Monday, February 20, 2012
By Bryan Cumming
We were invited to the Grammys because our album "Fab Fan Memories - The Beatles Bond" had been nominated for an award in the Spoken Word category. The big event at Staples Center, televised by CBS, occurred Sunday night, February 12, but there were other events, too. Sunday afternoon was the "pre-telecast" segment, where our particular category would be announced. There was also a "Special Merit Awards" ceremony the day before, on Saturday afternoon, followed by a reception for nominees. We didn't want to miss a thing, so we flew out from Nashville on Friday, Feb. 10.
That afternoon, we drove to the Wilshire Ebell Theater to attend the "Special Merit Awards" ceremony. No performances; just dignified tributes to very deserving honorees. And very personal stories from the various heroes and their family members. Among the acts that moved us were Memphis Horns and the Allman Brothers. Butch gave testimony to the enduring vision that Duane Allman had, which continues to endure even though he died at 24.
Representing the Memphis horns, with whom he played on classic records by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, etc., Wayne Jackson, walking with a cane, told of his high school trumpet teacher, celebrated the 83 number one albums he played on, and called saxophonist Andrew Love his "best friend."
Roger Nichols (famous for engineering The Steely Dan albums), Rudy van Gelder (likewise for classic jazz acts of the '50s through '80s), Steve Jobs and Diana Ross were among others honored at the ceremony... and Gil Scott Heron, Dave Bartholomew (Fats Domino's producer/arranger), and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
The reception after that ceremony included handing out medallions for all the nominees and taking official Grammy photos. There was live music from groups composed of brilliant high school students who attend Grammy Camp. They sang and played as if they were much older, very seasoned pros.
We also saw our friend Peter Cooper from Nashville and Laura and Ed Hill. Peter writes for The Tennessean; Laura is the director of Jam Camp; her husband Ed was nominated for Best Country Song, "Just Fishin'" by Trace Adkins. It was that afternoon that the news that Whitney Houston had died spread like a small brush fire through the crowd.
When we were leaving the reception, waiting in line for our cars, I noticed "Weird Al" Yankovic, and pointed him out to Holly. He was a fellow nominee, so I had a reason to tell him how much I enjoyed his work, but I didn't want to bother him. Holly - "the good yoko" - took up the slack, walking up to him and telling him her husband was too afraid to come up and tell him how much he admired his work. Holly found him to be a very natural and down-to-earth guy, there with his wife, very appreciative of the compliment.
Sunday morning we got dressed for the big day and went to the Grammys, which was like diving into full scale LA-hype machinery on red alert: big tents, security, laminated ID tags, parking passes, numbered invitations, red carpet, lights, cameras, media people from around the world, TV screens showing highlights from previous grammy shows... all a bit of over stimulation.
As nominees, we could walk down the red carpet gauntlet, with camera crews and interviewers lined up along the right side, a white wall decorated with the Grammy logo along the left side, where all the glamorous subjects could pose for photos. An intern would help us find our way to various media spots, and we'd talk about our album in whatever way we could that seemed newsworthy.
Part of what makes our album interesting, and made this part of the trip tricky, was the involvement with Louise Harrison, George's older sister. She hosts the record, introducing the questions and presenting an authentic British presence to the interviews. She traveled to the Grammys with Marty Scott, who plays the part of George in The Liverpool Legends. Since Louise was not officially a nominee, she was technically not allowed into the red carpet area where nominees are interviewed. But that was solved when Nathan offered his nominee ticket for Louise to hold to get past the guard who was checking that particular credential. On our second pass down the gauntlet, Lou and Marty were joined by one WannaBeatle, making a group of three, while the three remaining WannaBeatles searched for other interview possibilities.
From that point, we went into the Convention Center for the Pre-telecast. It was actually sort of boring, since it was in the convention center, which felt like 10,000 chairs in a dark box. People were getting up, leaving, going back to their seat, milling about... very haphazard, except for the stage, where a band played walk-on and walk-off music, and the non-broadcast awards were announced and received, as various artists said their thanks.
We were excited about our chance. The Spoken Word category was approaching. They announced the nominees. They mentioned our album, and all our names. Then, they opened the envelope, and said "Betty White." So that was it. On my way out, I passed Allison Krauss walking in.
We headed over (with 10,000 other guests) to Staples Center and shuffled into seats to hear Ken Ehrlich, the producer, tell us what a great show we were about to watch. Opening up was Bruce Springsteen, singing "We Take Care of Our Own" with a string section augmenting the E Street Band. That was the beginning. It was three hours of abundant musical talent, and expensive production to go with it.
I loved Bruno Mars - his proto-James Brown soul revue number was just as hot as a musical performance could be in my book. Also, that was when I felt ready to admit, "now it's official: the bow tie is back." LL Cool J was sporting one as the host, then Bruno as the front man for the soul band.
It was one amazing show after another. You could see elaborate sets being erected behind the Grammy sets, and you could imagine vast teams of headphone wearing directors shouting instructions to keep the event moving.
I was ery glad to see Bonnie Raitt doing a scaled down duet with Alicia Keys in a tribute to Etta James...
Very glad to hear Beach Boys songs, three of their best ones, as augmented by members of Maroon 5 and Foster the People...
Very glad to hear Sir Paul doing his stately little standard "My Valentine" with Diana Krall & Joe Walsh on nylon string guitar, and a string section...
Very glad to hear Glen Campbell doing "Rhinestone Cowboy"...
Glad to hear Tony Bennett doing "It Had To Be You" with Carrie Underwood, although he's beginning to show his age (after years of very impressive singing in his 80's)...
And very impressed with Chris Brown, as a dancer & gymnast.
The winner that night, not only in terms of Grammys, but in terms of audience sentiment, was Adele. Every time her name or album was announced as a winner, you could hear the crowd roar in support.
We did not get to meet Sir Paul. However, we had a great time, and our seats at the live broadcast were only 200 feet away from where McCartney performed. So I consider that to be a step in the right direction.
There was an after-party. It was staged with carnival dancers on floats just undulating endlessly. In another room, Kenny Loggins was hammering out his hits.
Then Monday morning was checking out, fighting traffic, and flying home. Arriving at the Nashville airport, we saw Mayor Karl Dean. He had been at the Grammys. He waited at the luggage carousel just like a regular guy. That said a lot about the difference between LA and Nashville.
-- Bryan Cumming, 17 Feb. 2012