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Conservative choices intrinsic in Grammy noms

IT’S THE EQUIVALENT OF CHRISTMAS morning in the music industry, as record labels gather ’round the Grammy tree at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for an 8:45 a.m. press conference, eager to see what presents the membership of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences will bestow.

While nominations in even the most obscure categories are sure to be greeted by labels with the enthusiasm a wolf reserves for a lamb, Bolsheviks outside those camps are also licking chops in eager anticipation of their annual hue and cry about the conservativism of the NARAS membership, who, judging from past choices, prefer to swing and sway rather than rock ‘n’ roll.

Nominations have gotten hipper in the recent past–alternative music kings R.E.M. had seven bids last year–but most NARAS voters still think that Ice Cube is something that floats in your highball.

“There will never be a change,” says Henry Schipper, author of the new Birch Lane Press book “Broken Record: The Inside Story of the Grammy Awards.””It has to do with the fact that the Academy is an Academy, an establishment organization that represents the music establishment.

“They believe in the well-made record and that sometimes includes rock ‘n’ roll when it’s aesthetically well-crafted and produced,” Schipper adds. “But there’s a lot outside that particular ballpark that Grammy people have never given much respect, and that will continue forever.”

With Schipper’s warning in mind, look for Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Eric Clapton and Boyz II Men to have a few champagne corks popping later this afternoon, although we’re betting that the NARAS faction that tapped R.E.M. last year will make sure Arrested Development, U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam don’t go home empty-handed.

A BUSY WEEK AT the Beverly Hilton finds the semi-annual Bertlesmann Music Group convention in full swing. The BMG confab kicked off Tuesday night with a cocktail reception hosted by BMG Distribution prez Pete Jones, one of the industry’s good guys.

In a short speech during the reception, Jones pounded the war drums for his company, which has gotten off the deck lately thanks to the white-hot success of Arista Records, which has four albums in the top 25 of the Billboard 200, including the record-setting soundtrack to “The Bodyguard,” home of Whitney Houston’s smash single “I Will Always Love You.”

The sales push by Arista led BMG Distribution to the best two months in the company’s history during November and December, according to Jones.

Continued success looms on the horizon, with first or second quarter releases scheduled from RCA’s ZZ Top, Black Box, Bruce Hornsby, Arista’s Taylor Dayne and Candy Dulfer, Zoo Entertainment’s Matthew Sweet and recently signed Savage recording artist David Bowie (the new effort produced by Nile Rogers and more akin to his commercial album “Let’s Dance” than Tin Machine, according to Jones).

Besides the news on product, a rumor was also circulating concerning BMG’s ongoing search for a North American CEO. Latest name to surface is Tony Brown, the executive VP/GM of MCA/Nashville, who has been rumored to be seeking greener pastures. Brown to BMG seems unlikely on the surface, hammered down by MCA’s continued assurances that Brown has a long-term contract (read: ironclad) at his current address.

The name Joe Smith was previously tossed in the hopper, but rejected by sources who contended that leaving the Lakers, his restaurants and West Coast lifestyle — not to mention his job as president/CEO of Capitol/EMI Music–was something he would not do. But with yesterday’s announcement that Smith will be a free agent as of April 1 and with the industry veteran professing an interest in remaining active in the business, could the BMG lure be too strong to resist?

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