HOLLYWOOD — After accepting Grammys for her song “Sunrise” and for her collaboration with Ray Charles on “Here We Go Again,” Norah Jones called Charles “the best singer on Earth in the history of the universe” and said she was “terrified” at the prospect of working with him but that he put her at ease.
“All of a sudden I heard this voice on the phone, ‘Hey, honey, it’s Brother Ray,’ ” she said of the first time she spoke with him.
As to what song to sing, Charles told her, “I know them all, so whatever you choose is fine.”
She said that though her scheduled perf with Stevie Wonder later in the evening was causing her some anxiety, her nerves this time around didn’t compare to her first Grammy visit. “The first year I was at the Grammys, I was in a daze the entire time,” she explained.
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When the sound engineers who won for the Ray Charles album “Genius Loves Company” came backstage, engineer Ed Thacker said of the album’s success, “I’ve been in the record business for 30 years. It’s just the right record at the right time.”
The engineers joked that people confused having worked on the album with having worked on the “Ray” film, and they were often asked, “What was it like to work with Jamie (Foxx)?”
When asked if he thought Charles knew this would be his last album, Thacker said the music legend was positive and upbeat in the studio. “He didn’t seem like he thought this was his swan song,” he added.
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John Shanks won for nonclassical producer of the year for working with Kelly Clarkson, Sheryl Crow, Hilary Duff, Robbie Robertson and Alanis Morissette, but was he questioned most intently about his collaboration with Ashlee Simpson.
Of her infamous “Saturday Night Live” flub, he commented: “Every artist wants to be on (‘SNL’). It’s a live situation; she lost her voice.” Defending her, he continued, “What do you do as a professional — do you cancel or do you unfortunately have to lip synch?”
Shanks said Simpson was booed at the Orange Bowl because she said she was rooting for USC. “She should have said, ‘I love hockey.’ ”
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“I waited 42 years for this Grammy,” Brian Wilson enthused after receiving his first Grammy for rock instrumental perf, “and it was so worth the wait.”
When asked what a diamond pin on his lapel represented, Wilson said, “The diamonds are supposed to look cute. They’re supposed to look pretty and cute. It just represents class.”
When asked about modern-day California girls, Wilson proclaimed, “The girls are getting cuter and sexier all the time.”
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“I love Maroon 5,” Kanye West said of the winners in the new artist category. “With awards they try to make it seem like there’s one winner, but we’re all winners … we’re all winners in life.”
West noted he didn’t get a nod as a producer, but said sheepishly, “Being that I got the most nominations, it seemed kind out of place to say, ‘What about producer of the year?’ ”
While he was happy with his three wins, he would have liked to win them all. “I would prefer ten.”
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John Mayer likes the standard of music being created today. “I watched Alicia Keys play tonight,” Mayer said, “and was so thankful to be living in an era that music is being made that people are going to remember.
“I’m gonna screw the top half off the Grammy and give her the base.”
Regarding “Daughters,” voted song of the year, he said, “I didn’t want that song to be a single because it’s such a personal song — anyone other than me would think it was such a disingenuous piece of crap.”
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Los Lonely Boys took home the first Grammy of the night, for pop perf by a duo or group, but they remember a not-so-distant past when things were very different.
Oldest brother Henry Garza recalled their move from Texas to Nashville: “We were really just struggling to survive and playing anywhere we could — we were just trying to pay the light bills, make sure that we had money for shoes.”
Garza said the financial issues, along with an audience not entirely receptive to Hispanic musicians, “toughened us up a lot in our spirits and souls.”
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Jack White said of his first meeting with Loretta Lynn, winner of the country album Grammy, “I was nervous because I loved her so much, but after a couple of minutes, just by the look in her eye I could tell we were going to be best friends.”
White received a producing credit on the album, and Lynn proclaimed, “I’m more proud for him than I am for myself — and I’m proud.”
The pair also garnered country collaboration with vocals honors for “Portland Oregon.” On their compatibility, Lynn noted, “We were raised probably about the same way. What I think is funny, he probably does, too.”
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When Steve Earle came backstage to talk about his win for contemporary folk album, he commented on the reception for his left-leaning disc “The Revolution Starts … Now”: “If I’m not pissing off the New York Post or Fox News, I’m not doing my job.”
On a future move from his longtime home base of Nashville to New York, he said, “I feel more like a Martian than I ever did in 30 years of living in Nashville.” He joked about friends who moved to Nashville from bigger cities, saying, “They thought it was going to be easier to protect their kids from Baptists than gangs, but it turned out to be a toss-up.”
