Accepting his best country album award for These Days, Vince Gill delivered the funniest line at Sunday night’s (Feb. 10) Grammy Awards when he said, “I just got an award presented to me by a Beatle. Have you had that happen yet, Kanye?”
Even Kanye West seemed amused by Gill’s joke. By that point in the awards show, West had already won several Grammys, including best rap album for Graduation.
In addition to Gill, other winners in country-related categories included Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, the Eagles, Ricky Skaggs and the Whites, Willie Nelson and Ray Price, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Jim Lauderdale and Steve Earle.
Gill’s award was presented by Ringo Starr and British singer-songwriter Dave Stewart, best known for his work in the Eurythmics. These Days is a four-CD set of original songs that Gill recorded in a variety of country, rock, pop and bluegrass styles. It’s his 19th Grammy.
“This is an amazing project for me,” Gill said in accepting the trophy. “It took a year out of my life. I shared the year with a guy named Justin Niebank and another guy named John Hobbs, who helped me co-produce this record. Over a hundred musicians, singers and artists and songwriters helped contribute to this. It proved to me, once again, that music is the real place where democracy lives. Every note is equal.”
“Before He Cheats” resulted in trophies for Carrie Underwood (for best female country vocal performance) and songwriters Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins (for best country song). The song was also nominated for overall song of the year, which went to British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse for “Rehab.”
Keith Urban received the best male country vocal performance for “Stupid Boy,” Paisley’s “Throttleneck” was voted best country instrumental performance and the Eagles’ “How Long” was named best country performance by a duo or group with vocal.
Willie Nelson and Ray Price shared the Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals for “Lost Highway,” a track from Last of the Breed, their album with fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Haggard. The award for best pop collaboration with vocals went to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss for “Gone, Gone, Gone (Done Moved On),” a track from their Raising Sand album.
Jim Lauderdale’s The Bluegrass Diaries was named best bluegrass album, while the best Southern, country or bluegrass gospel album honor went to Ricky Skaggs and the Whites for Salt of the Earth.
Levon Helm, The Band’s former drummer and vocalist who has rebounded following a battle with throat cancer, received the best traditional folk album award for his solo project, Dirt Farmer. Steve Earle’s Washington Square Serenade was named best contemporary folk/Americana album.
With Grammys presented in 110 categories, the best country album award was the only one featured during the live broadcast from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Ironically, perhaps, the late Johnny Cash was the only country artist who triumphed in any of the all-genre categories when the winners were presented Sunday. Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was named best short form music video. Directed by Tony Kaye and produced by Rachel Curl, the video was nominated alongside works featuring Feist and Gnarls Barkley, among others.
In the best long form music video division, Dierks Bentley’s concert DVD, Live & Loud the Fillmore, was bested by Madonna’s The Confessions Tour.
Recording for a Nashville-based independent label, Taylor Swift nonetheless gained a nomination in one of the most coveted categories — best new artist. However, the honor went to Amy Winehouse, who received record of the year, song of the year and best female pop vocal performance Grammys for “Rehab” and a best pop vocal album nod for Back to Black. Swift was nominated only in the best new artist category.
Gill’s These Days was also nominated for overall album of the year, which turned out to be a surprise victory for jazz legend Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, a tribute to singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Other album of the year nominees included the Foo Fighters, Kanye West and Amy Winehouse.
Commemorating the Grammys’ 50th anniversary, the three and a-half hour show placed a greater emphasis than usual on live performances. Accompanied by audio and video of the late Frank Sinatra, Alicia Keys opened the show with a performance of “Learning the Blues.”
Carrie Underwood followed soon thereafter with “Before He Cheats.” Clad in thigh-high boots and a short black jumpsuit, Underwood seemed to be taking a fashion cue from Shania Twain.
Brad Paisley displayed his formidable guitar skills during the instrumental sections of his hit, “Ticks.” Unfortunately, the presentation was marred by a bad sound mix, a common problem during live award show telecasts.
John Fogerty led the way for a performance featuring two rock ’n’ roll icons — Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. Fogerty set the mood by singing his own “Comin’ Down the Road.” Lewis delivered “Great Balls of Fire” and Little Richard and Fogerty traded verses on “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Pop vocalist Keely Smith, who gained fame in the ’50s with her husband and bandleader Louis Prima, found herself in a unique setting at the Grammys when she sang “That Old Black Magic” with Kid Rock. Accompanied by saxophonist Dave Koz, Smith persevered during the vocal duet, perhaps because Prima’s own vocal phrasing helped her prepare for Kid Rock’s unpredictability. It was a genuinely human moment, though, and it was clear that Kid Rock was honored to be sharing the stage with her.
Winehouse failed to secure a work visa and was unable to travel to Los Angeles for the awards show. Instead, she performed in London, offering “I Told You I Was Trouble” and “Rehab.”
During the telecast, the recipients of the Record Academy’s Lifetime Achievement award were acknowledged, including bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, Burt Bacharach, The Band, Cab Calloway, Doris Day, Itzhak Perlman and Max Roach.