Although they’re practically inseparable, Thompson Square’s Keifer and Shawna Thompson weren’t together when they landed their first Grammy nomination this year.
Shawna was in her pajamas while Keifer was hanging out with friends in downtown Nashville. Then their manager called with the big news: “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” landed on the Grammy ballot for best country duo/group performance, as well as best country song.
“I just sat there and kept saying, ’What?!’ I couldn’t process it,” Shawna said. After she tracked down Keifer over the phone, he was equally astonished.
“It’s amazing, just a dream, a huge dream,” he said. “That’s the big one. To be in that category with all those other artists of all the different genres, it’s indescribable.”
For this interview, the married couple chose 10 favorite Grammy-winning country classics, drawing on just duos and duets. But first things first. Are they gonna go to the Grammys or not?
“Are you kidding me?” Keifer replied. “You think we’re nuts? Of course we’re going! You can’t keep us away from that.”
Keifer: That’s a classic song that Shawna and I both grew up listening to. Being huge traditional country music fans, we’re big Loretta Lynn fans — and Conway Twitty for that matter. That’s one of the things that’s really cool for us because this is a male/female duo that’s singing about heartache, you know? It’s what Shawna and I sing about and have been for a long time.
Shawna: We have Sirius XM in our truck, and we keep it on traditional country most of the time. About three days ago, that song came on, and you can’t not sing with it.
Shawna: What was so special about that song was that it was a duet between two women. It was so different. When I try to think back of a duet with two women, I can’t think of any other ones.
Keifer: They were fighting onstage! I don’t remember any more like that. It was cool that Linda was singing with Reba’s band and they would do it every night. Linda is an incredible singer. It was a unique take on the song. That can’t happen every day. There are not too many situations where you could do that.
“Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days),” the Judds
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal, 1986
Best Country Song (awarded to songwriter Jamie O’Hara), 1986
Shawna: I grew up listening to the Judds over and over and over. Actually, the Judds and Alabama — that’s where I learned to sing harmonies. Just by sitting and listening really closely and trying to dissect what they were doing.
Keifer: My mom loves “Grandpa (Tell Me ’Bout the Good Old Days).” It feels so homey, you know? When you grew up with grandparents, especially in a small town like Shawna and I did, that song’s really special.
Shawna: The first time I heard Carrie singing that, I was like, “Dang it! Why didn’t I think of that?” Every once in a while there’s a cover song where you think, “That might be cool to cut.” What a fantastic song. It’s just brilliant. We love Randy Travis.
Keifer: [The original version] was at the end of an era for traditional country music, but he was a massive artist, and he had such a big collection of timeless songs that will always be around. There’s no other voice like him, and there probably won’t be. You hopefully get an opportunity to write a couple of songs like that in your lifetime.
Keifer: It doesn’t get any classier an act that those two. You know, it’s Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash for me, as far as the country influences. I can’t tell you how many Johnny Cash songs I sang over the years. … That’s what I grew up on. I have a picture of my dad and Johnny Cash in 1952 or ’54 in El Paso, Texas, when my dad was in the Army. That’s one of my most cherished pictures. Shawna and I played “Jackson” for a long, long time. We get requests for that when we play out. We were on the bus one night and … what show was it on?
Shawna: It was on a special. It was a live concert with Johnny, maybe in the ’80s, and he called June to come out onstage with him and sing. I just started bawling. I can see myself and Keifer [in the future] watching Johnny and June because you can see the love, you know? Just talking about it right now, it gets me emotional. I think they were singing “Jackson.”
Keifer: Yeah, they were. But there’s just so much more to them. They were absolutely in love. They were each other’s breath. That’s how Shawna and I are. It’s really cool to be able to look at those people and see there are other ones out there that feel like we do.
Keifer: We’re big Tim McGraw and Faith Hill fans, and I really love what they do together. It’s one of those relationships where obviously they’re in love. They’ve been together too long not to be. That’s a song that you hear on the radio and you’re like, “Crap, I wish that was ours.”
Shawna: I can remember being in high school and there would be a group of guys just standing around, not really country music fans I don’t think, but they would start singing that song. Everybody knows that song. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a country music fan. It’s the epitome of country music.
Keifer: Brooks & Dunn is one of our favorite duos, like everybody else. I used to do a terrible version of that in a show in Fort Scott, Kansas, called the Fort Scott Jubilee. You know, some songs should never be sung again. When you have someone like Ronnie Dunn singing it, you probably need to leave it the heck alone because he can pretty much out-sing anybody in town. I remember listening back to a video [of me singing it] and I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m never singing that again.”
Keifer: When I very first moved to town, I hooked up with this guy named Joe, and we ended up being roommates for a little bit. He and I used to sing “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” but I can’t remember who did what part.
Shawna: Actually, that was the same contest where Keifer and I met — at the Nashville Nightlife. That’s where he sang that song with Joe.
Keifer: I’m a massive Marty Stuart fan and just about as big of a Travis Tritt fan, too. I love those two guys.
Shawna: I can remember hearing my dad singing that around the house. He played guitar a little bit and sang. Also, another thing that sticks out in my head was seeing the video for the first time and how cool it was to see Hank Sr. and Hank Jr. singing together. That was pretty neat.
Keifer: It would be really weird to know your dad was Hank Williams Freakin’ Sr., you know?