards for Best Country Album, for Fly, and for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Ready to Run.”
Multi-instrumentalist Martie Seidel, the oldest of the Chicks, turned emotional as the group accepted the honor for Best Country Album.
“Like the words in one of my favorite Shawn Colvin songs, ‘If there were no music, I would not get through.’ My personal life really took a beating last year, and I just want say to Ted and Carter, I’ll always love you,” she said, referring to her former husband, from whom she was divorced last year, and her stepson.
Backstage, singer Natalie Maines said of the group’s new single, “We call it our ‘ode to O.J. Simpson,’ and it’s totally fiction.”
Franz joined the Chicks as they fielded questions from the press.
“Why I am crashing this party, I have no idea but here I am,” he said in the accent made famous by his character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, on cop show NYPD Blue.
“I love them, and they offered, and I said, ‘I’ve never done a music video before.’ They said, ‘He’s a pretty nasty fellow.’ I said, ‘I’ve done that before. So let’s go for it.’ I’d have to say it was really a kick, really fun.”
Maines told the press the trio is proud of their roots. “We wave the country music banner, and it makes us very proud.”
The night belonged to legendary rock veteran Carlos Santana, who steamrolled to eight awards on his own, tying him with Michael Jackson for the biggest Grammy night ever. He trumped the Chicks for Album of the Year, and his hit song, “Smooth,” written by Itaal Shur and Rob Thomas, outpaced Twain’s “You’ve Got a Way” for Song of the Year.
“To live is to dream, to die is to awaken,” the guitarist said as the trophies began to pile up. “Please don’t wake me up.”
Faith Hill turned in a strong, earnest performance of “Let Me Let Go,” though she went home empty-handed in the trophy sweepstakes.
Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel captured awards for Best Country Instrumental, for “Bob’s Breakdowns,” a medley of fiddle tunes that also featured Vince Gill and Steve Wariner, and for Best Recording Package, for Ride With Bob, an honor he shared with art directors Sally Carns and Buddy Jackson.
Gill’s victory with Benson was his 14th Grammy overall, tying him with Chet Atkins for most career Grammys by a country artist. He has won trophies in 10 consecutive years.
“That’s why I jumped on with Ray and them, ’cause my records weren’t doing so good the last couple of years,” Gill laughed.
“The neat thing about it is, it’s well-rounded,” he said of his long string of victories. “I’m awarded as a musician, as a songwriter, as a collaborator and all different kinds of ways. It’s all the same thing, it’s all about playing.”
Wariner, like Gill an accomplished guitarist as well as a singer and songwriter, said joining Benson for the Wills project gave him an opportunity to show his respect for the King of Western Swing and Wills’ legacy.
“Preserving this wonderful music is so important for the future generations,” he said, “to understand and love this music as we all do. It’s just great music, and I’m just glad he asked me.”
Gill comes from Oklahoma, where Wills worked for many years as a bandleader in Tulsa. Playing on the album had special meaning for him, he said.
“I really cut my teeth on Bob Wills music,” he explained. “I’ve always fancied myself a musician first, before I started writing songs or singing. Ray, I’ve known for probably 20 or 25 years, and he’s always known me as a musician, and that meant the world to me.”
Art director Buddy Jackson said the vintage look of the Wills package was inspired by his collection of Western pulp fiction. “It was just a natural,” he said. “We kinda borrowed from all the old Western art.”
George Jones was on hand for the Grammy telecast when his album, Cold Hard Truth, lost to the Chicks in voting for Best Country Album, but he failed to make it to the stage to pick up the Grammy he did win, Best Male Country Vocal, for “Choices.” Like recent Grammy victories by Johnny Cash, Jones’ triumph runs counter to country radio trends, where veteran singers seldom get airplay.
“He’s at home, watching Bonanza,” host Marty Stuart quipped after announcing Jones’ victory.
Stuart, who recently ended his record deal with MCA, managed a joke about his own recording status. “As Roger Miller said, ‘When you’re hot you’re hot, and when you’re not you host.’ ”
June Carter Cash won her first solo Grammy, for Best Traditional Folk Album, for her highly personal project, Press On. The disc featured Stuart and Rodney Crowell, among others, and was produced by Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. A mix of autobiographical original songs and reworkings of classics such as “Ring of Fire,” the album received widespread critical acclaim.
“June, I love you,” said Emmylou Harris, who announced Cash’s victory in the pre-telecast.
Harris was a winner herself, with Dolly Parton and Linda Rondstadt, for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The trio won for their treatment of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush,” a track from their Trio II album.
Parton brought the song to the group, Harris said backstage, and all three were fascinated by the prospect of doing it. Ronstadt, she added, had a great hand in the vocal arrangement and in the use of a glass harmonica.
Young loved the trio’s rendition of the song, she said, even allowing them to alter the lyrics. “We asked permission to change the line about getting high because we were mothers, and we didn’t want to put forward that sentiment.”
Twain won for Best Country Song, for the peppy “Come on Over.” She co-wrote the song with her husband and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. She also won the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, for the equally upbeat “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.”
“Shania couldn’t be here tonight, she’s having her belly waxed,” said Clint Black, who presented the honor during the telecast with his wife, Lisa Hartman Black, and Benson.
For the second consecutive year, Ricky Skaggs picked up a Grammy for a bluegrass project, after a very public turn away from country music. He collected the honor for Best Bluegrass Album for Ancient Tones, a mix of originals and bluegrass standards.
“I really believe that one of the main reasons we felt we needed to switch was that country music was changing so much,” he said backstage, explaining again his decision to move away from mainstream country. “The country records I was doing were becoming very traditional sounding. I didn’t want to change my music to play the game at radio. I switched to try to bring some leadership, some of the passion I felt like I was born with, try to bring it to bluegrass.”
That passion was inspired to a great degree by fellow Kentuckian and bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe.
“Mr. Monroe referred to the ‘ancient tones’ in his music a lot,” Skaggs said, explaining his album title. “I think the sounds he was hearing in his head and his heart and soul were a lot of the Celtic sounds, a lot of the old, traditional gospel music sounds.”