LOS ANGELES — The 50th Grammy Awards ceremony was, as usual, a mixed blessing for country music. A few were anointed. Most were ignored.
Carrie Underwood enjoyed a fabulous showcase opportunity early in the show to perform her song. Interestingly, one of the writers of her “Before He Cheats,” Chris Tompkins, said backstage that when he began writing the song, he envisioned it being perfect for Gretchen Wilson. But fate intervened when the writers’ publishers pitched the song to Underwood, who immediately embraced it.
The only other country performance on the show besides Underwood vamping through a very spirited version of “Cheats” was Brad Paisley’s “Ticks.” This coming in a show that included 21 musical performances.
The bias on both coasts against the music in between those two coasts lingers, I’m afraid. And Grammy’s predilection for honoring music pioneers revealed itself by honoring Willie Nelson and Ray Price for their recording of “Lost Highway.” And for tapping the late Johnny Cash for his video of “God’s Gonna Cut you Down.”
But both awards were well-deserved.
The Eagles’ best duo or group nod signals that they’re Grammy’s favorite country group right now, but they’re also country CD buyers’ remaining favorite.
In other areas, Underwood, as expected, won country female vocal, and Keith Urban was a bit of an upset in the male vocal category. Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” which is now two years old, took country song honors. Paisley was justly honored for instrumental performance. George Strait remains Grammy-free again despite two noms this year.
In pre-Grammy festivities, Earl Scruggs was honored and Dierks Bentley held a bash. Scruggs was lauded the night before the show with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in a ceremony that also tapped songwriter Burt Bacharach, rock-country originals The Band, jazz pioneer Cab Calloway, songstress Doris Day, classical violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman and jazz drummer Max Roach.
The night before that event, Grammy nominee Bentley threw a musical bash in a Hollywood club where he jammed with Miranda Lambert, Paisley, Dwight Yoakam and members of Pearl Jam and Paramore.
Truth be told, the 50th Grammy Awards was a very egalitarian event, which is both the Recording Academy’s strongest and weakest points. It seeks to honor the best recorded efforts from all recording genres and sometimes fails to seek out and reward the most eligible. When you’re trying in one show to honor artists ranging from Feist to Kanye West to Tina Turner to Amy Winehouse to Carrie Underwood and Alicia Keys, that is not easy.
Some things clicked. The meshing between John Fogerty and Little Richard during the latter’s supercharged “Good Golly Miss Molly” with its gutteral was as special as it gets. But to its credit, Grammy tries. It’s too bad everyone can’t see the three-hour-plus pre-telecast show, when the 100+ winners who don’t appear on the telecast get their moment of glory. The pre-tel often also includes truly memorable musical moments. This year the magical instances included both zydeco and blues. Zydeco imp Terrance Simien and his Zydeco Experience reminded everyone of the importance of New Orleans. And blues pioneers Koko Taylor, Pinetop Perkins and Honeyboy Edwards brought the lesson home.
In addition to tossing off the evening’s funniest line to Kanye West about being handed a Grammy by a Beatle, Vince Gill perhaps encapsulated the experience with this quote: “Music is the true place where democracy lives. Every note is equal.”