He ended by summing up the current state of the union: “It’s a different country I’m living in now than the one I grew up in.”
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A dressed-down Zach Braff accepted the award for compilation soundtrack for “Garden State.” “I never thought I’d win a Grammy,” he said. “This is pretty cool.”
He gave credit to musicians like Coldplay and the Shins, who allowed him to use their songs free when he showed them clips of the film. He encouraged musicians to do the same for other filmmakers.
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Producers John Burk and Phil Ramone of Concord on Ray Charles, the night’s big winner:
“I started in the recording studio as an assistant and the first project I worked on was with Ray Charles,” Ramone recalled. “We’ve come full circle.”
Burk commented on the success of both the record and the film, “Ray.” “I think in some ways the music propelled the film because the record came out a few months before the film.”
As to unheard Charles tracks being released in the future, Ramone offered, “I know he made lots of tapes and I would think the estate would obviously be looking into reissues and surround sounds, etc.”
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Jazz vocal winner Nancy Wilson talked about quitting touring after 52 years and spending more time with family: “I would like to pay more attention to my husband, pay more attention to me.”
Asked about young female singers of today, like Beyonce, Wilson said, “They’re stronger, and they speak out for themselves a little more today than they did back in the day.”
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After winning for urban/alternative perf, Jill Scott spoke of her past frustration at losing. “That first album, I really felt like I deserved to win a few times, and when I didn’t, I couldn’t understand it.”
She noted, “There’s a list that I wrote when I was 7 years old of all the things I had to do. That one (winning a Grammy) had eluded me, so now I can move on to the other things on the list.”
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After accepting his lifetime achievement award, Jerry Lee Lewis said his greatest achievement was “hard work, rippin’, runnin’, kickin’ piano stools, having a ball, lovin’ up on some of the most beautiful women in the world … and just having a lot of fun.”
Lewis has finished his first album in 10 years for a major label. He is joined by 20 veteran artists on the record, among them Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Toby Keith. DreamWorks will release the disc in late May or early June. In the last 20 years, Lewis has made only two studio albums for majors.
Lee called Ray Charles “one of the greatest God-given talents that ever lived. I just loved him so much, he’s like a brother.
“Every time I saw Ray, he’d say, “Jerry Lee, you’re looking good!’ ”
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After winning Grammys for traditional soul gospel album and pop instrumental perf, Ben Harper talked about working with the Blind Boys of Alabama: “I had never heard a song of mine sung back to me much better than I had done.”
On the topic of Ray Charles, Harper said, “There’s soul music and then there’s Ray Charles, and it’s a huge inspiration to me to not have to sound like everyone else making R&B.”
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“I’m sure Pops is grinning, because he started it all,” Mavis Staples said after receiving a lifetime achievement Grammy.
She reminisced about her late father and the very beginning of the Staple Singers. “Back in 1950, he called us four kids into the living room and sat us in a circle and began to teach us songs that his brothers and sisters used to sing back in Mississippi.”
When asked what role sex had in gospel, Staples responded, “You might have to ask Prince that one, because our music doesn’t have any sex in it.”
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Dickey Betts, formerly of the Allman Brothers Band, was also asked the ubiquitous question about Ray Charles’ influence on music. “Ray Charles influences all of us,” he said. “To me, anytime I’m writing a blues song, many times I think about how Ray Charles would put chords to it.”
On performing “Ramblin’ Man” with Lynyrd Skynyrd for the kudocast, Betts noted, “They do it a little rowdier than I do … I thought it was an ass-kicking segment.”
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When Jars of Clay came backstage after presenting and performing at the pre-show, group member Steve Mason talked about their work with AIDS awareness and the church, saying, “The church is scared” of the disease.
Mason then mentioned the Christian rockers’ new charity, 1,000 Wells, which will provide clean drinking water in Africa. When he noted their fundraising efforts, he couldn’t get offstage because the journos backstage started passing cash forward.
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A brief Hawaiian history lesson accompanied the winners of the inaugural award for Hawaiian music album when they came backstage.
The musicians and producer that won for “Slack Key Guitar Volume 2” explained that when cows began to overrun the islands back in the 19th century, the king brought in cowboys from Mexico to teach Hawaiians how to wrangle cattle. They brought their guitars as well, and slack key guitar-playing evolved from that.
Guitarist Ken Emerson noted, “The guitar was the first instrument to hit the island.” He continued, “That was really the beginning of Hawaiian music … many of the chants became songs.”