News and notes from backstage at the 50th annual Grammy Awards, held Feb. 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Amy Winehouse and Kanye West were the big winners, with five and four awards, respectively.
—An ebullient Herbie Hancock was thrilled for his album of the year win for “River: The Joni Letters,” marking the first time and African-American jazz artist won the award and the second a jazz instrumentalist triumphed. “It’s immeasurable how surprised I am,” he said. “I didn’t even hear my name at first, and I was waiting to hear my name, and they said it, and I didn’t hear it. Then I heard the word ‘River,’ and I said ‘Is this true? Is this happening?'”
Hancock said he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Joni Mitchell yet. “I have no idea what she may be going through,” he said. And don’t expect any sort of battle to be waged between Hancock and Kanye West, who many thought was the favorite in the category. “Kanye and I are cool,” he said. “I saw him earlier, and I said ‘Good luck!’ and he said ‘I’d love to wish you good luck … but I don’t want you to get album of the year.”
When asked if he was thought of as a conservative choice in comparison to other nominees like West and Winehouse, Hancock laughed, “This is the first time I’ve been though of as a conservative choice! What’s conservative about me, maybe the way I dress?”
—Mark Ronson won for non-classical producer of the year, largely on the strength of his production on Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” “I wish she was here. This is really her night. I’m just along for the ride,” said Ronson backstage, who called winning “a blur and surreal.” Ronson recalled playing “Rehab” for Winehouse’s A&R for the first time. “About the first 15 seconds in, he said ‘Rewind, rewind!'” he recalled, pointing his finger in the air. “I didn’t think there would be dollar signs lighting up.”
—Carrying a Grammy for best rap song (for “Good Life”) in one hand and holding a cane in the other, T-Pain’s first shout-out backstage was to Kanye West.
“If anyone says Kanye is arrogant, he has a reason to be,” said T-Pain. Wearing a brightly printed top hat that matched the lining of his suit jacket, T-Pain’s parting words were, “This is the good life!”
The ubiquitous featured vocalist has also collaborated recently with Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown and a litany of others. “I stole some dance moves from him,” said T-Pain of Brown.
—Black: Guayaba won a Grammy for best Latin rock/alternative album for “No Hay Espacio,” beating out last year’s Latin Grammy winner in the category, Rabanes. Alejandro Sanz’ “El Tren de los Momentos” won for best Latin pop album at the pre-televised ceremony.
Juan Luis Guerra and Calle 13 reprised their recent Latin Grammy wins, taking home Grammys for Best tropical Latin album and Best Latin urban album for “La Llave de Mi Corazon” and “Residente o Visitante,” respectively.
Los Tigres del Norte’s “Detalles y Emociones” and El Chapo’s “Te Va a Gustar” won for best norteno and best banda album, respectively. Pepe Aguilar won for best Mexican/Mexican-American album for his “100% Mexicano.” The Latin Jazz album winner was the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet’s “Funk Tango.”
In the Latin categories, only Black: Guayaba, Guerra, and best tejano album winner Joe Hernandez from Little Joe & La Familia were present to accept their awards, reflecting the far lower profile the mainstream Grammys have in the Latin music industry compared to the Latin Grammys, which give the artists a national TV performance platform.
Guerra, who swept the top Latin Grammy categories last fall, including album of the year, said the mainstream Grammys were a unique honor because the voters “don’t have as deep a knowledge of my music.”
Black: Guayaba, which came together eight years ago and put out their first independent album three years ago before getting picked up by Machete Music, hoped their win would get attention for Puerto Rico’s oft-overlooked rock scene. On their home island, “there is also good rock, and I think we just proved it,” said band member Carlos Colón.
—Draped in silver lame from head to toe, a beaming Jill Scott had a lot to smile about as she clutched her third Grammy, this time for best urban/alternative performance for her featured vocal on Lupe Fiasco’s “Daydreamin’.”
Scott said when she finishes touring this fall, she’ll head to Botswana to film the next edition Anthony Minghella-directed BBC series “The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency,” where she plays a Botswanan detective.
Having recently played the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival with Anita Baker and Diana Ross, Scott said she has been checking her childhood dreams off an actual list she made when she was 12. Among the items? Winning a Grammy, owning a Picasso, living in Africa, and being Storm from “X-Men.” “I’m hoping to be Storm for Halloween this year,” she said. “Why not?”
—Art director Zachary Nipper won indie label Saddle Creek’s first Grammy, for best recording package for Bright Eyes’ “Cassadaga.” Nipper collaborated with Conor Oberst on hidden images and optical illusions in the album packaging. “The themes of the album are spirituality and the occult,” said Nipper. On an indie label, “there’s not anybody that’s going to tell you it’s not going to work or it’s not going to market well.”
—Singer.songwriter Angelique Kidjo won her first Grammy, for best contemporary world music album, after five nominations. She dedicated her award to her parents in Benin, to the African continent, to “the women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education,” and to late Billboard editor Timothy White, whom she said encouraged her from the earliest days of her stateside career. With the Grammy win, “I really believe I can do anything,” said Kidjo, who starts a U.S. and European tour at the end of February.
—On winning best country song for Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” songwriters Josh Kear and Chris Tompkins said the song’s appeal to both men and women, pop and country fans surprised them.
Said Kear, “It’s like a movie. You’ve got just enough sex and just enough violence … to appeal to both sexes. The fact that they just left it as a straightforward country record and it worked was a surprise, and pleasantly so.”
The song, they noted, was originally written for Gretchen Wilson, but Tompkins believes that Underwood’s good-girl image actually helped the song’s popularity. And, of course, “American Idol” didn’t hurt a bit, he said. Kear revealed that Tompkins was actually in a band with another “Idol” contestant, Bo Bice, while the two were in Alabama.
Additional reporting by Ann Donahue.